Meet 6 of Birmingham’s Top Emerging Fashion Designers

From left: Darryl Peoples, Rachel Reilly, Pyper Gilbert, Julie Maeseele, Aaliyah Taylor, James White (Ameera Steward Photo, For The Birmingham Times)
By Ameera Steward
For The Birmingham Times

On June 9-12, the fourth season of Magic City Fashion Week (MCFW) will commence at locations throughout the city including the Birmingham Museum of Art, The Pizitz and Linn Park.

Highlights include the Emerging Designer Runway Competition Friday June 10 starting at 5 p.m. featuring six new designers, from or associated with The Magic City.

The Birmingham Times compiled brief profiles on each:


Age: 27.

Where are you from: Bessemer, Ala.

What is the name of your business: “pypercollection.”

What do you design: “Custom couture, ready to wear…streetwear…pretty much anything for men, women or kids.”

When did you start designing: “Since I was a little girl I was always making stuff. I graduated from [The University of Alabama] in 2017…since 2017 I’ve been [designing] consistently.”

What made you want to join MCFW: “In the first Magic City Fashion Week I worked behind the scenes as a hairstylist. So, I had just graduated from college, and I didn’t really know about it until…my mom told me about it, and I really didn’t have the confidence to expose myself in that area – letting people see my designs and putting that type of pressure on myself but I just remember being there like ‘one day I want to have my collection on that runway.’ And…my mom sent me the application [for this year] from the Instagram [and told her she should apply] and I was like ‘nah I’m not going to apply,’ then I thought about it and the next day I texted her [and said] I’m [going] to apply, maybe they’ll choose me, maybe they won’t, and I got chosen. So, I was just like ‘okay maybe it’s meant [to be].’”

How did you get into hair: “My family owns a salon [Salon Lisa Brown] and a beauty school [Brown Beauty Barber School] – one in McCalla, one in Bessemer and I just grew up around it…it’s just in me… I still work there. I like working with my hands, it’s my family business so of course helping create generational wealth and then also [it’s] just something I’m good at and then it gives me flexibility to create and be a designer.”

[She has worked at her mother’s salon since college. Her mom opened it in 2011 and she would work there by doing an assortment of job including sweeping.]

What can we expect from your collection: “[Something] eccentric… and innovative, things you haven’t seen before. It’s still fun but definitely edgy…we had to use sustainable items so that kind of added a little twist and a challenge to it.”

How are you being sustainable: “I’m using a lot of scrap fabric that I had and old stuff….like one of my items is made from a quilt that I found at the thrift store [also] vinyl, plastic – the plastic that you might see at a restaurant as a table cloth…just using some unusual fabrics that you wouldn’t really necessarily see worn but that are still sustainable.”

What inspired your collection: “Well of course the competition put a little spark [in me] where I was like ‘okay I need to dig deep’ but I was kind of just inspired by the subway in New York during a Met gala or fashion week, and just the versatility you’ll see just riding on the subway because that is the form of transportation a lot of people have to take. So you might see somebody in a full couture outfit and they literally have to humble themselves and get on the subway to go somewhere, and I just…thought that was crazy how you would see so many different looks…if you sat on the New York subway…That’s kind of what inspired me. The looks still tie in together but each one is a separate entity.”

[Gilbert observed outfits in the New York Subway when she worked New York Fashion Week in 2013 after a friend helped her behind the scenes]. “I had to take the subway and I just remember looking at what everyone was wearing and me [being from] Alabama [thinking] ‘they don’t dress like us’”.

How long did this collection take to finish: “I’m getting to the three-month mark; by June it’ll be three months.”

What is one thing you want readers to know about you or your collection: “It comes from a place of passion. A lot of things have transpired since I’ve been taking this more seriously, and I just began to channel that energy into the stuff that I make. So I would want readers to know that this collection in particular has a lot of passion threaded in it.

“The things that have transpired? I have a two-year-old, he just turned three so me figuring that out, I’m newly a single mom so figuring that out, still trying to be 27 and have a social life, and work on the collection, be a manager at the salon, and be a daughter… So, I think all of those, after a while it starts to wear on you a little bit, so I had to dig deep to just birth this because it’s been a lot of small distractions.”

Instagram: @pypercollection 


Age: 37.

Where are you from: “Born and raised in Belgium…so I moved [to Birmingham] for my husband’s job…we didn’t choose it necessarily, but we also like it enough to stay so that was almost 8 years ago.”

What do you like about Birmingham: “I like the south in the U.S., [and] the people being so friendly. I like the weather [as well].”

What is the name of your business: “JM [or Julie Maeseele]”

What do you design: “Made-to-order apparel…featuring recycled materials and surplus textiles.”

