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Courtesy of Megan Renee/Illustrated by Kyra Jay

Fashion Designer Megan Smith Is Designing The Life She’s Always Dreamed Of

Hard work pays off for those that hustle.

BOSS UP

Truth is, you can’t run from an idea that visits you every day and as we settle into another new year there's no better time to quit putting off that daydream and make it a reality, even if only part-time. When launching a business, taking it from an idea to reality isn't easy, however, I’m a strong believer that hard work and determination pay off for those that hustle. For fashion designer Megan Smith of Megan Renee, launching her namesake womenswear label was always the plan but it didn't happen overnight.


In 2016, after years of being unfulfilled in designing for retailers such as Macy's and Nordstrom, Megan realized it was time to push herself to dive deeper than ever before. “Moving to LA, I knew that working for larger companies I could get a lot of experience, network, and meet a lot of people.” Megan continues, “Fashion as a designer is a lot of work and long hours so I knew that if I didn’t at least attempt to do it on my own I would never know unless I tried.” Receiving amazing praise from clients, she knew she could do it for herself.

Dedicating nights and weekends to create her first collection, Megan Renee debuted at LA Fashion Week with a slew of new customers. “So many people were asking how and where they could buy, and since it was my first collection, I had no idea what to do,” Megan recalls. Shortly after her success at LA Fashion Week and the launch of her online store, sales started pouring in immediately. While slowly building her brand, Megan knew it would take savvy strategy and resources to get her label to the next level. “I applied for grants and every opportunity for young and emerging designers that would help me get funding. I applied about 5 or 6 times to Project Runway and kept getting rejected."

After connecting with a former casting producer, she suggested trying out for a new show, Making the Cut. Appearing on Amazon Prime’s reality fashion design competition show and receiving applause from celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, the brand’s popularity grew overnight. After an upsetting loss for Megan and those who grew to love her over the season, she knew it was only up from there.

Since departing from her Amazon show, Megan decided to take a break and pursue her clothing line full-time. As of today her designs have been featured in major publications and worn by celebrities such as Issa Rae, Becky G, and Dominique Fishback and her absolute favorite of them all, Kelly Rowland.

It wasn't easy getting onto the likes of the most iconic celebrities of our generation but Megan is the epitome of doing what it takes to design one's own life. “Making money is part of owning a brand but that's at the bottom for me. What really makes me happy is when I see people in my clothes and they love it while looking good. I’m grateful to be able to do that and have that reach.”

Courtesy of Megan Smith

What’s your advice for women who want to take that leap of faith but are hesitant to pursue their dream of starting a fashion business?

Megan Smith: The biggest thing is to just start. It doesn't [matter] where or how you start, the amount of money you have, or even the number of resources you have. Even if you’re designing one thing per week, or one piece every few months, just start. The problem is so many of us think about the bigger picture and when thinking of it as a whole it's overwhelming. Breaking it down into steps, one thing after another is how you build momentum. You have to realize it's a process; it doesn’t happen overnight but you have to start somewhere. Don’t wait to start. Just start with bits and pieces, you don’t have to do everything at once.

"So many of us think about the bigger picture and when thinking of it as a whole it's overwhelming. Breaking it down into steps, one thing after another is how you build momentum. You have to realize it's a process; it doesn’t happen overnight but you have to start somewhere. Don’t wait to start."

Courtesy of Megan Smith

What are your thoughts when it comes to doubting one's own ability of if they can succeed in what it is they set out to do?

Once you start and build that momentum, you’ll slowly gain the resources you need, they’ll come to you. That’s what it means to walk in your purpose. Once you start, blessings will come.

It takes money to start a quality clothing brand. What have been the strategies you’ve found helpful when funding your business? 

As a young designer, I didn’t make much money so there was a lot of sacrificing. Starting out, I built relationships with fabric stores that had close-out fabrics which are fabrics on sale from companies going out of business or canceled orders. So I would get fabrics super cheap and the return from my sales gave me the boost I needed. I’d use all that money and put it right back into the line. All of my disposable income went into my clothing line.

Starting out, I kept my day job and today I still design for other people. I don’t encourage anyone to just quit their day job on a whim. If you can do both until you’re at a place with a steady income to support your lifestyle and the brand, then I would suggest that. Instagram makes things look glamorous like, “I quit my job!” That's not reality.

Courtesy of Megan Smith

Designers have to be resourceful when executing the vision. What are a few things you had to take on personally that were a challenge? 

I already knew how to make patterns but I sucked it up when I started making my own lines. I taught myself how to sew my first samples, I would do it all. If you don’t know how to do that there [are] so many people here that will help you. My first seamstress and pattern maker, I found on Craigslist. I taught myself how to do a lot rather than outsourcing which saved a lot of money as well.

For more of Megan, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Megan Smith; illustration by Kyra Jay

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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