“I probably made every woman teacher [at Bessemer City High School] some type of outfit,” said fashion designer Ariel Smith as she prepared for New York Fashion Week on Feb. 9-17. “I made a lot of maxi skirts when African print style was really popular two years ago.”
Smith, 24, formerly a geometry teacher at BCHS via Teach for America, has her own clothing line, Ariel, Inc. She taught geometry to 10th grade students until last August when she moved to Atlanta.
Teaching geometry was a lot easier for her because she deals with shapes all the time, she said. “Pattern-making and designing is a form of math itself, so it was a lot easier to relate to [the students] on a creative level, than someone who came to the classroom strictly numbers-based.”
Smith’s new line, Queen of the Galaxy, will be featured at New York Fashion Week on Feb. 11.
“My inspiration (for the line) comes from Janelle Monae and her funky style, and just woman empowerment and independence,” Smith said.
“Think Star Wars with color,” said Christy Palmer, a personal stylist who owns SassyNFierce and works with Smith.
Palmer will travel to NYFW with Smith and said the trip will open “a lot of doors for Ariel, Inc.”
“I see her in stores and upscale boutiques,” said Palmer, who styles and accessorizes the models for Smith’s designs. “Her clothes are good enough for Saks.”
Palmer, who has worked with Smith for six months, said Smith’s open mindedness is one of the things she enjoys.
“She allows me to express my creative self, she gets suggestions from me,” Palmer said. “It’s all about her vision. As a stylist, you definitely want to focus on the designer and bring their collection alive, and she allows me to do that in my own way.”
Smith wants her brand to appeal to people of all shapes and sizes. At NYFW, Smith said she will have to use typical model sizes, but “I really want to make a name for myself, and do more clothe-equality for all types of shapes and sizes because it’s not realistic a lot of times.”
“It’s easier for a designer to make a one-size-fits-all type clothing when doing (a show) so they don’t have to think about other sizes when designing, but I do want to keep pushing for clothe-equality,” she said.
Smith is originally from Seattle, but said she found some of her biggest supporters while living in Birmingham for two years. She moved to Atlanta because of the larger population that she could reach. “I wanted to further my reach and my clients, and build my brand more there,” she said.
That does not stop Smith from visiting Birmingham.
“I still go (to Birmingham) because I have so many people that I know who are photographers, makeup artists, stylists, and models in Birmingham . . . I have about four or five of them going to New York with me, so Birmingham will always be a place where I come back and do shows.”
Smith’s line will be in Birmingham Fashion Week and a UAB fashion show in March, as well as a show with Xay Renzo, a local model, actor and event coordinator, in this month. Her designs have also appeared during Birmingham Fashion Week and she has participated in BIRMINGLAM, and a host of other shows throughout the Southeast.
Impact on Students
As a teacher in Bessemer, Smith made sure to have an impact on her students.
“I would teach kids how to sew,” she said. “They would bring their sewing machines in class and I would teach them how to sew. We also had a fashion show at the school that I helped in.”
Smith recognizes the impact teachers can have on students. Her high school fashion design teacher took her class to New York to get a firsthand look at the fashion world.
“That really inspired me,” Smith remembered. “Just seeing it firsthand, I was like ‘This is what I want to do.’ For my senior project, I did a fashion show for the school. Compared to what I do now it was awful, but I had so much fun doing it.”
In Dec. 2016, she offered free sewing classes in Birmingham as well.
“I had about nine students and they stayed with me for about three days and learned how to sew and that was really fun,” she said.
Smith wanted to be a designer since age nine, when her mother taught her how to hand sew. She went to school at Washington State University and studied fashion design. During the summer, Smith said she had a lot of free time from teaching and decided to start her own clothing line.
“I started off making maxi skirts,” she said. “When I was teaching, I would make maxi skirts for myself and people would go crazy over it … so I would make them and go to festivals and vend and sell them. Making 10 skirts in two nights really helped my sewing skills.”
Smith said her work comes from her heart.
“If anyone has something that they love to do, even if they think it’s not going to make money or will be long-term, I still say go after it because life is about having fun and living to your fullest potential, and you’ll never know unless you try.”