Going out with a bang, so to speak, the final season of The Walking Dead brings the Commonwealth (a community of survivors) from the comics to the screen. The introduction of this utopian-seeming community offers the opportunity for a fashion infusion into the zombie apocalypse series, which returned Aug. 22.
Joining the AMC show toward the end of season 10, costume designer Vera Chow eagerly took on the challenge of expanding the wardrobe scope of the entire series beyond the established utilitarian and tactical survival essentials. And while she can’t say much about the looks she chose for members of the Commonwealth, one hint is the use of brands like vibrant knitwear maker YanYan, known for its cozy and charming cardigans.
Chow also changed up the sourcing process by shopping BIPOC-, women- and LGBTQ+-owned businesses. “A show like The Walking Dead has such a giant platform,” says Chow via a call from set. With an average of 4.5 million viewers per episode in season 10 and 7 million followers on the show’s Instagram account, the long-running series presents multiple mediums to amplify the work of underrepresented designers who often are overlooked during the bulk department-store buying trips that many costume departments rely on.
Chow cast a wide net, searching via Instagram and Etsy rabbit holes for finds, plus getting old-school, word-of-mouth recommendations from friends. “It spans the world,” says the Chinese American costume designer who also worked with BIPOC and indie designers for Eddie Huang’s 2021 feature film Boogie. She lists off Lagos, Nigeria-based designer Imad Eduso; sustainable brand Butcher Apparel, headquartered in Goa, India; zero-waste line Deploy London by British Asian designer Bernice Pan; and the apocalypse-adjacent style of Hong Kong’s Hamcus.
“My favorite is B.Yellowtail,” says Chow. Founded by Indigenous designer and FIDM alum Bethany Yellowtail, the brand and retailer celebrates authentic Native American designs and artistry. “The prints are really cool,” says Chow. “I won’t go into descriptive details or else it becomes very obvious which character I’m talking about.”
The Commonwealth denizens also will wear pieces, often customized by Chow’s team, by gender-norm-breaking Wildfang; Bedouin-inspired Gipci; D’iyanu, founded by Nigeria-born Addie Elabor; and ethical casualwear by Portland, Oregon’s Sara Bergman.
After finding industrial-cool jewelry line Sky Iron Sanctum on Etsy, Chow collaborated with its designer, Kristina Van Istendal, to custom-make upward of 60 pieces. “We found it very appropriate for a particular group of people on our show,” hints Chow, who will tag and credit the brands on social media as new episodes are unveiled.
She emphasizes that taking the time and effort to research and source from a diverse group of designers benefits her process as well as the overall storytelling. “I have to interact with every single vendor, and talk about the show. But I feel like that actually helps me think about the characters more than just plowing through a Bloomingdale’s and being like, ‘This looks like Yumiko.’ ‘This looks like Daryl.’ ‘This looks like Carol,’” says Chow of her intentional “slow fashion” approach. “This helps me really curate.”