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Photo from The Experiment by AJ Nichols.

Alice (AJ) Nichols is a Northeastern student studying Business with a CAMD minor in Global Fashion Studies. She has been interested in fashion for years now; she discovered fashion runway shows online as a high school student and decided to start designing her own clothes. As soon as AJ got to Northeastern, she joined the Fashion & Retail Society and picked up a CAMD Global Fashion Studies minor. Since then, she has embraced her entrepreneurial side, starting her own unisex clothing brand and art collective, Avant-Garde Expression (AGX), and getting involved with Northeastern’s IDEA, a student-led venture accelerator. We had the opportunity to catch up with AJ about AGX, her progress through IDEA, and what inspires her to create both art and clothing. Read more below!

What is the mission of Avant-Garde Expression (AGX)?

In my Fashion Construction and Patternmaking class, offered through CAMD’s Department of Theatre, I learned how to sew for standard sizes. That was where I got inspired to create my first collection, Genesis. Two of my first pieces for AGX were actually projects for that class!

Since I first became interested in designing clothes back in high school, I dreamed of creating a forward-thinking brand that pushed boundaries with a futuristic aesthetic. Not to mention, one that role-modeled empowerment and confidence for LGBTQ+ youth through videos and performance art, using the clothing as a vehicle for the message.

When I started to lay the foundation for AGX in February of 2018, I was at the point in my life where I had just transitioned to female and started a new life in Boston, all within the previous twelve months. I really needed a creative outlet to help me process all the emotion and change in my own life, and to start building confidence to be able help others. The mission for AGX became helping people, especially queer youth, to feel proud of who they are by creating cool, futuristic clothing and videos that empower them. This mission is summarized in our slogan, which is “Confidence Through Expression.

Tell us what it means to be an IDEA Set Stage venture.

I came into the IDEA Program last Summer to figure out how I could take my brand from two sewing machines in a dorm room to hopefully a store and a company someday.

Right off the bat, I was connected with some amazing mentors who really wanted to help me get my ideas off the ground, and I was also super inspired by working with other student entrepreneurs who had exciting ideas or who now work at their own businesses.

Currently, I am at that critical point in the program where I am working with coaches to construct a successful business model around my ideas. I am beginning to design the next main collection of unisex clothes, as well as custom pieces for others and the AGX Narrative Series (the collection of videos and performance art). I look forward to continuing with the IDEA Program to turn AGX into a sustainable career in the future!

How do you feel your artwork reflects your personal self-expression?

AGX has become a platform where I have been able to express myself through a combination of apparel design, performance art and fashion storytelling.

It has given me a place to talk about issues surrounding queer issues and empowerment in an artistic and fulfilling way, as well as being able to show myself as an artist who is proud of their journey and not afraid to push boundaries, visually.

For example, in my latest video, The Experiment, I finally told the story of my medical transition after a couple of years being stealth, but I told it in a way where I was able to convey the deeper emotions of anger, loss and change visually through performance art, beyond just showing clips of what happened. Additionally, I wanted to start introducing the theme of empowerment into the series with the Tron-inspired bodysuit I am wearing at the end of the video.

As much as it is fulfilling for me to process my emotions and ideas through the AGX machine, it is equally if not more validating when people reach out and say that connecting with the stories and art of the brand helped inspire them to become more confident in their own expression.

Tell us about your creative process more generally! What inspires you?

My creative process typically includes becoming inspired by a concept or idea, and then creating a mood board containing colors, images and quotes that align with how I would want to express it. From there, I will start envisioning and designing clothes, and then begin building out a script and recruiting others to help me create the visuals and actually film the video.

I draw my inspiration from a lot of different places – futuristic movies, the elements, colors, other performance artists (especially my idol, Lady Gaga, and all of her performances and music videos), but I also get very inspired by emotions and ideas that come from my own life and experiences and want to process them through visual art.

Anything else?

I encourage anyone interested to follow AGX on Instagram and Facebook at @agxofficial, and check out our newest release, The Experiment. Also, thank you to Reagan Partridge (@reagan.partridge) and Brea Hazelton (@brxea_) for modeling and production assistance, and for photography and cinematography by Ben Nichols (@shadowpinesphotography).