What made you want to join MCFW: “I found out because [of] my friend at basic. shop, Lacey Woodroof, she’s involved, and I like…all her ideas about fashion and the store she has. And I love the opportunity of doing something local here in the city.”

What can we expect from your collection: “I think I want to for sure bring something super cohesive…I’ve only done one [runway show]…Birmingham Fashion Week…back in 2016, and that was the only time I had to make a mini collection and show it on a runway. So, it’s fun to challenge myself…and try to bring a cohesive collection and share a story.”

What was the inspiration behind this collection: “Just the fact that it’s at the museum and I have…my masters in fine arts [from St. Lukas Art Academy in Ghent, Belgium – I graduated in 2008] so I like to see clothes as soft sculptures.”

What is one thing you want readers to know about you or your collection: “I think they should just all come watch…I think the goal of this fashion show, and I hope that we achieve this, is that we have diversity represented in the fashion show, and just see a side of the city that you maybe otherwise wouldn’t see. I hope to just have a fun…event. [I’m] a mom of three…I love this, it’s my passion…I want it to be about the clothes, I want it to be about the art…I hope it’s going to be a cool event about art and good style.”

Instagram: @juliemaeseele



Age: 37.

Where are you from: “Originally from North Carolina but lived in Los Angeles for the last 10 years. I live in Birmingham now. We just moved to Birmingham…last summer for my husband’s residency at UAB so I’m new to the area.”

How long have you been designing: “Since college really because at [Western Carolina University] I use to make my own clothing, even before. I remember when I was in high school my dad worked for…the furniture industry in North Carolina so he would bring home leather samples and I would take the leather samples and sew [them] together…and I would make my own clothes…In college…I would always redesign shirts and make my own jeans…and hand [stitch] actually because I didn’t have a sewing machine at the time. So hand stitching anything and just being very creative…but I never pursued it.”

What is the name of your business: “Rachel Reilly.”

What do you design: “Upcycled women’s clothing.”

What made you want to join MCFW: “I worked in entertainment for…12 years and I’ve always been interested in fashion and entertainment. I wanted to see what people were doing in the [Birmingham] area so I think I was looking things up and I saw this emerging designer competition. And I always designed my own things…I think I was just kind of scared and didn’t have the courage to do it and being a mom of two, [I] didn’t have the time, but when I saw this competition, I was like you know what I’m new to the area, it would be great to meet some people that…have the same interests that I have. And it would be really fun to get involved in the community, the local art community.

“And I also thought it was really cool because 50 percent of our outfits have to be upcycled. That was what was really important to me because I’m really into upcycling and finding items that are very special and unique and remaking them…or even just making them to fit…I’m not a fast fashion person because I think it’s so much waste so I’ve always been interested in remaking things or being able to do slow fashion.”

What should we expect from your collection: “It’s very much upcycled glam. I’ve taken a bunch of pieces that were in my closet, that were at the thrift store, textiles I found at the thrift store…shower curtains, some sequin pillows, just kind of random items and I’m [putting] them together to make upcycled glam and kind of going back to my Vegas roots because when I turned 21 I moved to [Las Vegas, Nevada], my [Los Angeles, Ca.] roots with my passion for art and entertainment – so [the pieces] are very unique and they’re very fun. [There’s] a lot of sequins, [and] a lot of colors.”

How long did it take to design this collection: “I’ve been working on it since I found out I was doing [the show], so [two to three months].”

What is one thing you want readers to know about you or your collection: “I’m just having fun. I think that…life is about adventure and making a difference and I think that’s probably a quote that sums up my motto – go on adventures and try to make a difference. And to me this is an adventure and [I] may be making a difference by encouraging people to take items that are upcycled or invest in slow fashion, and maybe to take a chance with a designer that they wouldn’t normally have known about or found out about.”

Instagram: @rachelereillyvillegas


Age: 29.

Where are you from: “Titusville, and currently live on 280.”

What is the name of your business: “Exalting In Beauty.”

What do you design: “Jewelry designer. I make jewelry out of Perler beads, and sell them on Etsy. I’m looking to expand to fashion, ready to wear.”

What sparked your interest in jewelry design: “It started out as just a hustle. I was an art school student [Memphis College of Art from 2011- 2012, and The Art Institute of Atlanta – Decatur from 2013-2014] and I wanted to create something and sell it because I couldn’t get a job while I was in school. So, I went to my local craft store…and I remember using Perler beads as a kid in summer camp. And when I realized all I could do with Perler beads, I was creating jewelry off and on until I moved back to Birmingham [from Atlanta in 2016]. And that’s when I realized I can actually make a really good business out of…selling something that’s so different and I absolutely love it.”

