BC Spotlight: From Designer To Writer, Joshua Leonard Takes Passions By Storm

Joshua Leonard during his fashion designer days./Joshua Leonard

By Michela Arlia 


   While the start of the pandemic in 2020 brought destruction and some depression for most people, it also brought many a rebirth of ideas, hobbies, and passions. For students like Joshua Leonard, it ended his days as a fashion designer and brought about his new pursuit of a second degree. 

   “I wish I could’ve found myself at this point in my life through other means. Without COVID, I probably would have left fashion eventually,” Leonard told The Vanguard.

    Originally from Louisiana, Leonard is a BC student majoring in creative writing whose approach to a second bachelor’s degree started rather unconventionally. He previously had a career in the fashion industry before being laid off at the start of the pandemic and turning to study another passion of his. 

   This decision didn’t come out of the blue, as Leonard had expressed not being happy in his profession prior to COVID, taking his lay off as an opportunity that allowed him a way out and a chance to be happy in a passion he truly enjoys. 

   To rewind his story, Leonard says he first entered the fashion world in a non-traditional way. 

   “A lot of my landing in fashion has to do with being a diabetic,” said Leonard. “I’ve had Type 1 Diabetes since I was 16, and I’ve had to make a lot of compromises. Back in high school, I had a few creative paths I wanted to take with my life, but hardly any of them came with health insurance. Fashion did, and thankfully I loved designing clothes.”

   Knocking out two birds with one stone through fashion led him to earn his first B.F.A. in fashion design from The Art Institute of Dallas. From then, he relocated to New York as he was fortunate to get a summer internship for the popular clothing label started by singer and actress Jessica Simpson. 

   Since the 2010s, Leonard has designed for other big name brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, and Nautica. He mostly designed in the realm of outwear, dipping into swimwear and dresses as well. 

   After all his time in clothing, Leonard explained his initial decline for fashion started as a “slow burn,” mainly caused by workplace burnout.

   “Long hours, hard work with little compensation, a general mindset that if you aren’t at your desk seven days a week you don’t care about your career,” said Leonard. “Behind closed doors, the fashion industry thrives on toxic work environments with little to no oversight. You’re trained to feel guilty for requesting a day off, even if you’re sick.”

   Hand in hand with the burnout came hard work in exchange for little to no recognition. Leonard recalled how overlooked his efforts were during an experience he had with designing a jacket for a major fashion brand that would otherwise be considered a significant accomplishment. He recounted the wholesale company Costco taking a heavy interest in his piece and ordering a large amount for their stores.

   “Costco saw it in our showroom, loved it, and ordered twenty-five thousand pieces! Trust me, that’s a gigantic order. The jacket sold out in under two months,” Leonard said. “So Costco came back and ordered five hundred thousand more pieces. My one jacket alone made the company fifty-six million dollars.”

   Despite his excitement for this wonderful accomplishment in his career, Leonard said he gained no thanks, no recognition, and definitely no pay raise for his work. 

   “I never got so much as a thank you from the higher ups. My barely-above-entry-level pay wasn’t increased, my small annual bonus wasn’t anymore than the year before. That was when I realized I was a cog and nothing more, lining the company’s pockets with gold,” he said.

   With no room or opportunity to climb the professional and career ladder due to his work, Leonard took this as his first big sign that he needed a change. 

   “I would see my coats everywhere in public and felt nothing,” he said.

   Running on autopilot and waiting to clock out every day, Leonard started to turn his attention to writing workshops at Gotham Writers in the summer of 2019, something that brought him much joy and helped him through a difficult year.

   While Leonard says that his lay off really became a numbers game for his former employer, he mentioned he was fortunate enough to not need his employment anymore at the time and took the initial news as a good omen. 

   “I know the majority don’t have this luxury, but when I got the call I was being laid off, I danced around my apartment,” he said.

   Following this news, Leonard took time to continue searching for passions and find a place he truly felt he belonged. One thing he was sure of was that he wanted to be a writer. His forte in writing is mainly horror. 

   “I’m very much a horror writer at heart, specifically queer horror. I’ve always believed horror to be an effective genre to tell a true queer narrative,” said Leonard. “I’m so excited to be moving forward with a passion where I can tell these kinds of stories.”

   A small group of writers he befriended at Gotham Writers helped him propel into a new career, and in the later half of 2020, the discussion of a degree in the field was now on the table. 

   Along with his husband, Leonard decided that while an M.F.A was ideal, he wanted more of a base framework and started from scratch with his second B.F.A. 

   “I spent hours pouring over reviews, talking to people in the industry, and crunching numbers in our budget,” said Leonard. “All paths led to Brooklyn College. The creative writing program has really helped me build that foundation as a writer I felt was missing.”

   Now in his last semester at BC and graduating in just a few weeks, Leonard has made immense strides in the world of creative writing, even becoming president of BC’s Riverrun, the official club for the interns of the English Majors’ Counseling Office.

   Open to writers or anyone interested in writing, the club manages a blog entitled “The Junction Journal,” publishes an annual creative arts magazine called “The Junction,” and hosts open mics and writer’s circles twice a week. 

   Leonard says that Riverrun members approached him for a position after he shared his work in an open mic, and he found his placement soon after.

   “Ten years in the fashion industry left me with a rough Type A personality, which I think is how I ended up as president,” said Leonard. “I’m the type of person who jumps on an issue the second it comes up, just so it will be resolved as soon as possible.”

   When it comes to next steps, Leonard has been accepted to the M.F.A program in creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, where he will concentrate on Speculative Fiction. Continuing on his new journey, Leonard is very excited and optimistic, yet still is reminded of his past days in fashion just by being on campus. 

   “What’s really funny is that I see my designs on campus every single day,” said Leonard. “If you’re wearing a women’s Tommy Hilfiger coat, it’s very likely one of mine. If you see me eyeing you, I’m just looking at your coat.”