Growing up, Bobby Kelley didn’t come from money. When back-to-school shopping season came, he was forced to choose five outfits and keep them nice all year.
But Kelley couldn’t help himself; he had to have something unique.
“I’m tired of this,” he would say as he “tailored” his outfits into new designs. “This needs to change.”
With a pair of scissors and a short sewing lesson from his grandma, a designer was born.
Now, the 28-year-old Gainesville-based designer is readying himself for his five-year anniversary as a force of runway fashion. He will celebrate during this year’s Gainesville Fashion Week, another of “Bobby K’s” creations.
He started GFW with some friends as a way to bring local artists together and have a little fun.
“It’s really all about community; that’s the number one thing,” he said. “It’s become such a behemoth.”
This year, Kelley will debut a line called Robot 2.0, a collection of men’s and women’s fashions merging metallic spandex with hints of bondage. Local music and art, he said, helped influence the concept.
Just a few weeks before, during Jacksonville Fashion Week, Kelley will show another set of fashions inspired by 1950s working women and gentlemen’s club wear.
Creating two different collections for two shows in one month is a lot of work. He’s putting the lines together by himself, constantly hunched over his sewing machine.
But he knows the outcome is more than worth it.
“I don’t like to do the same thing over and over,” he said. “As an artist, the best thing to do is keep reinventing yourself by doing new things and exploring new options.”
Kelley has been designing fashions as a hobby for 12 years, but even as a child he had an obsession with clothes. He used to take his father’s tube socks and turn them into “ornate, crew sock ballgowns” for his miniature Barbie doll models.
In high school, he took a portfolio art class with a friend and started designing for life-size humans.
Now, he’s on the verge of a deal to mass-produce his clothes. He is looking forward to his line being sold in boutiques across Florida and, soon, across the United States, always at affordable prices.
“I hate the notion of a designer dress costing thousands of dollars,” he said. “That blows my mind. I want to keep everything in a good price range so people can buy it.”
Because Bobby K. knows it’s the people who make the fashion, and fashion is for the people.
“I just hope that they realize they’re wearing something unique,” he said of his buyers. “I put a lot of thought into everything when I make it. I want someone to be like, I’m wearing something that is special to someone.”