What amazing things will Ariel Swedroe have accomplished by the time she enters adulthood? At 13, she’s already making the world a more beautiful place through fashion and good works, encouraging young women her age to follow their dreams.
The Miami-based fashion designer began sewing when she was 8 years old and now runs her own atelier, M2M Miami, where she produces made-to-order couture as Swedroe Art to Wear by Ariel. In the fall, she’ll attend Miami-Dade’s Design and Architecture Senior High, where her "what I did last summer" conversation will include presenting her resort-wear collection at Miami Swim Week and traveling to Colombia to teach unwed teenage mothers how to sew and build entrepreneurial skill sets.
Her design is tech-savvy, and inspiration comes from the heartfelt connections to things that spark her imagination. Swerdoe speaks eloquently but with a shy, childlike playfulness when describing her craft, which has required much devoted practice.
Since childhood, Swedroe has spent countless hours drawing inspiration from her grandfather, renowned Miami architect and collage artist Robert Swedroe. “His studio is two houses away from my house,” she says. “I’m always in there watching him work, ever since I was little. He makes collages honoring people and has a really good eye for cool things.”
Swedroe incorporates her grandfather's vibrant and colorful collages into her designs by photographing, scanning, and laser-printing them onto fabric. She also uses laser cutting and 3D printing to produce work that blurs the line between fashion piece and graphic art. “There are 800 collages,” she says. “I absolutely love them. They’re stunning.”
A twin sibling to a brother who’s into sports and videogames, Swedroe giggles when she talks about her fashion sense. “I definitely think I inherited a knack for putting things together, but don’t know where I got my fashion sense,” she says. “Nobody in my family has a fashion sense. Oh my goodness!”
That family, however — including a mother and two uncles who are also architects — is responsible for many buildings in Miami, she says. The legacy of architecture and fine art informs her fashion design. “I definitely inherited a design gene,” she notes. “It helps to watch everyone in my family work.”
There are other muses in the young fashion designer’s pantheon. “I love Valentino. He made everyone look so beautiful, and his styles were so elegant,” she says. Another influence is Iris Apfel, the 95-year-old designer and style icon “who wears big round glasses and lots of kooky stuff.” Swedroe also likes the curves on the side of the late Zaha Hadid’s Miami building, as well as South Beach’s iconic art deco buildings, tropical plants, and “relaxed, beachy vibe.”
She’s had an eye for beautiful things for as long as she can remember. “I always made little dresses for my Barbie dolls,” she recalls. In first grade, she saw a flyer for sewing classes, and once she got started, she kept going. In 2012, she met Stella McCartney during Art Basel 2012 when the English designer stopped by Swedroe's grandfather’s house for an event. Swedroe showed McCartney some of her designs and had an aha moment. She knew then she had found a calling.
Swedroe’s upcoming resort-wear collection will launch during Miami Swim Week this July and will appeal to practical fashionistas. The colorful collection includes light neoprene material that wicks away moisture in bathing suits, as well as coverups that can be worn from the beach to the dinner table. “You won’t be soaking wet,” she says. “And I incorporate silk into the flowing coverups you can also just wear over a pair of jeans. It’s definitely Miami-lifestyle clothes.”
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But not everything is about the beach life for the young designer. She feels fortunate, she says, and also compelled to help others. Swedroe has been sharing her story since 2014 as guest speaker, working with local girls' empowerment and STEAM-education organizations, Pearl Girlz and Codella, respectively. Swedroe also invited the young women from Pearl Girlz to DesignLab to teach them how to sew. In 2016, along with 3D printing fashion designer Danit Peleg, she was a panelist at the SHE Tech Conference. This August, she'll head to Cartagena, Colombia, with her mentor of eight years, Angie Cohen of DesignLab Miami, to support the Juanfe Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to improve the quality of life of poverty-stricken children and teenage mothers.
“I am very excited to give back,” Swedroe says. “I want to definitely empower these girls, and I want them to feel like they can put their minds to learning these new sewing skills so they can have new opportunities.”
Cohen, who has nurtured Swedroe’s artistic progress, says the teen's empathy is just as impressive as her talent. “How amazing that someone her age can convey that message,” Cohen notes. “She always says, ‘Pursue your dreams.’ Kids listen to other kids. It’s powerful. I see it when she teaches. There’s so much goodness she can do.”
Swedroe also takes that philosophy into garment production and ensures that her clothes are not made in sweatshops. “My clothes aren’t just made in the USA. They’re made in Miami. That’s very important,” she says. “It’s frustrating to see clothes that are badly made and that the people making them are working in really bad conditions.”