Soulight On: Meca McKinney

meca mckinney portraitSoulFul Design is proud
to present the series
Soulight On: a showcase featuring designers of color across different creative fields. My purpose is to shine light on fellow creatives that we don’t see in the mainstream design trades. My goal is for you to be inspired, be informed, be creative.

Leather artisan/designer Meca McKinney launched Jypsea Leathergoods, LLC as a line of hand-crafted eco-friendly, luxury leather handbags & accessories with an eclectic edge from her New Jersey-based design studio in 2009. In the spring of 2013, Jypsea will re-launch as a luxe home decor line. Meca uses only the finest skins from around the world as well as leather recycled from reclaimed jackets and garments whenever possible. She started Jypsea after years of working in the corporate fashion design industry in NYC because she simply believed that luxurious, hand-made, well-designed accessories should be accessible to all.

Jypsea has been featured in The Today Show, NBC Philadelphia’s The Ten! Spot, Clutch Magazine, Upscale Magazine, Trace Magazine, Computer Love: The Movie, numerous fashion blogs and in various art gallery exhibits including recent showcase with Raw NYC.

1. How did you first become interested in fashion/handbag/accessory design?
As a child, I’ve always been artistically talented, as my school district labeled me, and attended the Art Magnet program in my town. My mom made all of my clothes growing up. So by combining art and sewing, my career decision was made by the time I was 11. I studied fashion design in high school and went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) for college. Taking time off from school, I moved to Atlanta and worked as an assistant patternmaker for Rene Rene, a successful indie fashion brand there. One fateful day she had me design clutches for dresses that were in her collection—I decided to make a small collection of bags with the fabric I had in my apartment once I got home from work. I created seven styles, photographed them and made a catalog in one weekend. When I showed my boss on Monday, she was so impressed that she introduced me to her sewing contractors and they wanted to be my business partners! I knew then that I may have something. When I moved back to Jersey and re-enrolled at FIT, I changed my major from fashion design to accessory design and never looked back. And once I was introduced to using leather, I was IN LOVE.

2. Often times, families of color look at the creative arts as a white thing that we should get a good job like a doctor, lawyer, government worker, etc. What did your family think about your choice of career? Do or did they support it?
My mother told me there was no such thing as a black fashion designer and I had better go to school for business or she would not help me pay for college. So she didn’t help me pay for college. I had to follow my dreams. Now though, she understands that I could have never done anything else and still be happy. I was just not made for the standard 9 to 5.

3. How did you get your first big break?
My first job in the industry came from a classmate. She was a young Indian woman who sat next to me on Saturdays in a FIT art class we had together. She already had a degree and a job in the industry working for a company, CFL Sportswear, in the Empire State Building. They did the manufacturing of the Timberland clothing line and other brands. The spec technician was out on maternity leave so my classmate recommended me. I didn’t even know what a spec tech was but since I was a FIT student, already had a pretty decent resume and certification in apparel patternmaking, they hired me! I already had a job so I worked there a few days a week while doing my day job and attending FIT at night and on the weekends.

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4. In your experience, have you ever felt that you and/or your work were ignored simply because of your ethnicity? What made you think this?
I used to wonder if I haven’t achieved more success thus far due to my being black. My talent is always praised but yet I’m not approached by the big retailers or media outlets. While working in the corporate fashion industry, I was almost always the only black person at the company. In bigger companies, I was the only black in my department and even on the entire floor. It’s weird hostility, unrealistic expectations and pressure that I had to cope with. Never anything blatant but rudeness was common. Some of it is race-based. Some of it is just because of the unfriendliness of this industry. My white friends in the industry don’t have it much better than I do though. It’s just not an easy industry.

5. Have you ever attended any events or conferences in your industry? Did you feel welcomed? Did you see many folks of color? If not, how did that make you feel?
Well, I’ve been residing in a small suburb in South Jersey for the last several years doing the mom-thing so I don’t do many industry events. In the past, I have attended industry events and felt snubbed. I have attended industry events and felt like an object of interest (like who invited the cool, black chick? LOL). I have attended industry events and felt welcomed. I will say that art events opposed to fashion events have always been warm, welcoming, and productive for me. I tend to feel most comfortable presenting myself as an artist (artisan) who uses leather as my medium than as a fashion designer. I’m also now a freelance fashion/arts/culture writer and attend lots of events that I cover for the publications I write for and so I get to see how differently you are treated as a member of the press (whether you are black of white, it doesn’t matter) as opposed to a designer/artist. The press are treated like Gods in comparison.

6. Lastly, what project are you most proud of and why?
I am very proud of my new venture, the launch of my HOME decor line of luxe leather accessories this spring. I am very excited about the new direction and the collaboration with other artisans to produce the line locally, provide jobs, and help give the US a reputation for producing luxury goods instead of letting Italy get all of the props.

I am also quite proud of my book, which I published in 2011, to inform emerging accessory designers of how to start their own line. It lays it all out from A to Z, in a very concise way with input from other successful accessory designers as well. ENVISION: The Young Accessory Designer’s Guide to Collection Development is available at Amazon.com as a softcover and on my website, http://www.jypsea.com, as a downloadable e-book. But my proudest project is probably my little girl. She is absolutely phenomenal.

My Blog: http://www.lota-n-c.blogspot.com
Facebook: facebook.comJypseaLeathergoods
Twitter: twitter.com/Jypseadotcom
Twitter: twitter.com/FashWriter4Hire

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