You’ve probably seen them on arguably, one of America’s most popular reality shows, Project Runway. Or spotted their beautiful designs on some of today’s most popular A- lister’s attending exclusive galas and red-carpet events. Valerie Mayen, Nathan McDonald and Michael Taylor represent the new faces of fashion design.
As true movers and shakers, they are dedicated to their communities as well as their crafts, mixing their gifts with a passion to promote goodwill and make a difference. Mayen, McDonald and Taylor talk to lingk2us.com about their passion for fashion and their mission to pay success forward in their communities.
You may have seen her two years ago as a contestant on Season 8 of Project Runway but Mayen’s entrée into the fashion world started in junior high. “We couldn’t afford a lot so we shopped at a place called Weiner’s. My parents let me have a little free rein with what I wore,” says Mayen, owner of Yellowcake Shop in Cleveland, Ohio. “Part of me wanted to compensate with originality for the lack of brand name clothes. That’s when I became aware of how fashion made me feel unique and good.”
After working as a nanny for an affluent family, she changed career paths. A job offer fell through leaving her to rely on selling her custom-made garments. Before Mayen knew it, her pieces sold. “It kind of happened randomly. I enjoyed it.” she said. “It wasn’t a decision ‘today I’m going to be a fashion designer.’ I took a couple of courses and learned about the basics.”
Influenced by designers from the 60s such as Rudi Gernreich, known for creating the monokini and the thong, Mayen compares her design process similar to caking. She starts with the fabric instead of drawings. “When you’re making a cake you start with the ingredients. I let the fabric dictate design,” she says. “I can drape it or make a sample out of cheaper fabric. If it looks good I then put it on the floor. If the fit looks good, we pass it on to my girls and make an order based on what I think will sell.” Mayer’s considers her silhouettes as clean and simple, which speaks to the broad mass appeal of her designs. “Tweens to 65-year olds buy our clothes.” Mayen considers good design as garments that not only sell well but have aesthetic value, are high quality, sustainable and have great color and shape.
Mayen describes her Project Runway experience as “crazy,””exhausting” and “nerve wrecking” but also as an extremely positive. She continues to maintain relationships with people she met on the show.
With the belief in creating boldly fashioned clothing that sustains and supports a healthy humanity, Yellowcake contributes 5 percent of its profits to supporting hunger relief, homelessness and poverty. “For a long time my parents told me that I needed to be a doctor or lawyer or someone who contributed to society. They were very concerned about me being an artist,” says Mayen. “Before I was a fashion designer I always set aside 10 percent of my income to give, but decided to go beyond that and I still make it work. In doing that, I can make what I’m doing feel more purposeful than just making women feel good about themselves and just creating pretty things.” Mayen is committed to giving back 5 percent no matter what profit margins may look like. “I realize that even if the business doesn’t grow financially that God is going to bless it. If not financially, it will be blessed relationaly.” Yellowcake is also involved with a local community development corporation. One of their initiatives is serving meals to about 35 low-income families from housing above the store. We are a very close-knit community, everyone knows one another which gives us an even greater sense of gratification. “Everyone knows each other in the community and that’s a good thing,” she says.
To learn more visit Valerie at
http://www.yellowcakeshop.com/ or follow
her via Facebook at
twitter at twitter.com/yellowcakeshop,
Instagram at instagram.com/yellowcakeshop
or Pinterest at pinterest.com/yellowcakeshop
The “Inspired” Designer
Nathan McDonald of Zanesville, Ohio made his first “couture” skirt at the age of 5. “We always had fabric around the house. My mom sewed and we were a dress-up family,” says
McDonald, whose father was an assistant pastor at church.” The youngster took some of his mom’s fabric, elastic and thread to the basement and created his first masterpiece. “I made a skirt for her to try on,” he said. “She wore the skirt for years.” Even before pre-school, McDonald developed an affinity for handmade clothing. His Aunt Ruth traced his and his brother’s feet on a cardboard box and made them slippers. “This was the first time I thought ‘wow’ you can make things,” he said. “They were chocolate-brown and khaki color.” Inspired by Ralph Rucci because of his true artistry and cutting-edge fashion, McDonald considers himself as a designer inspired by emotion. He considers his process as “disjointed” and also doesn’t start with a sketch. “I like to have the fabric and shapes speak to me,” says McDonald. “I start with a concept or something I want to try and go straight to the mannequin.” He describes his process as one of discovery and many of his pieces reflect emotions that he’s experiencing at the time. He also births designs from an unlikely source: bad movies. “I always have to have something playing in the background.” ”I’m a musician, so it can’t be music or I’ll get distracted” McDonald says. “I’ve found I can have noise in the background and I’m not distracted by a bad movie.”
