November 2019

One of a Kind: Amari Moneé Washington

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

“No one is you, and that is your superpower.”

Eighteen-year-old aspiring fashion designer Amari Moneé Washington sits tall in a makeup chair with visions of Vogue dancing in her head. Trying not to blink while having her eyelids shadowed and her lashes applied, she shares a clear vision of the future.

In spite of her modelesque appearance, her dream is not to strut her stuff on a runway or grace the cover of a magazine, but to design the clothes. Just for today, she has agreed to represent her personal line of clothing, Amari Moneé, by playing dress-up at the C2 studio on Hilton Head Island.

“I’ve never really seen myself as a model. It’s great on social media. I like taking good pictures for my Instagram page, but it’s not my main interest,” she said. For Washington, a freshman at SCAD Atlanta, fashion design is not only the way she intends to make her living in the future, but it is a way of life. “I definitely like to be unique and not have the same thing everybody else has, which is something I learned from my parents: stand out—not so that everything is always about you, but so that everybody knows you as an individual.”

Washington got her first exposure to the fashion world by attending photoshoots with her aunt (a professional model). And, of course, she grew up watching Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model. “Watching those shows and tagging along with my aunt made me more aware of the industry,” she said.

Next, her grandmother taught her to sew. “My grandmother used to hand-sew a lot, which made me more interested in making my own things,” she said. Starting off small with pillows and pincushions, by age nine, when she had gained confidence and acquired a sewing machine, Washington began imagining and making her own clothes. “I would sketch things out, although I wasn’t good at drawing then. As I saw it in my head, I would try to create it.”

“My mom taught me to commit and to follow through on any commitment.”

Washington, who was born in Tuscon, Alabama, moved with her family in 2012 to Atlanta, Georgia, where her mother was completing her doctorate in counseling. “My mom has been extremely influential and supportive. Anything I’ve had an interest in, she has pushed me to pursue it. She’s also taught me to stick to things. She’s taught me to make a commitment, to follow through, and to do things precisely.”

Her dad, a youth minister, has also been a source of encouragement, Washington said. “He has pushed my creative vision and helped me to see the details. Nothing can ever be truly perfect, but he definitely taught me to be more aware of my vision and aware of myself.”

Washington’s family later moved to Savannah, Ga., where she enrolled at Savannah Arts Academy and began seriously honing her craft. During her freshman year there, her design teacher Meghan Scoggins took notice.

“From the moment I met her, she asked, ‘Are you going to be a model?’ I said no, but she talked me into trying out as a model for Junk to Funk,” a fashion show where student designers and student models use repurposed materials to create works of couture. “That’s really where my creative vision took off and why I launched my brand,” Washington said.

By her junior year in high school, 2018, Washington took Applied Design 1, requiring her to make just one garment. This time, she entered Junk to Funk as a designer. The tenth anniversary of the competition, the theme was Let Them Eat Cake, and the category she chose was celebratory. “The garment I chose to make was kind of cocktail party like, but also detail oriented. I had napkins, coasters, tissue, ribbon—things of that sort as materials for my dress, and I wanted a controlled color palette for highlighting my model’s silhouette. I was very nervous going into it. It was my first major garment I made for people to really see,” she said.

That year, Washington won an award with Satchel, a Savannah-based leather boutique. “They displayed my garment in their store, and I was able to do a workshop with them. It was definitely a boost of confidence,” she said.

**“The fashion industry is looking for students who are willing to learn – they are seeking those who don’t already have things figured out.”

Year two of Junk to Funk (2019) Washington had the option of making two or three garments. The theme was botanicals, and she chose the bloom category. “There was this Australian bloom that I fell in love with. Immediately, my inspiration was the bloom itself and also the stem and leaves.”

She set out to make two garments that would contrast yet complement each other, and she designed with her models in mind. “I wanted to highlight my first model’s figure—truly show off just the silhouette of a young woman, add some feminine touches with colors and bring out the floral aspect. My other model was tall and had a very slim figure. I wanted to put her in a pantsuit to elongate her figure and show off the stem,” Washington said. “I was the most stressed out I’ve ever been in my life. Going into it, I was confident in the work I did, but I was also nervous because I didn’t want to disappoint myself or let people down. So, I had to turn all that off in my brain.”

After the runway show and the designer walk with her models, Washington was asked to remain backstage. “I was kind of confused. Then it really hit me what was happening.” (She had won the Kathi Rich Award for styling and best overall creative concept.) “I look out there, I’m freaking out and I want to cry, but I can’t cry. In that moment, I truly learned that you can’t rely on trying to live up to other people’s expectations, but just focus on truly being proud of your work. Out of that, your best work will come.”

A self-described “girly-girl,” Washington said she enjoys working with delicate materials. “I love tulle. I can’t get enough of it—tulle, organza, silk and things like that—just because there is such a process that goes into working with them. You can manipulate them in ways to make them look different from the way they come to you. I love playing with texture and overall volume and shape,” she said.

She also like bright colors. “A lot of people are afraid to play with color. Depending on how you do it, color can be such an uplifting thing. I try to keep a joyous attitude always, so color just brings a lot of energy and vibrancy that is much needed.”

Washington now resides in Atlanta, Ga. where she is living in a dorm with a roommate and has begun her first year of college, aiming for a BA in fashion. “I’m fine-tuning what my lane is in fashion. I’m more the couture/runway route. That’s definitely my dream,” she said.

Realistically, she knows the road to success is long and potentially narrow. Her plan is to secure an internship with one of her favorite fashion houses. “It’s definitely a step-by-step process,” she said,

If fashion reflects who we are and who we aspire to be, Amari Moneé Washington is a bright star; she might even be a planet! One thing is certain: she’s one of a kind.

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