Birmingham’s emerging fashion industry: ‘Beautiful to see.’

By Je’Don Holloway Talley

For the Birmingham Times

Designer Sielandra Powell owns Beyond Bold an edgy clothing line that transforms ordinary garments into high fashion. (Reginald Allen, for the Birmingham Times)

Birmingham’s rich style and culture are no longer underground. Thanks to stylists, designers, bloggers, and Alabama’s first fashion magazine, the city’s fashion scene is vibrant and evolving and making its mark on the industry.

Christina Renteria.

“Models are being discovered through the fashion shows being produced [in Birmingham], and emerging designers are taking their fashions into stores and creating bigger collaborations,” said Christina Renteria, creator of PinkLux, which helps men and women develop personal style and build confidence. “It’s beautiful to see.”

The impact of bloggers is undeniable. They are the tastemakers and trendsetters who determine what’s hot or what’s not. They are the pulse of the culture. They drive trends.

Take fashion blogger Jeniese Hosey, 38, of The Je Ne Sais Quoi: A Guide to a Stylish Plus-Size Life.

“When people realized that bloggers equal influence, it ushered in a new era of advertising,” said Hosey, who has been known as a heavy-hitter in the Birmingham blog industry for the past seven years. “Making sure the right bloggers are confirmed as VIP guests at your event and wearing your products can boost sales and product purchases.”

Bloggers are major influencers because of the connections they have to their platforms and those who follow them.

“Blogging is deeply personal, … or it should be, because you build a relationship with your followers,” Hosey said. “They listen to you. They ask you questions. They respect your opinion, so you can’t take it lightly.”

Jeniese Hosey writes the fashion and lifestyle blog “The Je Ne Sais Quoi.”(Reginald Allen, for the Birmingham Times)

Recently, she landed a spot in the October issue of People Style (formerly StyleWatch) magazine among other style icons wearing bow blouses and cropped jeans with a flare.

Hosey said Birmingham’s fashion culture is steadily rising and growing.

“I am always blown away by the new bloggers that come on the scene,” she said. “The increase of creatives in the atmosphere is energetic! Seeing people showcase their style and develop their craft as a blogger is extremely encouraging, and it keeps me going.”

“Fashion is important because it’s the biggest form of self-expression,” Hosey said. “What we wear deeply correlates with how we feel about ourselves. I can always tell how someone feels when they get dressed, myself included. I know people say the eyes are the window to the soul, but I say it’s your clothes.”

Here are other local culture mavens who have an impact on the thriving Magic City fashion scene.

Evelyn Ufomadu

Ufomadu, 29, a lawyer by trade, started Fashion Briefs in 2014 and created a unique position in Birmingham’s fashion industry. Her business is centered around navigating the complexities of protecting the creative rights and intellectual property of designers, models, boutique startups, and creatives in partnerships with corporations.

“I negotiate contracts, develop projects, and provide legal counsel and services to the creative

Attorney Evelyn Ufomadu builds her work around the fashion industry.(Provided Photo)

community in Birmingham’s fashion industry,” she said.

Describing Fashion Briefs as a combination of legal mind with a passion for fashion, Ufomadu said, “My blog is a business. I am not ‘Just another fashion blogger,’ as people so easily peg us. Fashion Briefs doesn’t just talk about my outfit from day to day. I provide services [that go beyond styling].”

She works with startup fashion entrepreneurs in business formation, creating and reviewing contracts, and styling displays for local boutiques.

“I’ve learned how to marry my legal skills with my fashion and styling skill sets. [My law background] has been a huge degree of separation for me, not only in Alabama but throughout the U.S.”

Ufomadu believes fashion should be considered a form of “self-love,” not vanity.

“Oftentimes, fashion gets a bad rap because it brings up images of materialism, vanity, and [sometimes] negative body-image. I like to use fashion a little differently. I like to use it as a way to help others express themselves and increase their confidence through fashion.”

