Oh, September … time to feel the cool breeze, crisp nights and hear the leaves rustling, right? Not very likely in North Carolina. So sit tight, autumn temperatures will eventually arrive, and Western Wake’s boutiques are ready to deliver fall’s much-awaited fashions. In the meantime, meet three companies grown here in the Triangle that are striving to shake up fashion near and far.
When Michael Lekwuwa left Nigeria for the Triangle 10 years ago, he brought part of his home with him in the form of MNL Designs, his African-inspired clothing line. Lekwuwa uses traditional African prints and fabrics reinvented as casual and comfortable styles that assimilate into Western culture.
He admits that traditional African garb might not fit in on the streets of Western Wake, but his goal is to incorporate African style and make it appropriate for everyone.
“I’d like to see people in the area embrace African designs,” he said.
Women’s blouses and dresses, men’s shirts, accessories and made-to-order pieces are among the MNL Designs offerings.
“I love African prints because of how they embody nature with flowers, animals and naturally occurring colors like red, yellow, green,” Lekwuwa said.
He researched historical African icons, such as 17th-century Queen Anna Nzinga of Angola, when creating his clothing.
“This is not just fashion but an art,” Lekwuwa said. “I named my designs with respect to these great legends.”
Follow on Instagram @mnl_designs
“Born abroad, raised in the States” — the motto of Raleigh-based clothing brand Descalza also describes founder, Lisbeth Carolina Arias, who moved to North Carolina with her mother from El Salvador as a young child.
During her time at N.C. State University’s College of Textiles, Arias came into contact with Guatemalan artisans weaving beautiful textiles by hand, using techniques dating to the Mayan civilization.
“These textiles are part of my culture and heritage, but that was the first time I’d seen anything like it,” Arias said. “And we’re over here in the United States looking for purpose in our clothing and to make a statement wherever we go. I just kept thinking about those two places and how there wasn’t a bridge for those.”
Arias created Descalza to connect the Latin-American textiles with modern fashion, and she launched her first collection of men’s and women’s apparel and accessories this summer.
“It’s something that when you go into your closet, it’s always going to grab your attention,” she said.
Follow on Instagram @weardescalza
Oak City Collection
Smithfield-based Oak City Collection wants to create products that touch your emotions, particularly the pride we take in the places we love.
The collection’s headliners are the uber-soft T-shirts that show a love of North Carolina and its towns. The “My Heart is in NC” tee (with a heart shape in the center of the state’s outline) or the “NC Icon” shirt (with a collage including a cardinal, City of Oaks acorn and the Wright Brothers flyer) speak to residents across the state.
“There is a movement toward supporting smaller businesses and locally made products,” said Jud Patterson, owner of Oak City Collection.
“And there’s a lot of county pride. We’re doing these designs for various towns and touching areas that people can relate to.”
Customer favorites include the “Drink Local” tee that highlights the state’s craft breweries and the “Wagon Wheel” tee featuring lyrics from the Old Crow Medicine Show hit: “And if I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free.”
Patterson said a new line of designs centered around other iconic songs is currently in the works.
Follow on Instagram @oakcitycollective
Where to Shop
Holl & Main
Park West Village
3013 Village Market Place, Morrisville
Park West Village
3021 Village Market Place, Morrisville
Parkside Town Commons
1205 Parkside Main Street, Cary
4120-100 Main at North Hills Street, Raleigh
2425 Kildaire Farm Road, Suite 503, Cary
Special thanks to Amanda Kimball, Jenny Lancaster and Esther Johnson from Twisted Scizzors for hair and makeup styling.
Twisted Scizzors Salon and Spa
950 High House Road, Cary
Special thanks to the JC Raulston Arboretum for the amazing venue. The arboretum is open daily and free to the public. For information on special events, guided tours and children’s programs, visit jcra.ncsu.edu.
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh (919) 515-3132
Models Renee Burrows and Kalabria Gilbert are with Directions USA in Greensboro.