Photo: Joshua Kissi
Asata More describes its current design aesthetic as a frivolous nod to the past, a particularly refreshing vibe right now, when the present is often exhausting. The clothes of Delaware-born designers are quirky and playful, hinting at psychedelia, California surf culture and classic movies. After seeing Shirley MacLaines What a way forward!, for example, she became obsessed with details and silhouettes of the 50s and 60s, a fixation that resulted in pieces like the sponge bucket hats and smiley shoulder bags. Her use of recycled fabrics makes her project more nostalgic for a sustainable journey through time.
Reworked clothes are all the rage during their forties, with brands like urbn rewrrk, JJVintage, and Frankie Collective Vintage providing the most conscientious buyers with customized parts at reasonable prices. From materials to silhouettes, Asata Mais takes rework to the next level: she’s not just a designer that she does, photographs and models most of her work. At 27, she draws on fashion history in a completely modern way.
Photo: Joshua Kissi
But knew she wanted to be an artist from a young age. She dreamed of becoming a pastry chef, but after the cooking class she took in high school turned out to be disappointing, she switched to a textile and clothing class for her extracurricular career paths. Even though she joined the class a month late, teacher Maiss immediately saw her natural ability to design and sew. Soon she began her work in a local fashion show. She was 16 years old.
I had a headache that day, says Mais. I was always very small and shy, so I was sitting in the far corner in the back with all this chaos around me. None of the styles matched my clothes because I made all of my clothes fit me, and I’m super petite. It was a nightmare and I was panicking. My mom came backstage and asked someone to direct her to the far corner because she knew I would be there, and she helped me calm down and pull myself together. We finally found someone who could fit everything, and people loved my clothes. It was then that I knew I wanted to become a fashion designer.
But initially, she bought her materials from Etsy simply because she wanted a one-of-a-kind fabric. His recent collection, for example, includes a 1950s-style playsuit made in a rare 1960s nautical print. But waste, pollution, and the abusive work practices of fast fashion all prompted him to start using exclusively second-hand fabrics and textiles. I was following someone on Etsy who had a lot of fabric, and that’s where it started. There is so much waste and by-products that come from the textile industry; it was nicer for me in my head to buy something that was already there [and] to support someone who had a small business, says Mais.
All eyes on the goal, But attended Albright College to continue his studies in design. But after spending all of high school learning from a teacher with 40 years of experience in making clothes, she felt the Alrbights fashion program was a step backwards. The lack of challenges in addition to the high cost of tuition caused her to drop out after one semester. She moved on impulse to Los Angeles, where she got a full time job at Nobu Malibu to pay the bills and gained experience working for different designers.
Photo: Joshua Kissi
A few years after her experience in Los Angeles, Mais felt it was time to focus on developing her label, so she launched a store on Depop. She sold a mix of vintage designer pieces as well as her own designs, which included men’s clothing. Slowly, she began to develop her fan base. Last December, Mais moved to New York City to try and gain more exposure for her work, but quickly realized that she wanted to apply to the CFDA / Vogue fashion fund.
With only three months to do a new collection, Mais quit her job and returned to her mother’s home in Delaware to focus on the application process, then the pandemic struck. It changed everything. The CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund decided not to go through the same process this year. They changed it to A Common Thread, and I’m not eligible for this funding because it seems I’m not making any money as a business, especially before this year. I was disappointed.
Yet she has found ways to support her work. Be featured on Vogues list of black owned fashion and beauty brands support now and always Helped her increase her Instagram follower count from 1,000 to 14,000 in a matter of weeks. In June, pop singer Halsey announced she was releasing it Black Creators Fund Initiative providing resources, funding and a platform for black artists. In the first round, Halsey chose ten recipients; But was among the top five. With the funds she received, Mais was able to invest in her first studio, add a member to her one-woman team, and fully embark on growing her two-year-old clothing brand.
Photo: Joshua Kissi
Watching the project finally take off is overwhelming, said But. I’m super grateful because that’s all I’ve worked so hard for in the last ten years of my life, she said, with real emotion in her voice. It gets you down when you feel like nothing is changing. I felt like I was working hard and making cool clothes, but no one saw it. Then he finally took off. And obviously for some reason, Mais says, referring to the hypervisibility of black creatives right now.
But think that emerging designers, including herself, have two roles to play in changing the fashion industry: they have to keep their vision authentic, but they also have to educate their audience. I want to continue to stay true to myself in what I create because it inspires others. But I also want to make people aware of what’s going on behind everything they consume, Mais says. If you get to the gist of these big brands and companies, a lot of people are underpaid. They are not credited and then there’s pollution and waste. If I can play a part to break away from this, I will be very grateful to you.