Every week, I buy new flowers to arrange on my living room table. Every month, I flip through new magazines to boost my creativity. Every year, I research new designers to follow for the next twelve months. All of these things help to make my life more beautiful—and in particular, the best new designers I’ve got my eyes on for 2022 are giving me all the glorious inspiration I need after 2020’s fashion drought.
2021 has been spent easing back into fashion, so it’s no surprise that my sartorial senses are eager to be stimulated. I don’t want same old, same old, though. I want exciting new voices, unique silhouettes, specialty fabrics and custom tailoring. I want sustainable practices, inclusive models, innovative styling and yes, a little bit of magic! Luckily, the three designers on this list deliver all this and more, so I couldn’t be more pleased to feature them as creatives to watch.
First up is AJOVANG, by designer Adreain Guillory. I fell in love with his designs at a NYFW event for the Black in Fashion Council and I’ve been thinking about them ever since. Hailing from Michigan, Guillory graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and went to work building the demi-couture label of his dreams. His designs are perfectly balanced as his work aims to embody the spirit of middle-class America and the whimsy of fairytale glitz. His latest collection, inspired by Cinderella, cleverly highlights the fairy godmother’s pumpkin-to-carriage transition through color and silhouette.
Next is Kosovo-based Teuta Matoshi, a designer you’ve most definitely seen trending on TikTok. After her sister Lirika Matoshi’s Strawberry Dress went viral last summer, both Matoshi businesses skyrocketed. Matoshi’s label has been around since 2007, known for ultra-femme tulle silhouettes, handmade embellishments and custom sizing, all created in a women-run atelier with lines out the door on a regular basis. Her dreamy aesthetic and impeccable attention to detail is putting Albanian designers on the map.
Last but not least, is Emma Gage’s MELKE, named after the way she pronounces “milk.” The sustainable, gender fluid brand first caught my eye at a preview earlier this year, where I got to see first-hand just how chic fishing lures could be when used as embellishments. The AW21 collection is inspired by a fishing trip Gage took with her family in Northern Minnesota and features fish motifs, lake coordinates and those aforementioned upcycled lures. In addition to her thoughtful designs, Gage is vocal about fighting for economic, social and environmental sustainability. This effort is evident in the brand’s use of plastic-free, all-natural materials.
Below, STYLECASTER sat down with Guillory, Matoshi and Gage and talked all things creativity, fashion and what it’s really like to start your own brand. Read on to see why these three designers are certainly ones to watch.
STYLECASTER: Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a designer and starting a brand.
ADREAIN GUILLORY: I grew up in a small town in Michigan called Saginaw. At a very young age, I fell in love with old films my grandmother would record on VHS tapes and also anime. Both fueled my creativity. In elementary, I gravitated towards drawing and painting as a way to express myself, which would eventually lead me to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). There, I found myself drawn to fashion because the process takes 2D ideas and makes them into wearable 3D forms.
After graduating in 2020, I had plans to work for a company or even go to grad school in another country as a way to continue learning. During the lockdown last summer, I quickly realized that a lot of the learning I wanted to experience I could get through building my own brand. So, I took a chance and here we are.
SC: How do you define your label’s aesthetic? What do you draw inspiration from when designing?
AG: My brand aesthetic is very romantic, but with a slight utilitarian edge. I focus on mostly demi-couture but offer a level of ease that’s effortless and comfortable for any potential customer. I draw most of my inspo from the childhood films I use to watch and my parents being blue collar workers. I often played in my parents’ uniforms, which has a very strong hold on me, so that’s present in my designs. Outside of that, I’m inspired by paints, films, music, nature (specifically water and the clouds), even people walking down the street.
SC: You showed your pieces at the Black In Fashion Council’s Discovery Showroom. What does it mean to you to have the BIFC acknowledge your work and support emerging Black creatives?
AG: Showing my pieces in the Black In Fashion Council Discovery Showroom meant the world to me. To get the chance to show my pieces to those in the industry who really appreciate young emerging talent brings me joy and pushes me to keep going, because getting recognized means I’m doing something right. It means that I’m not alone and that I have support. To have those things is like air to breathe and water to drink, literally survival in an industry that hasn’t cared about the young Black designer.
SC: What is the hardest part about pursuing fashion as a career? The most rewarding aspect?
AG: Hardest part about pursuing fashion as a career would be the self doubt. Especially in fashion design. Trying not to doubt your work, your ideas, your intuition. It’s easy to get comparative to what everyone else is doing, but if you stay centered in who you are, focused on your goals and your brand’ voice, then you’ll be okay. The most rewarding aspect of designing for me would be the clients who light up with excitement when wearing one of my pieces. Knowing that it’ll be a moment they’ll remember and look back on brings me so much joy.
STYLECASTER: Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a designer and starting a brand.
TEUTA MATOSHI: After I finished my bachelor’s and master’s degree in Fashion Design, I began making clothing by myself. I started with pants and coats, more simple, casual pieces, and people really liked them. I opened my atelier with just me and my older sister, Sania. People noticed my brand and I grew my brand slowly, initially in my local area only. I would customize coats and pants and then began making haute couture dresses.