What made you want to participate in MCFW: “This is my overall second collection that I’m showing as a designer, the first one was in 2018 through a friend…. I’ve always been an outsider looking in so when they first started [MCFW], I was very intrigued, but I felt unworthy, I felt like I wasn’t ready or skillful enough. So the top of this year, because my jewelry business was becoming successful, I really wanted to….test myself…[and] pull that dream of being a fashion designer off of the shelf and really push myself to do this – to say ‘not only can you create jewelry but you also have that gift to create clothing’ and…especially for it to be Birmingham, and I’m from Birmingham – I really wanted to be a part of something that is from here, just to showcase and show out for my city.”

What should we expect from your collection: “Lots and lots of colors, and volume and shape. We are focusing on sustainability so I definitely used what I had which has always been a natural thing for me because of growing up not really having a lot…[I] tell my story through the shapes and the color story, and [will] even [be] showcasing jewelry shapes using my Perler beads to create the jewelry…I [also] bought natural fabrics but majority is everything that I’ve already had at home or stuff that my mom had or donations from my coworkers who had extra fabric.”

What inspired your collection: “Just the evolution of me and how far I’ve grown and how much I’ve become confident in who I am, and the gifts and talents that I have. So it’s literally just starting with a blank canvas and allowing the colors…shapes and the patterns [to speak] because that’s just how I typically dress. So just really show the evolution of…me coming into my own confidence of being a designer and artist overall.”

How long did it take to finish your collection: “[From the] first of February 2022 up until now.”

What is one thing you want readers to know about you or your collection: “That I am not afraid and they shouldn’t be afraid to be who they are, even if it may seem weird or out of touch or not deemed as normal…it doesn’t matter just do what you want to do and not be afraid.”

Instagram: @aaliyah.naimah / @exaltinginbeauty 


Age: 28.

Where are you from: “Bessemer, Ala.”

What is the name of your business: “Heru Ra Creations.”

What do you design: “Men’s and women’s, basically couture.”

What sparked your interest in fashion: “I’ve always been into it, as a kid I had a fascination with shoes. But really what started the designing process, [is that it] was an outlet for me [in 2018] from suffering from mental health. I suffer from social anxiety and clinical depression. I was considered to be suicidal at the age of nine when I was admitted into a mental facility. I started seeking help on my own at the age of 23, and now I am a mental health advocate.”

What made you want to join MCFW: “Basically the experience, I wanted to explore this opportunity and kind of get more exposure [for] the brand.”

What can we expect from your collection: “I don’t want to say avant garde (new and unusual or experimental ideas) looks but it’s definitely going to be couture looks…the story I’m trying to tell with my line is…about mental health awareness so you’ll see more masks and hats. The masks would signify the shyness effect of anxiety, and the hats will represent the darkness of depression. Not each model will have these items, but the ones that do will make a statement.”

How are you being sustainable: “By…making sure that my designs [and fabrics]…are long lasting. It’s not just going to be something that stands out for Magic City Fashion Week, I’m looking to continue [with sustainability] and add on to the collection.”

How long did it take to make this collection: “Two months.”

One thing you would like the readers to know about you or your collection: “I do want the readers to know…that mental health is important, no matter what version…or level…but…use this [his collection] to add light to your situation.”

Instagram: @_heruracreations


Age: 42.

Where are you from: “West Point, Mississippi but have been in Birmingham for 5 years.”

What brought you to Birmingham: “[A friend] said there was a job…so I came and got hired as a teacher.”

[He now teaches in Birmingham City Schools for past five years and has been teaching for a total of 16 including Mississippi and Tennessee]

What sparked your interest in designing: “I always went to stores…and when I found stuff it would never fit. I didn’t like the way it looked so then [in 2007] I just started…learning how to hem and…making my own [clothes]…I’m self-taught.”

What is the name of your business: “It’s an entity called ‘The Jow Company…[it’s] the umbrella for my music, my theater because I’m also a playwright…and then my fashion line…but my [fashion line] is called Jow.”

What do you design: “Men’s and women’s, mostly evening wear because I always like the sophistication of a person.”

What made you want to be involved in MCFW: “I feel like…there’s a need for fashion here in Birmingham so I wanted to showcase some of my work.”

How are you being sustainable: “I’m taking jeans and I’m repurposing them and upcycling the jean wear…I’m mixing fabrics with denim, sometimes it’s something silky with denim; so it’s a mixture of soft and hard fabrics…I’m [using] old blue jeans, old blue jean coats, and old blue jean shirts.”

What inspired your collection: “I always wanted to see myself dress up; I always like to look good. So, I’m my own inspiration sometimes.”

How long did this collection take to design: “A couple of days to [sketch]…as far as making [the clothes] he’s still working.”

What is one thing you want readers to know about you or your collection: “To sum it all up, [I’m] a sophisticated, renaissance designer.”

Instagram: @james_thejowcompany

Updated at 1:56 p.m. on 6/2/22 to correct name of business