San Diego College of Continuing Education (SDCCE) Clothing and Textiles graduate, Darius Stokes, launches Dluxware, an inclusive high-end underwear, and apparel brand.
A hairstylist of 12 years, Stokes originally created the line for male burlesque and go-go dancers. “We live in art, clothing is a way to express yourself without saying anything,” said Stokes, who is fascinated by the idea of styling performers before they take the stage. “Men and women are a lot alike, we just have different parts. I noticed that for women’s lingerie, they are more expansive in design, which is what I wanted to show in my line.”
With a vision to bring new styles, textures, and design lines to underwear, Stokes enrolled at SDCCE. Students learn basic to advanced apparel construction skills at SDCCE including professional standards of workmanship, and how to turn a sewn product from concept to consumer.
Today Dluxware is inclusive of all gender identities and body types. In support of the LGBTQIA+ community, Stokes released a Pride collection during the summer. “Pride means a lot of things for different people. For some, the San Diego Pride Parade may just be a fun time to go out, and for others, it can be about coming out and expressing who they are as a person, or who they support, or what their beliefs are,” said Stokes. “When I am designing something for Pride, I am trying to create the feeling of what the consumer believes or the expression they are trying to show that feels authentic to them.”
Stokes credits SDCCE’s free Clothing Construction certificate and Sewn Products Business certificate programs in launching Dluxware. He now designs and produces his own apparel, takes brand photos, and manages an online store. “I started the idea of my brand 6 years ago, but I did not take it seriously until I took the Sewn Products Business course with Shirley Pierson,” said Stokes who attempted sewing classes four times at SDCCE before finding success. “I would go to SDCCE and then I would quit. When I came to West City Campus, I met Shirley, the way she made sewing easy and relatable stuck with me. She was that one person that got me to believe I could do it.”
The mission of Dluxware to proudly express who you are is inspired by Stokes' childhood in foster care. “It was hard being in foster care. I was anti-social, had a challenging time learning with dyslexia and making friends,” said Stokes. “The reason I share this is because a lot of people have a lot of things going wrong in life, and it's hard, but learning how to be in tune with yourself and love the life that you live helps you to grow.”
He added, “That is what I love most about SDCCE, they are career-oriented, and they really care about what you are doing. If you are stuck doing a job you do not love, just a couple of hours a week can guide you into something you are really interested in.” In addition to specializing in Clothing and Textiles, SDCCE’s tuition-free priority workforce training programs from healthcare, hospitality and culinary arts to information technology open a world of possibilities for those looking to upskill or reskill.
While a student at SDCCE, Stokes was encouraged to apply for the California Dream Fund, a training and consulting program for entrepreneurs, which permits new businesses to apply for a microgrant of up to $10,000. Stokes was accepted into the California Dream Fund in May and is now completing marketing and accounting courses with the support of a business coach.
Although Stokes is breaking down barriers and finding success through Dluxware, he is navigating a personal sense of belonging in the fashion world. “If you are not the typical idea of a gay male or a fashion icon, sometimes you can feel out of place. I am still trying to figure out where I fit in with the realm of design,” he said.
“LGBTQIA+ experiences are important, they make up a big part of who we are as a college. Our purpose is to not only celebrate them but to make sure incredible students like Darius are included and feel seen in every aspect,” said Tina M. King, Ed.D., President of SDCCE, who is working toward opening inaugural LGBTQIA+ centers on campus.
Stokes dreams of Dluxware becoming an umbrella company to house other startup designers.