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The Voice of the Black Community

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Belk helping fashion designers realize dreams
Winning designs for Southern Designer Showcase unveiled
 
Published Wednesday, April 2, 2014
by Michaela L. Duckett

PHOTO/DANIEL COSTON
Winners of Belk's Southern Designer Showcase unveiled their award-winning designs at the retailer's SouthPark location during Girls Night Out March 27.

Charlene Dunbar’s interest in fashion began early in childhood. She recalls coming up with designs and sketching them out when she was just 8 years old.

By the time she entered college, Dunbar decided to explore other aspirations. But after earning a degree in engineering, she found she simply could not shake the “fashion bug.” She decided to return to school and pursue a degree in fashion design.

This spring, her fashion line, Suakoko Betty, is making its debut at Belk. Dunbar is one of 13 winners selected out of 300 entrants in the retailer’s second annual Southern Designer Showcase competition. The winners' designs will be featured in Belk’s Spring 2014 advertising campaigns and sold in stores and online.

The Charlotte-based retailer held a reception and fashion showcase March 27 at its location in SouthPark Mall to unveil the winning designs, which include women’s apparel, jewelry, handbags and children’s clothing.

“It’s been an ideal experience,” said Dunbar. “I feel extremely honored to have my line here in Belk. Belk is definitely raising the standard for modern, southern style.”

While her combination of degrees may seem unlikely to some, Dunbar said it is a very logical pairing.

“They work together,” she said. “I think the business side of fashion is often underrated. People celebrate the creative side, but [the success of] my line is probably 90 percent business in managing projects and vendors and making sound business decisions. I think having that background really helped me to get to where I am today.”

Dunbar’s line of women’s apparel is inspired by her African heritage and bi-continental upbringing. As a child, she split her time between Atlanta and her native Liberia.

“The name comes from my dad’s hometown in Liberia,” she said. “He’s from Suakoko, and the Betty kind of represents the merger of Western style with the African designs.”

Dunbar said took cues from the way Liberian women dressed and incorporated a lot of bold, bright colors and mixed prints into her line of skirts and separates. She also names fashion icon Solange Knowles as a source of inspiration.

While Dunbar looked to West Africa for inspiration, another Southern Designer Showcase winner looked to France.

Regina White, a graduate of Charlotte Institute of Art, found inspiration for Christina Bijou, her line of leather handbags, in the culture and architecture of Paris.

White’s bags are exclusively available through Belk, and she said winning the competition was a dream come true.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I have worked on my line for years so to finally come to this point and see that Belk wanted to sell my bags and was receptive to my designs was amazing. I’m so happy.”

Her advice to those who want to pursue a career in fashion is to be persistent.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “But if you stay true to yourself, do whatever you have to do and just keep on pushing, you can make things happen.”

To be eligible for the competition, designers had to have some sort of tie to the South, even it was just spending summers with a grandmother who lived here.

“We are so excited to add these impressive designers to our Belk family,” said Kathryn Bufano, president and chief merchandising officer for Belk. “This year’s winners truly represent the modern, southern style that we deliver to our customers everyday.” 

Winners include: Anne Hughes Windmueller (Charleston, S.C.), AnnaBelle LaRoque (Columbia, S.C.), Ali Howell (Atlanta, Ga.), Charlene Dunbar (Lilburn, Ga.), Darrius Curry (Lithonia, Ga.), Elle Parkinson (Raleigh, N.C.), Heather Menzie Gressette (Columbia, S.C.), Hahn Lucy Dang (Dallas, Texas), Kari Bryde (Little Rock, Ark.), Lori Cunningham (New York, N.Y.), Regina White (Fayetteville, N.C.) and Rhonda Wyman (Asheville).

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