Growing up in Longview, Texas, designer Brandon Maxwell says Walmart was his one-stop-shop for everything from basic household supplies to clothes until he moved to New York City at age 18 to pursue a career in fashion.
Twenty years later, Maxwell is the founder of his eponymous ready-to-wear line, Lady Gaga's go-to collaborator and consulting fashion force behind Haus of Gaga (yes, he loved her House of Gucci teaser just as much as the rest of us), the winner of a coveted CFDA Fashion Award and a judge on Bravo's revamped Project Runway. Even after finding mainstream success and receiving critical acclaim, the designer never forgot where he came, remaining close with his family and childhood friends and often paying homage to his small-town roots.
On Tuesday, Maxwell's career comes full circle with the announcement that he will serve as creative director of Walmart's elevated fashion brands, Free Assembly and Scoop. In his new role, Maxwell will oversee design, material selection, sourcing, production and marketing initiatives for four seasonal collections annually for Free Assembly and Scoop.
Speaking with PEOPLE, the creative says partnering with Walmart and "bridging the gap" between his childhood and his life now has always been the goal.
"If you look at my [Brandon Maxwell] fashion shows and a lot of the images we've made and stories we've told, they include my family and friends. That's been a really key thing for me," he shares. "I believe that fashion should be accessible to all. Growing up in a small town, just having to travel hours to the nearest place, to be able to shop fashion…It's always been a dream of mine to be able to create things that are available right outside your front door. I'm really, really excited that Walmart was open to having the conversation."
As part of the partnership, Maxwell — who's focused on major philanthropic efforts this year, including giving PPE to health care workers and donating away wedding dresses to COVID brides — has also designed a line of face masks available exclusively at Walmart starting today. What's more, Walmart has pledged a $100,000 donation to donorschoose.org, a charity Maxwell chose for its dedication to helping public school teachers get funding.
"Walmart has really made a commitment to give back, and that's something that's important for me. I've spoken a lot about education, just how that was really how I was able to go out into the world," Maxwell explains, adding, "My sister's an educator, and put so much into it. So, it's personal for me and I'm really proud of that."
The affordable collaboration came to life during quarantine amid the pandemic, throughout which Maxwell says he's been able to connect with his customers like never before. "I started just waking up and writing emails, being like, 'This is what I did today. What are you guys doing?'"
"I would find that my customers would write me back on the company email," he says, sharing that "a lot of beauty" came from simply reaching out to people and having conversations during an otherwise isolating year.
When asked about designing his own collection remotely from Austin, Texas, Maxwell hints that the upcoming line will be a reflection of this unprecedented time in history and says the creative process has been a "wildly different" than years past.
"I've seen it in the work," he adds. "[The clothes] look very different and I think that I've allowed myself a freedom in that way."
"I'm pretty self-critical, I would say. I've spoken about that a lot. This time has hopefully reminded all of us to just be gentle and kind with ourselves. Everybody's going through a lot. I just think that waking up sometimes and getting through the day is really a great accomplishment and we need to be gentle and kind with ourselves. I brought some of that for myself, which has not always come naturally to me into the creative process."
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