Many often confuse fashion for style, Ufomadu said: “Fashion is buying what we are told is ‘in’ this season. Style is the ability to distinctively sort through the maze of all of today’s fashion ‘must-haves,’ make a selection, and do so in a way that is in keeping with how we see and express ourselves.”

Personal style is an identity marker, she said.

“Our closets always seem full of possibilities, but it really depends on what aspect of our identity we want to demonstrate through clothes on a given day,” Ufomadu said. “That’s the beauty of it for me. I will literally be runway fresh with a Dior dress, Louboutin heels, and Chanel bag one day, and super-casual chic with a jogger suit and off-brand trainers the next.”

Christopher Ryan Clark

Better known as Ryan Christopher in the fashion industry and on reality TV, this Birmingham native is believed to be one of the first celebrity fashion stylists to hail from the city.

“Fashion is a person’s attitude, it’s who they are, and you see that in their wardrobe.”

Reality TV personality Christopher Ryan Clark believes paying dues in the industry is important.(Provided Photo)

The difference between the 30-something Christopher and other Magic City fashion stylists?

“I paid my dues. And, the right dues, at that,” he said.

Paying dues in the right apprenticeship is important in the industry, Christopher said. He studied under Atlanta-based stylist, Shun Melson, who introduced him to reality TV.

“I interned for her in Atlanta all through college. We worked on season one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta, styling NeNe Leakes and the rest of the cast. Melson styled the show opener and the confessionals. She taught me how to style for television, how to clip in the clothing, and how to present clothes. That really developed my intuition for choosing the right options for a celebrity client.”

But is apprenticeship alone enough?

“You have to not only apprentice under the right people but also have the drive to match,” Christopher said. “I was very ambitious coming out of college. I had fallen in love with fashion and was determined to make it in the industry by any means necessary.”

It’s not every day that a Birmingham native gets a phone call offering them a spot on television, but that was the case for Christopher, who booked his third season on Bravo’s Thicker than Water, starring alongside Jewel and Brooklyn Tankard.

“I had been styling Jewel Tankard on and off for a few years, and she recommended me for the styling position for season three’s green-screen [confessionals] and the show opener,” he said.

When producers saw Christopher’s chemistry with Brooklyn play out behind the scenes, they offered him a role as Brooklyn’s friend and stylist on the show.

Christina Renteria

Renteria created PinkLux to help men and women achieve personal style, build confidence, and identify their strengths and weaknesses on the journey to becoming their best.

“At PinkLux, I just don’t purchase clothes and dress clients,” said the 27-year-old. “I help them develop their personal style and wardrobes, and make them more confident in their attire.”

A person’s wardrobe doesn’t have to be defined by their bank account; it should be defined by personal expression, Renteria said: “I can see a client’s whole life story through their closet because we dress how we feel. It’ll show me different sides of their personality, whether they’re confident achieving personal style or whether they always play it safe.”

“You can give two people the same outfit, and their character and fashion perspective will cause them to wear that same outfit differently,” she said.

Each year, PinkLux hosts and produces the Lux Fashion Show for Belk stores at the Summit. The goal: to diversify the runway with all body types. This effort also demonstrates Renteria’s belief in collaborations and community.

“I try to push the importance of partnerships on my platform,” she said. “I encourage everyone to co-produce events with like-minded people who have similar missions. We have to offer internships and resources to up-and-coming fashion creatives who want to be introduced to the industry.”

Ayiesha Taylor (far right) founded Happy Bird Co., an inspirational graphic T-Shirt line ‘branded by thought and conciseness.” (Reginald Allen, for the Birmingham Times)

Aisha Taylor

Taylor, 41, started her T-shirt line last summer amidst heightening concerns about police brutality and not-guilty verdicts. Looking for empowering graphic tees to combat the turmoil she was feeling inside, Taylor created Happy Bird Co. With a retail background spanning more than 20 years and a business degree from the University of Alabama, she had more than enough experience to create her small business.

