After being featured on Vogue.com in 2020, Wilmington-based designer Asata Beeks finally hits it big
2020 is a year that many people would like to forget. But not 27-year-old Asata Beeks, the one-woman design firm behind the funky fashion line Asata Maisé. 2020 was the year she felt like all her hard work and determination had finally paid off.
In June she was featured on Vogue.com after the magazine’s associate market editor Naomi Elizee purchased one of her colorful patchwork purses. Two weeks after that, she received a grant from pop music artist Halsey, who had just launched the Black Creators Funding Initiative (BCFI), a special initiative that aims to give funds, resources and a platform to black creators. The unexpected and instantaneous publicity led to her selling out of everything on her website.
“With the grant and Vogue both happening two weeks apart, it’s been kind of like a wildfire. And ever since then, I’ve been super busy,” says Beeks.
She credits learning how to sew to Judi Townsend, one of her teachers at A.I. du Pont High School. “She led this unparalleled program called ‘textiles and clothing’ where she taught me pretty much everything I know as far as my foundation for garment construction,” she says. She went to Albright College in Reading, Penn., but didn’t really care for the experience or the education. “Instead, I moved to Los Angeles in 2013 with a dollar and a dream,” laughs Beeks.
She started interning for a small public relations company, and by the third day, her boss introduced her to Michael Costello, a future Project-Runway winner. “My boss told him that I actually knew how to sew so he asked me to come intern and eventually work for him. I always end up putting myself out there, and luckily came across these really great experiences that have been so valuable to my career and the direction it has been able to go in.”
Beeks spent some time in London working for famed designed Diane Von Furstenberg, but came back to Wilmington in 2016 with a strong sense of who she was as a designer. She says living in L.A. was the first time she was exposed to a culture where people were all about secondhand, thrifting, reusing and being sustainable.
“My niche is being able to have a modern take on nostalgia, which involves using a lot of vintage textiles,” Beeks says. “85 percent of the textiles I use are vintage or secondhand, and I buy them on Etsy, eBay and at Hayes Sewing Machine Company on Route 202 in Wilmington.”
She also gets donations, like the time a woman who lived in her building gifted her with old buttons, zippers and fabrics that were at least 50 to 60 years old.
Beeks says COVID had made it harder to get her hands on certain materials. She also can’t travel as much, which was a big source of inspiration for her designs. But with the majority of people staying home and shopping online, her online-only shop continues to remain profitable.
Her patchwork shoulder bag, which drove her to stardom, actually came about by accident. She never intended to be an accessories designer, but she had leftover material that was not large enough to make a garment, so she started making bags. “And now I can’t make them fast enough for people,” she says.
Each piece is carefully conceptualized, handcrafted and packaged by Beeks in her small studio in downtown Wilmington. She constructs all the garments from start to finish, which involves cutting all the fabrics and creating all the patches. Each purse takes her three to four days to complete, and she packages all items herself in sustainable packaging. She recently made a pair of patchwork trousers that were completely lined, which sold before she even listed them on her website.
She recently added facemasks to her repertoire, which sell at a reasonable $30 each. Her patchwork bags start at $170 and her oversized bucket hats that are made vintage terry cloth fabric start at $150. She handcrafted a patchwork boned corset, made with vintage fabric remnants and lined in white fabric, that sold for $500.
But if you have your heart set on one of her items, you must have patience. “I was overwhelmed with all the emails I was receiving over the summer about people wanting bags, so I just told myself I can’t do this right now. Until I find a way where I can produce these ethically and quickly, I am not going to put myself in a high-stress situation.”
Although there were many times when she thought fashion wasn’t in her future, she is grateful that she stayed true to herself and her aesthetic.
“Before 2020, people would often suggest I sell my designs or manufacture them,” she says. “But handmaking things is a way of preserving tradition for me. I also find it is very meditative, calming and intimate and I never want to give that away. I am grateful that I was able to have the success that I’ve had by staying true to myself.”
— For more information, visit AsataMaise.com