African Americans have long been known for influencing fashion through our culture and creativity. Some of the first notable African-American female fashion designers left their indelible mark on the industry through iconic works.
Zelda Wynn Valdes was the first to own a shop on Broadway (New York) in 1948 and was known for making dresses for Ella Fitzgerald and creating the iconic playboy costume, allegedly commissioned by Hugh Hefner himself.
Not too far away, Ann Cole Lowe, who made the wedding dress for Jackie Bouvier (Kennedy), was the first to open a boutique on Madison Ave. (1968).
And paving the way for them was Elizabeth Keckley, who used fashion to buy her freedom in 1855 and soon after moved to Washington, D.C. to make dresses for Mary Lincoln (wife of Abraham Lincoln).
Today, Samilia Colar, owner of Texstyle is exercising her creative muscles and tapping into her inner cultural context to revive an age-old art form, while empowering others to lean in to their own creative stylings through sewing.
TSD: What type of business do you own?
Samilia Colar: I own a handbag and fashion apparel business. I make accessories, bags, apparel here and there. I’m looking to delve a little deeper into apparel to accompany my handbag designs. I also host sewing workshops for adults and give private lessons for any age interested in sewing. Finally, I host sewing camps (and sometimes birthday parties) for youth, ages 7-14.
TSD: How long have you been in the fashion industry and in business for yourself?
SC: 14 years! I started in Philadelphia, PA – I moved up there after graduating from Memphis College of Art. I was working in graphic design and then moved into handbag design and continued that when I moved back to Memphis.
TSD: How many employees do you have?
SC: I have one – Me.
TSD: What was your inspiration for going into fashion and starting your business?
SC: My Nigerian heritage has definitely inspired me. I grew up immersed in the culture. My mom had a lot of “wrappers.” I would go in her closet and see which designs I liked – I was always fascinated by them. My mom also sewed when I was growing up. When I went off to college, I remember taking her sewing machine and said, “You won’t be using this.”
At Memphis College of Art, I remember taking a surface design class that was all about fiber arts and I made a handbag to mimic an African talking drum. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I was actually able to make this creation come to life and sold these drum bags in Philly – people loved them. So, my culture and fascination with colorful fabrics are my greatest inspirations.
TSD: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the fashion industry and business owner, and how have you risen above them?
SC: Sometimes I feel like I’m going in circles in terms of finding resources and progress has been very slow. It’s difficult to find information about resources available for small business owners. To rise above I’ve just tried to stay true to my passion and inspire others to create. I host workshops and AirBnB Experiences for visitors to Memphis. People have said these workshops have made their entire trip.
Creating these memories for people and giving them skills that they will have forever has helped me keep going and creating. I love inspiring other people. It’s like your business could make all the money in the world but if you’re not affecting people, what are you doing?
TSD: How has social media affected your business?
SC: Social media has enabled me to increase my reach across Memphis and beyond. When I came back from Philly, I followed suit and started participating in local shows in Memphis. That takes alot of physical energy. But social media has made it easier to make an impact. People are finding my workshops, I can send them to the website, I can respond to their questions right away. It’s enabled me to build a community that’s bigger than Memphis to stay connected to my family in Nigeria.
TSD: As a wife and a mother, and now a business owner, how do you balance it all?
SC: I try to bring my kids into the business when I can and when it makes sense. So, they understand work is not just this oblivious place. They participate in the workshops. I call them my “young sewists.” My daughter has even helped host sewing birthday parties with me.
Additionally, as a small business owner/entrepreneur, there is always something to do. But I try to limit my working time to while the kids are in school. I plan regular date nights with my kids and focused time with my husband. Weekends are really important for outdoor family activities together. Now with the blessing and curse of technology, we have to be intentional, mix it up and do something different. If I feel frustrated in one area, I try to do something else so that when I come back to it, I feel refreshed.
TSD: What impact does your business have or do you hope your business will have in the future? On your family, community, etc.
SC: My business is allowing me to pass on a skill that will hopefully be around forever. Sewing is an older skill. When the pandemic hit, I saw a lot of people wanting to get back to it and to just learn. What started as masks grew to small, intimate sewing groups. Sewing has been around for ages and it’s a part of my culture.
Now I’m starting to see more young people taking private lessons. I see the next generation is right here and they want to create their vision of fashion. I had a brother-sister duo come in and they wanted to repurpose some old denim; so sustainability is a component of my work as well.
In terms of my family, I hope to inspire my kids to think creatively. They can sew, my daughter loves working with clay. She’s been doing stop motion animation for four years now. My son is like a master builder, with an architectural mindset. I want them to always explore and grow.
And with my husband – we’re opening a bar in the Edge District and I’ll be using my skills to create for that – people will see my work there and hopefully be inspired by it.
TSD: What advice do you have for someone who might be interested in entering your field or other black business hopefuls?
- Stick with it!
- Find something that invigorates you within your field or something you’re passionate about changing. There are points where it will get difficult and going back to your passion is what’s going to keep you moving forward.
- Always look to grow and seek feedback.
- Build a community of other designers or entrepreneurs who can motivate you.
- Go to networking events and connect with people who are going to build you up and give you sound advice.
TSD: If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing?
SC: I love to keep things creative! I just started learning French. I’m going to be in a ballet in a few months. I’ve always loved fitness, so maybe something fitness-related – roller skater? I love to bake but I don’t as much because I would eat it all. I feel like life goes in this cyclical way. Your passions ebb and flow depending on where you are in life. But I’m sure I’d make it back to sewing eventually.
TSD: What professional accomplishment or major milestone are you most proud of?
SC: My business was mentioned in the New York Times last year – that was really exciting! Also, during the pandemic, I made more than 1,000 masks – from March to the end of 2020. That was huge – making something to help people be safe in a really scary time. It was wonderful to be connected to the community, not just locally, but all across the country.
TSD: Anything else you’d like to add?
SC: Just that I would love to connect with TSD’s readers. Come take a class or visit my online shop at texstyleshop.com. Follow me on social media: Instagram: @texstyleshop; Facebook: @texstylebags; Twitter: @texstyleshop; Linkedin: @texstyleshop