“I began looking for a T-shirt that could be my voice, one that truly expressed how I was feeling about the injustices that African-Americans continue to face,” she said. “I was looking for something that made me feel proud and empowered, … like I was using my voice and fashion to make a bold statement. When I couldn’t find anything that did these things for me, I created my own T-shirt. It said ‘Freedom.’”

Happy Bird Co., founded one year ago with only three designs, has grown to feature more than 20 designs for both men and women. The company’s offerings can be seen around town at the Alys Stephens Market, the Irondale Market, the 4th Ave Jazz Festival, and the Downtown Block Party.

Taylor said Birmingham’s fashion industry is beginning to make its mark on the industry, contrary to what people may think of the South: “There are some amazingly creative souls here that want to have fun in interesting pieces that allow them the expression of life through what they wear.”

“People who want to remain [at status quo] do so because either they don’t want to draw attention to themselves for being different or they don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb.”

Among the goals on Happy Bird Co.’s vision board is “Become a global brand.”

“Every new design we introduce does well in the marketplace, but we would like to have our tees on TV shows, in movies, and sold internationally,” said Taylor. “We want to become the go-to brand for tees that make people feel empowered to make a difference. Our T-shirts are bold and impactful. They transcend racial barriers. They make you think. They inspire. This is the definition of art.”

Happy Bird Co. can be found in nearly every store in Birmingham and will be at this year’s Magic City Sip and Shop on Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the Bridgestreet Gallery and Loft.

“We look for any opportunity to drape the city in Happy Bird Co.,” Taylor said.

Designer Adrienne M. Nixon works on a custom dress for a client.(Reginald Allen, for the Birmingham Times)

Adrienne M. Nixon

Nixon’s fashions can be found shining brightly on a broad range of bodies—from the color guard and the Dancin’ Divas of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) to executives at fundraising galas.

“My work is original and timeless, and will not be duplicated,” said Nixon, 40, whose sewing talent was born out of necessity.

“I married young, and we needed a lot of things,” she said. “I needed new furniture, but couldn’t afford it. So, I bought a sofa cover and materials to make throw pillows. The pillows came out so great that I thought to myself, ‘If I can make pillows, I can make pants.’ That started me down my path of fashion creation.”

Nixon discovered, however, that there was more to learn about the basics: “The pants came out absolutely perfect, but I couldn’t wear them because I didn’t realize that pattern sizing and ready-to-wear sizing are totally different.”

She decided to take a class at Hancock Fabrics—and has been part of Birmingham’s fashion industry for more than a decade.

“For three consecutive years, I created the uniforms for the AAMU color guard and Dancin’ Divas,” Nixon said. “My fashions have been featured in Belladonna magazine, and I presented Adrienne M. Nixon formal wear at the 2017 Southern Women’s Show in early October.”

Maacah Davis, founder of Belladonna, Alabama’s first fashion magazine, said her publication can’t exist or continue “without strong communities of fashion-minded creatives, so we tap into their talents to produce a magazine we’re proud to have represent us. Fashion editorials and publications exist to both tell the stories of our collective cultural feelings and sell a lifestyle.”

Being a designer who sews is a huge advantage, Nixon said.

“The possibilities are endless for me because I can literally make your vision come to life. As long as I can visualize it, I can make it.”

Sielandra Powell

Powell, 25, is the creative designer behind Beyond Bold, which puts eclectic hand-painted custom designs on the customer’s choice of apparel. She can never foreshadow the outcome of any particular design, and she even draws inspiration from it, she said.

“I trust that my creative abilities will always lead to something unique, original, and, most importantly, bold,” said Powell. “When customers bring me their ordinary clothes to be designed, I give them back one-of-a-kind masterpieces that give them the confidence to be bold.”

“My designs are different every time, allowing people to express their individual personality through the clothes I create for them.”

Sielandra has been designing under the Beyond Bold name for four years and said the goal is to get her designs picked up by urban retailers.

“I see Beyond Bold on the sides of buildings in Times Square, just like the other big-name brands.”