Kenya Freeman, lead designer and CEO of Sylvia Mollie Collection, is looking to empower and inspire women to embrace their femininity through her clothing brand, aptly named after two of her greatest inspirations: her mother and grandmother.
Gaining an initial interest in fashion as a child, the designer garnered her first taste of public exposure in 2013, displaying an original collection at the WWD Magic Fashion Trade Show in Las Vegas. Since then, Freeman has won awards for her designs and is working to shape her brand around fulfilling a need within the fashion market: clothing that makes curvy and plus-sized women feel comfortable in their own skin. She likely landed her biggest break to date as a featured designer on the sixteenth season of the critically-acclaimed Lifetime reality television show, Project Runway.
Sylvia Mollie Collection consists of athleisure items, as well as casual and business casual pieces. The brand also carries accessories and makeup products. The Atlanta Voice spoke with Freeman about her creative inspirations, current projects and aspirations for the future.
Atlanta Voice: According to the bio on your shop’s website, you developed an interest in sewing and designing at a young age. How did this interest develop, and what made you want to pursue this interest as a career?
Kenya Freeman: I took up sewing in high school because I wanted to wear all the latest trending looks and would even skip class to go shopping. And because of time I dedicated to sewing and shopping, I failed the eleventh grade. In order to graduate on time, I had to take was a co-op course and made it into my top choice, Fashion Merchandising. In class, my teacher gave me the tools to succeed and really believed me. I then realized the direction I wanted to go in and made it into college, which is where I learned to sew. Ever since, it’s been a crazy roller coaster ride.
AV: Your mother and grandmother are huge inspirations for you; your shop is even named in their honor. In what ways have they inspired you as an artist and individual?
Freeman: My grandmother and my mom are amazing women, and they simply make me want to be a better person. To me, it’s important that they’re proud of me in everything I do. When I first started my journey, my mom didn’t understand why I wanted to be a designer, but she put her differences aside and sacrificed a lot of her 401k to my crazy ideas. Because of her support, my goal is to help retire my mother.
AV: Sylvia Mollie Collections highly values inclusivity. What designing tactics do you utilize to make your merchandise appealing and suitable to women of all sizes and body types?
Freeman: Being honest and transparent about my own body issues helped me design clothes appealing to women. I’m a size 16, and many of the people who shop with me are of similar size and body types. I try to create designs and pieces that complement and shed light on the fabulous parts of the body. For that reason, we’re also venturing into larger sizes permanently, a market that could use some love. My next collection, which will be launching in March, will be focused on sizes 10-20 and I’m very excited.
AV: Your latest collection will also be part of clothing company SHEIN’s program for independent designers, called SHEIN X. How did this brand deal come about? How do you expect this collaboration will influence public exposure to your brand?
Freeman: I received an email from the SHEIN team expressing interest in working with me, and almost deleted the note because I thought it was spam. I was excited to work with them and now, they feel like family!
AV: You also competed on the 16th season of Project Runway! What lessons did you learn from that experience regarding design and entrepreneurship?
Freeman: Being around so many amazing designers, you get to learn a lot of new techniques and quick tricks fast. I was fortunate enough to make it far where my grandmother and mother sat front row to watch my collection hit the runway; a memory I will hold on to forever. Coming home gave me the boost I needed to continue my designs, and my Project Runway experience made me realize I had something that proved my worth.
AV: What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers looking to make a name for themselves in the industry?
Freeman: To aspiring fashion designers; stay consistent, stay relevant and find your niche. It’s important to follow one’s heart and path that’s set before you. Lastly, never give up! The door will open, and the opportunity will show itself. Enjoy the journey and don’t be so focused on the end. There is no end!
AV: Where do you see Sylvia Mollie Collections in a few years’ time?
Freeman: In a few years, I see Sylvia Mollie at major stores with a shoe and handbag line, a full line of curvy women’s wear, collaborating in major partnerships and owning my own flagship store.