Costume design on Star Trek is of paramount importance. Most fans can recognize which the era in which a show was made just by checking on the small differences between uniforms. For true Trek fans, having the right threads for a convention or other situations in real life is also a must. For those times, many fans look to Volante Design for the highest quality jackets and accessories available.
Volante Design is a U.S.-based clothing manufacturer which creates both unique designs and licensed looks inspired from the worlds of comic books, anime, Eastern martial arts, video games, and Star Trek. They even can create custom designs at certain times of year, thanks to a submissions period. Their lineup of clothing is constantly evolving and changing, thanks to the drive of the company’s leadership, Willow and David Volante.
David is the founder and lead designer, while Willow is the CEO who works with David on the design process as well. They are both huge Star Trek fans. In fact, Willow will testify that The Next Generation was a significant influence on her when she was growing up.
“Long before we were inspired to make products based on Star Trek, we were inspired by the morals, the systems, and the very universe of Starfleet,” said Willow. “As a child of the ‘90s, I grew up watching Picard’s crew and as I built Volante Design with my team, The Next Generation was a great resource on how to boldly go where our company had never gone before.
“It seems to me that Star Trek, especially with the new developments of the Discovery series, is one of those rare media entities that has stood up and walked the walk of equality and diversity.”
We were able to catch up with David and ask him some questions about what drives his company forward, and how he creates such a wide variety of thoughtful and interesting designs.
TREK REPORT: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
DAVID: I mostly grew up in New York and went to Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts, which is how I came [to Massachusetts]. I studied animation and comic book art and went into fashion design after college. I taught myself what I know about designing clothing. I’ve always been interested in comic books and sci-fi, anime, anything I can get my hands on that’s interesting and recreates the world as we know it in another way.
TREK REPORT: Your company is so unique. Does it take people a second to “get it” when they first see your clothing?
DAVID: Some people it takes a second, other people get it immediately. We’ve had every reaction you can think of! When we’re in person at a convention we get to see them all in person, right away. People are interested immediately, or don’t know what it is, but most people that put on our jackets get it right away. The feeling of the product that we create is key to what we’re doing, to the mission at Volante Design.
TREK REPORT: Tell me what you do day-to-day…
DAVID: I aim to do mostly design but the process is very creative and not linear. Design covers the idea, making multiple prototypes, grading the pattern, and so on.
Sometimes I have to answer questions from production to clean up any loose ends with the design paperwork, or to share more of my vision with marketing so they can understand the features and intentions of a piece. I’m technically the IT department and machine maintenance department as well. Small business means we all wear multiple hats.
TREK REPORT: When I saw the Maya Mens jacket, I thought “perfect for a guy on a Yamaha.” Do you design for tasks or activities?
DAVID: Those kind of happen simultaneously. Sometimes the look comes first, sometimes the function comes first, but both are present in my mind throughout the entire product development process.
A central tenet of Volante Design is that our products are functional. They look cool, and most people are drawn in by the look first, but they need to have real pockets to carry things, real hardware that works, fabric that lasts.
TREK REPORT: Has COVID been difficult on your business? How have you been making it work?
DAVID: We stopped going to conventions of course, since they all closed. In late March 2020 we started making masks as fast as we could, selling them on a sliding scale and offering them for free to anyone that needed one. For about two months straight everyone on the team was making masks, just hundreds of masks per week. We don’t normally produce that kind of volume, it was intense!
Luckily our community banded together to support us, by purchasing masks and by donating funds so we could donate masks to schools, health care facilities, foster care organizations, anyone who reached out with a need.
The hardest part for me personally was flipping the switch back to design mode after being in production for those two months. There were some moments that really took away my creative juices, processing everything that was going on
TREK REPORT: Tell us about the feedback you’ve gotten from Trek fans.
DAVID: Trek fans love our stuff! It’s a very discerning fandom. We’ve definitely had people who are really adamant about how the uniforms are and they don’t necessarily agree with the changes we’ve made. My take is, the uniforms have already existed for 30 years so there’s no reason to recreate them. People are excited to see a new take on those things, in a way that is wearable and something they can incorporate into their daily outfit.
TREK REPORT: When did you become a Star Trek fan? When was your “First Contact” with Star Trek?
DAVID: My dad used to watch it all the time, so I saw bits and pieces of it as a kid. I didn’t really get into the show until I was in college. My favorite series, might be slightly controversial, is Voyager. That’s partially because of the unknown nature of the area of the galaxy that they’re in. I like the progression of them going through various areas of space with different enemies, antagonists, that change things.
TREK REPORT: Do you guys have things in development that you can tell us about?
DAVID: We’ve definitely focused on Starfleet uniforms quite a bit, so we’re looking this year to branch out into other designs that explore different aspects of the Trek universe.
TREK REPORT: Tell us about the licensing process. Was that a difficult thing to get started?
DAVID: With Star Trek, it was an odd case. We started off working with Roddenberry Entertainment, not CBS (now Viacom), and they wanted a design for their store. There was a miscommunication which put our project with them on halt, but that opened the door with CBS/Viacom for us to get a full licensing agreement which is what we now have.
Otherwise, the licensing process is a long game and can take awhile. We approached Sony and Ubisoft for years before we were approved.
TREK REPORT: Tell us about Volante Designs and the conventions.
DAVID: We’re regular features on the con circuit! We love going to NYCC, DragonCon, GenCon, Star Trek Las Vegas, PAX East, and tons of other shows. It’s always great to get instant feedback from our customers and to see a wide variety of people trying on (and enjoying) my work.
TREK REPORT: What strikes me about your Trek line, is that unless you’re a fan, it looks like high fashion. When I saw the Starfleet 2364 I thought “TNG ALL THE WAY.” It’s almost like your style is like undercover fan clothing.
DAVID: I don’t think of it so much as undercover. The idea of the design is you can wear it and if you don’t know the thing it’s based on, you can still enjoy the product.
And if you do know the thing, you’ll be more excited about it. So in that way it’s undercover, but it’s pretty overt. I want it to feel, for the person who loves the franchise, that they are really a part of that universe and for it not to come across as weird to the non-believers.