One of his latest collections was inspired by a five-second frame from what he considered a bad movie about Greek mythology. No matter the mood or movie, McDonald always designs for women based on what he wants to see a woman wear and what he thinks looks good on a woman. He considers good design as a combination of fit, form and function. “Clothing should be wearable and I still believe that clothing should be comfortable,” he says. “If it’s not comfortable, the discomfort will speak through the clothing. I think the clothes should satisfy a purpose and convey a message.” McDonald describes his experience on Season 10 of Project Runway as positive despite some of the traumatic events he experienced during the show. (His grandfather died six days into the competition.) He speaks to the emotional and physical toll that the intense competition took on him. But through the journey his faith was renewed and became stronger. “Even
though I didn’t win, I made it through mid-season. Just knowing as a person of faith that God will sustain you through any situation was reassuring,” he says. “I didn’t have my Bible or my family but I had my prayer life, I had my scriptures and I had my songs. Even though I was plucked away from my family and friends, (contestants on the show are in near total isolation and under strict gag order) my relationship with God and communion with him was in my heart.” He still remains in contact with some of the contestants as well as people who worked behind the camera behind the scenes.
“I feel in principle you should give back when you have been given privilege and opportunities,” says McDonald. “When you get to certain milestones it’s important
to bring people with you and help them move forward. It strengthens your community.” For the past 6 years, McDonald has volunteered with Upper Bound, a NYU program for students of color who are in junior high or high school. The organization focuses on career counseling but McDonald says those sessions often turn into discussion about life skills. “We always get into conversations about not allowing people to determine who you are and label you,” says McDonald. “It’s actually about fighting for your dreams.”
After his stint at Project Runway, McDonald and his mother (an accomplished performing artist in her own right) started Runway Ready as a way to inspire people in his hometown to pursue their goals through the creative and visual arts. “A lot of people would come up to me and say “I wish I could do this but…” says McDonald. “I would share with them that we all have talents and qualities; we all breathe the same air and that age should not limit their dreams.” The program has participants ranging from 7 to 70-years old. “I like to see people inspired and it energizes me to see people working in their passion and calling.”
In October, McDonald will be starting seminars at the Mood fabric store in NYC, with the Cancer support society to make turbans for cancer survivors. “I like to make people feel beautiful, he says. “And they’re going to rock the turbans.”
Born and raised in the Church Hill community in Richmond, Virginia, Michael Taylor’s journey in the fashion industry has come full circle. Taylor’s first experience with fashion started in his sixth grade economics class. “A friend and I signed up for home economics and showed up the first day of class and 75 percent of the class were girls and we wondered what we had signed up for,” said Taylor. “We cooked the first semester and the second was sewing.” Considered a child prodigy in fashion at 12 years old, Taylor secured his first apprenticeship with a tailoring shop. A year later he began working at local clothing shops and at 16, decided to make fashion a career choice. In the 80’s Taylor packed up everything he owned and transferred from Virginia Commonwealth University to study at the renown Parson’s School of Design in New York. After a successful 17-year career in fashion on 7th Avenue, Taylor was led home. “It was an amazing journey,” he says.
At the pinnacle of his career in New York, Taylor had a divine intervention. “For 30 years, I felt like a yo-yo trying to appease man and fit into the industry. I got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. God told me to separate myself from the industry for 3 months. After that experience, I sold everything I owned even down to my last spool of thread,” he said. Through a series of partnerships with investors, Taylor says God led and prepared him to make a new start in Richmond.
Based on Taylor’s routine, many could agree that his typical day as a designer who oversees several businesses is hectic. “I can’t sit in one place for a long time. I get bored easily,” he said. He describes himself as a multi-tasker who processes information quickly and moves on to the next item on the agenda. He says he’s learned to surround himself with people who can carry forth the vision of his brand. As a reformed workaholic who used to work seven days a week, Taylor limits his work time to 40 hours a week and says he has accomplished more than he ever has, personally and professionally. Taylor’s creations are inspired by many designers, including Charles James. who was a true architect of shape, and Alexander McQueen who he considered a true artist. Taylor’s says his designs cater to women who are powerful, sexy and have the aurora of a goddess but are ladylike. “She’s over 25. She’s the woman who comes into a room and everyone wants to be like her,” he says. “She has natural beauty about her.”
After returning back to Richmond, Taylor opened MT Design School. The two- year certificate program is dedicated to developing the skills and talents of individuals interested in fashion design as a hobby or career. “The school is designed to develop design talent who don’t want to go to a four-year university,” says Taylor. At the school, design and art courses are offered for students to explore the innovative and creative aspects of fashion designing; principles of art and design, fashion sketching, pattern drafting, 3-D draping and Computer Aid Design (CAD). The program includes software for design and production apparel courses to develop the technical skills of the craft. Taylor says the school brings real-life industry experience to each group of students. The classes are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. “Being a part of the program and the exposure to my other ventures, allows students to learn industry techniques and provides opportunities for internships without having to go outside to seek them,” said Taylor.
In addition to the school, Taylor created the Fashion Design Center, a business incubator to anchor the fashion industry in Richmond. The arts community has grown in the Richmond area and Taylor desires to capitalize on that momentum by working with government to move the city toward being considered as a capital in the fashion industry. “We are here to nurture what individuals and the city already have.”
To learn more about MT Design school please