Even with no formal training under her belt, Philadelphia designer Ayasa Afi was sought on social media and accepted an invitation to present at New York Fashion Week.
At 5 feet, 10 ½ inches tall, Afi, whose last name is Acolatse (she uses Afi, a middle name, for the purpose of her namesake brand) is pretty, statuesque and slender. She could have easily been a model rather than the designer behind the structured yet flowing gowns her brand is known for.
“I didn’t even realize I was going to be doing all this,” Afi says. Originally from Logan, Afi spent a lot of time in North Philly where her mom's family is from. She began sewing when she was 12, surrounded by a family of sewing women. Her grandmother had 10 children and made clothes for each of them and herself. At one point, Afi’s mother started her own sewing business.
Afi really started making clothes after a massive growth spurt at 13. She couldn’t find clothes long enough, slim enough and feminine enough for her height. “Nobody had the four longs, so I had to always let out my jeans” or just buy a size 10 she recalls.
Though she knew she had a special sense of style and sewing skills, it never occurred to Afi to start a clothing line. After graduating high school from CAPA, Afi went on to Drexel University to receive dual degrees in business and music.
She’s creatively gifted. In addition to her unique eye for geometric shapes within fashion, Afi plays the violin, flute, piano, guitar, piccolo and bassoon. And she sings, can draw, paint and sculpt.
While living in New York originally to pursue a music career, she turned to modeling and discovered her passion for design when friends and family noticed her knack for cute going-out pieces and celebration dresses. “People were asking me to make them stuff, to be in their shows,” Afi says. “I was like, ‘Oh, duh!’ I should’ve realized that when I was in school.”
“A few people told me, ‘Just go to school and we’ll hire you,’ ” she says. Low on funds, Afi decided to return to Philadelphia and regroup.
Designing was always in the background of Afi’s life. In the years before officially launching her brand, Afi designed and made the ceremony dress, reception dress, bridesmaids dresses and flower girl dresses for her cousin's wedding. That’s a lot, the designer can admit, but she enjoys it nonetheless. Despite her eyes crossing and arms shaking from fatigue at times, Afi says, “I relieve a lot of stress when I’m sewing.”
Now, Afi has a lot of those blurred-vision late nights and early mornings in preparation for her New York Fashion Week debut. Officially conceived in 2012, Ayasa Afi's brand has been featured in various online magazines including ComplexdWoman magazine, MODO magazine and Florum Fashion Magazine, but it wasn’t until an executive from Fashion Gallery New York Fashion Week noticed Ayasa Afi on Instagram that the brand was given a shot to make the big time.
After being contacted via a comment on an Instagram post, Afi admits she initially was skeptical. “I was kinda like, 'Eh, this can’t be real,' ” she says. “Who contacts somebody through social media?” But these days, she says, everyone does.
She researched the company and happened to know a master stylist who worked with Project Runway All Stars finalist Korto Momolu. Momolu works with the same New York Fashion Week company that reached out to Afi.
Afi asked her friend about Fashion Gallery. “I said, ‘Are they good?’ She said, ‘They’re great!’ So I was like, ‘OK. I’m in.’ ”
But, as everyone knows, nothing is free. “Crap,” Afi says as she recalls how she felt upon realizing the Fashion Week gig was real. “How in the world am I going to get this done?”
She’s already held a fund-raising event called Style Never Sleeps at the Edgewater Concierge Lounge at 23rd and Race streets where, for $20, patrons got signature cocktails, appetizers, and a preview of Afi's pieces being shown in New York.
Now it’s time for the last push. This is the final week for Afi’s Go Fund Me campaign, a crowd-funding platform that allows people around the web, largely via social media, to contribute to Afi’s New York Fashion Week expenses. She hopes to raise $5,500 but as of Aug. 14, she has only reached just over 10 percent of that goal. She's scheduled to show 10 pieces in a collective showing on Sept. 7 at 8 p.m.
“It’s hard out here,” Afi appeals. “I really appreciate everything and every person that has come my way and supported me.”
Let’s show New York how Philly does fashion.