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Life and Religion

Design for success
Fashion designer overcomes bullying to launch line
Published Thursday, December 27, 2012 8:29 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

High school was no cakewalk for Kevin Carter.

Charlotte designer Kevin Carter (center) with models donning his clothes during Charlotte Seen Fashion Week.

“I remember I would wake up in the morning [angry] that I had to go to school,” he said. “I would come home crying. Some days, I would even wish that I wasn’t alive.”

Carter, 18, said from the time he entered the ninth grade until he graduated, he spent most of his days entrenched in a “deep, dark place” as a result of the incessant taunts and bullying he received from his peers. They picked on him daily simply because he was different.

“I would always ask my parents how could I alter myself in some way so that I could be accepted,” he recalls. “Teenagers are not mature enough to understand that everyone is not the same.”

Carter caught a lot of flak for his fashion sense.

“I would wear certain things to school that caused people to laugh at me or pick on me in the hallway,” he said. “I wear all black all the time so at school they spread rumors that I worshiped the devil or was a part of the Illuminati and stupid stuff like that.”

Although Carter says the jeering never became physically violent, it caused him a lot of emotional pain.

“I was in a long, deep depression stage,” he said. “After a while, I told myself to get over it and picked myself up. Life was not going to stop. I learned to deal with it.”

Passion for fashion
Prior to high school, Carter’s childhood was relatively happy and normal. He grew up in South Charlotte. His parents were his biggest supporters and they practically gave his sister and him everything they wanted growing up.

As a child, like most boys his age, he enjoyed playing video games, running wild outside and playing with his Power Rangers. As he got older, his interest shifted to fashion.

“Around the time that I was in eighth grade, I saw how much your outfits influenced your social life,” he said. “It really impacted me when I got to high school. I saw that if you had a white t-shirt and dusty shoes, you were not going to have friends. You would sit at lunch by yourself. But if you had on a new pair of Jordans or a shirt from Forever 21, then you were more prone to have someone greet you on the first day of school.”

Carter grew more image-conscious. He studied up on fashion and began devouring issues of Vogue and Elle magazines. He would also go to malls and window shop.

He said fashion provided him with an outlet for self-expression.

Carter started purchasing garments at thrift stores and customizing them to fit the image he was creating for himself.

“It was a comfort for me to cope with the bullying,” he said.

As Carter developed his image, things began to change.

“Things got better from that point because people began to understand and appreciate me more,” he said.

A Yuletide epiphany
While he did gain a few new friends, the bullying did not stop. While out of school on Christmas break in 2010, Carter said he had an epiphany.

“It was like I just woke up one morning and said, ‘screw this. I’m not going to cry anymore,” he recalls.

Determined not to allow “haters” to continue influencing how he felt about himself and his place in life, Carter began focusing his energy into planning and creating the future he desired for himself.

He started honing his fashion skills. While his peers were out partying, he would be at home watching fashion shows and sewing tutorials on YouTube. He read fashion books and took fashion merchandising and apparel classes.

He continued to customize his own clothes.

“I would just kind of hot glue different objects on them like glass or Legos,” said Carter. “Then, I would wear them to different fashion shows here in Charlotte. People began to notice me.”

He launched a women’s fashion line called KevinVain and said a number of local fashion mavens, including Rita Miles of Seen Charlotte, took him under their wing.

“They helped me get some publicity and get a few of my pieces sold,” he said. “It really helped my brand.”

Carter soon learned that one-of-kind customized pieces could be expensive to make and difficult to replicate. In order to turn a profit, he would have to charge prices that too few people, particularly in Charlotte, were willing to pay.

He purchased a sewing machine from a pawnshop and learned through trial and error how to create garments from scratch.

A new life
Since launching KevinVain two years ago, Carter has been featured in Charlotte Seen Fashion Week twice and landed a four-page spread in Cinthe’, a regional fashion magazine.

He is very proud of those accomplishments, but believes his greatest achievement to date is having three of his dresses featured in the Mint Museum alongside the works of Chanel, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Halston, Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta, and Lisa Folawiyo.

“Usually that is something that people do when they are dead or when they are far along in their career,” Carter said. “I am honored… These are designers that I’ve looked up to, researched and read books about like they were my Bible.”

The exhibit titled “And the Bead Goes On” will be on display until March 2013.

Carter said he has big plans for 2013. He is producing his first large-scale fashion showcase, which will take place in July at the Blumenthal PAC’s Booth Playhouse.

“It was basically be an hour long show of nothing but creativity, art, dramatic music and fashion,” Carter said. “I basically describe it as you watching a Circus de Soleil performance mixed with a fashion performance while you’re on crack!”

He is also putting on a free fashion show during the Mint Museum Randolph’s ArtFusion event on Jan. 22. For more information, visit mintmuseum.org.

As for the haters?

“It’s funny. Karma always gets you in the long run,” he said. “The same people who were rude and nasty to me are to this day trying to become my friend because they have seen certain articles written about me or they saw my stuff at the Mint Museum. It’s funny how things work out.”


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