Spotlight on Alumnae: Julia Cost ’09 Transforms Her “Happy Place” Into an Art Career

Julia Cost sews her own sample garments with self-designed fabrics and dances in them to show her Instagram sewing clients how the fabrics move

Julia Cost ’09 was born into a family with generations of artists, yet she was hesitant to turn her creativity into a career. “We didn’t even have a TV growing up. We had a garage and my mom said it was the ‘project room,’ with art supplies floor to ceiling,” Cost recalls with a smile. “My brother and I made art all the time. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making art. It was so integral to everything we did.”

Cost was raised on Maui, Hawai’i, by her father, who is a painter, and her mother, who ran the family gallery. After attending a college preparatory high school, and as the first in her family to attend college, Cost felt like she was supposed to focus on more “rigorous” areas of study, such as English or history, instead of following her passions for art and dance. “The art and dance studio were my happy places, but it almost felt too fun to do something that made me so happy,” Cost says. But after her first year at college—which she spent at Smith College—she realized that she could pursue what she loved.

She transferred to Scripps as a sophomore and initially declared a major in studio art. That year Cost, who spent her summers training at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, was cast as a performer in multiple senior theses and decided to double major in dance. While at Scripps, she found a passion for choreography, creating work for and with dancers from across the 5Cs. After graduation, she went on to earn a master’s of fine arts in dance at the University of California, Irvine and later started a small dance collective in the Bay Area before shifting her focus to painting full-time.

Today, Cost finds ways to interweave art and dance into her flourishing and unique career: She sews her own sample garments with self-designed fabrics and dances in them to show her Instagram sewing clients how the fabrics move. Her oil and watercolor original paintings have become the subjects of these textile designs, which she offers on different types of fabric, including cotton poplin, gauze, and corduroy.  “Dancing in [fabric made from] my paintings is an amazing feeling!” Cost says. “An integration of so many parts of my work.”

Sharing her own work has helped Cost uplift others’ work as well—an effect she calls “the coolest part of promotion.” In December, she painted a new textile featuring 72 of her clients’ garments, all of which were made with her fabrics. She calls the new design Tiny Wardrobe Textile. “It is very meta!” Cost says. “Now people around the world are making adorable things with it.”  But her work goes beyond fabrics: She also sells original paintings and giclées of her work by commission or through her family’s art gallery, and she is currently finishing up her first children’s book, which will include 30 original oil paintings.

“It’s very hard to be an expert at any one thing,” Cost explains. “I think there’s value in working to be pretty good at a lot of things. Then you can stack these together and you’ll have a unique skill set that gives you lots of perspectives and ways to approach problems. It can also set you apart.” Pursuing her various passions, she adds, has helped her navigate her career: “Keep the things you’re drawn to alive, because they will intersect at some point, and it will all make sense.”