I made so many unique pieces that we weren’t able to even photograph them before they would sell out. People would wait in huge lines in front of our shop to be able to get a dress. This went on for a while until social media changed everything. Back then Lirika, as a teenager, insisted that we should post on social media (Instagram) instead of simply making sales in-person. This was around a decade ago. She took initiative and posted the first pictures of our dresses from our account. They were an instant hit and everything grew from then on.
SC:How do you define your label’s aesthetic? What do you draw inspiration from when designing?
TM: Some of the most defining aesthetics are flowers, cottagecore, nature, tulle fabrics and organza (feminine, romantic) etc. When I design, I always get inspired by nature and flowers. Working with my family and women around me inspires me the most because they are talented and hardworking, and they always support me to finalize every detail. I take great pleasure that my work enables women of Kosovo to have jobs and be sustainable. That is why my atelier staff is completely made of women.
SC: How did your upbringing in Kosovo play a role in your fashion journey?
TM: Throughout Kosovo history, it has been challenging for all of us because the war happened. We were isolated, and we still are. We were forced to move to the U.S. due to the war in the late ’90s. On the other hand, even though we’ve been isolated, social media has made it possible for our work to be seen globally, which has had a tremendous impact on our brand. Supporting women of Kosovo is our main goal, we keep learning and trying to make the best working environment for women. We look for their feedback at our workspace and their comfort is really important to us.
SC: Your sister Lirika’s Strawberry Dress went viral on TikTok last summer. What’s it like working in the same industry as your sister? Do you feel competitive or is the creative relationship symbiotic?
Lirika always has been one of my inspirations. We consult with each other for every idea, which makes our work stronger and special. We are very close to each other and that reflects on our art, we always bring new ideas to each other and you can see it in our designs. We use the same fabrics most of the time, but we have our own differences, which makes us two very different brands. We don’t feel competitive at all, it’s always the opposite and we don’t mind if we use similar fabrics or details. Her success is also mine and vice versa.
SC: Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a designer and starting a brand.
I grew up in Minnesota and was fortunate enough to be born in to a family that was creative, loved to travel, and instilled in me the importance of fighting for those who do not have the same opportunities that I had. My mother has always been philanthropic, and since I was a child she would always be working with international charities that worked to combat human trafficking. I would tag along on some of her charity trips abroad and before the age of nine, I could carry a conversation with most adults about the importance of livable wages.
From early on, I was creative and knew I wanted to become a fashion designer. I always knew that I would have my own brand that would strive to be sustainable and ethical in all senses of the word. I studied fashion at Marist College, where my professors fostered my creative side along with my interest in sustainability.
After I graduated, I had a few valuable internships that exposed me to the real world of fashion and production. Through these experiences, I built incredible relationships with vendors, suppliers and manufacturers that were instrumental in launching my first collection and many who to this date are still part of MELKE.
SC: Coordinates play a large role in your latest collection. How do locations like Minnesota and Wisconsin play a role in your fashion journey?
EG: I grew up fishing a lot with my family. As a kid, it was not my favorite: the worms, the silence, the need for patience, it didn’t sit right with me as an eight-year-old. I was also really scared of grabbing the fish after it was caught. In fact, I never really enjoyed fishing trips and always wished we would go somewhere else.
But on one of my most recent trips to Lake of the Woods as an adult, the lake and nature took on a whole new meaning. I started to see the natural beauty that had been in front of me all along and I became inspired by all of the surroundings. From shore lunches with my family, peering on the edge of rocks into the water, watching crawfish dance to searching under logs and moss, every detail represented a unique, tiny world that I could spend hours staring at. Honestly, the quiet was actually a blessing.
The coordinates on my collection are to Lake of The Woods, which is now even more near and dear to my heart, having served as the inspiration for my first collection.
SC: Share with us why sustainability is such a major part of your brand ethos.
EG: When launching my brand, from the beginning I knew that my materials needed to be organic, fair trade, and made with a commitment to all employees along the production chain. This is of course, much easier said than done, but for me it comes down to research and the responsibility we have as an industry to ensure that our partners share the same values.
I spend countless hours researching and talking to new businesses and also talking to my colleagues in the industry. I have met most of my manufacturing and production partners through other sources that I know are also committed to sustainable and ethical fashion. Word of mouth and the first-hand experience of others, is crucial to ensuring shared values.
A quote I live by from Maya Angelou is, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Sustainability is constantly changing, we will always be learning more in regards to what is best. As a small brand, I work to do the best I can with what I know, and the more I know ,the better I can do.
SC: My favorite pieces from your collection are the ones onto which you’ve sewn actual lures. Can you go into detail about the creative process there?
EG: Fishing is, of course, a major inspiration for this collection as that’s what we did all day while on the lake. To this day, I remember the vibrant colors and beautiful design on the lures that were cast into the dark waters of the lake, making them even more brilliant as the sun shone on them. The pants are a super fun look and one of my favorites.
Each lure was hand-sewn on and and ended up taking much longer than I thought they would—but when they are done and worn, they can be seen (and heard!) by anyone nearby. Whats fun about this is that they’re definitely an eye-catching piece. Lures are used to entice fish, which can be a funny parallel because the wearer ends up themselves turning into a lure in a way, catching the eye of people around them.