Even after everyone told her not to go into fashion with an ethnic inspired clothing line, London-born designer Amy Newton decided to follow her gut instinct and go full throttle with her dream. Maneuvering her sales and advertisement skills in to creating a fashion line, Newton is well on her way to making noise in the fashion industry. Here she talks how it feels to “make it” in America, and why Black women have more chances of succeeding here than in the UK.
EBONY: You have a distinct accent. Where are you from?
Amy Newton: Well in terms of my ethnicity: my dad is Jamaican and my mum is half Irish and half Nigerian. I grew up in London, the city of Lewisham. I moved to the States seven years ago. It’s funny because in London, if you are Black, you are either African or West Indian. You don’t really label yourself as being “Black British” even though you were born there. It’s interesting how we saw ourselves. But my influences in fashion came from a lot of West Indian culture.
EBONY: How did you get started in fashion?
AN: I actually started graphic design in college. I’ve done TV, radio, web design, and graphic design. I did that for about two years, and then I moved over to marketing in 2005, which was basically building web ads for digital. And then I kind of moved from the production side into more of a sales side.
Right now I sell advertising on iPads, Kindle Fires and smartphones. I moved away from the creative and got more into the business end. Honestly, I did it for the money, but I always had that passion and wanted to be creative. So I decided to create a line because I wanted an outlet for my passion and I wanted to create something that was unique. I love clothes. I work in corporate America and I want to wear something that allows me to present my voice and not be sort of cookie cutter. So I wanted to create a line that allows you to do that.
EBONY: When you began designing, what was your muse?
AN: When I started designing, I started with prints because I wanted to give cool prints that represented different ethnic cultures. The sub-collection is Africana. I pulled from different West African symbols and overlaid them with different colors and patterns. I wanted to focus on a different ethnicity for each theme.
EBONY: You’re pretty much getting the best of both worlds with your career right now. How does that feel?
AN: I love it. I definitely need to get better at my sewing skills, but I do my own prints. I do my own designs and I work with a seamstress because she puts the stuff together. If I had more time I would definitely sew my own samples, but I just don’t.
EBONY: Using ethnic prints can be tricky when designing fashion. What was your immediate response to your first line?
AN: I didn’t know what to expect once I launched the line. I did a show in March that I organized at the Highline loft, and that was a real success. I got some really good feedback on the collection.
EBONY: What is your team like? From the outside looking in, it looks like a one-woman show.
AN: It kind of is a one-woman show. I’m like literally running around the garment district every single day. During lunch, I’m either running to the seamstress to the grader, to the fabric store, to go back to the studio. Literally, I’m doing all of that at lunchtime.
EBONY: How have you translated your ethnic-inspired line into a success without feeling as though you are stepping too far away from mainstream moneymaking fashion ideals?
AN: That’s kind of a choice I had to make, because you either go all the way commercial or you don’t. It wasn’t really to pigeonhole myself, although I went to market knowing that was a possibility. But I still have to be true to what I’m trying to do here. I had various discussions with people and they were like, “Oh, you shouldn’t really go to market with that logo.” And I said, “Yeah, but there’s no point in me doing this if it’s not going to be something that I care about.” It has to be something that I am happy with. So I went to market with it anyway. I think that the best way for me to translate a little bit more to the commercial world is to really just work with the right PR agencies and get more Caucasian women featured in the clothes.
EBONY: I wonder how much Black designers feel like they have to include White women or women of other ethnicities in their shows. Do you ever feel pressured to include White women and women of other backgrounds?
AN: That’s a great question. We feel like we have to do it to be accepted into the mainstream of world fashion, because fashion is very tense in terms of race. Tracy Reese is probably the only Black female successful mainstream designer. A lot of it is who you know and how you are connected. I’m coming from a non-fashion background. I don’t have those connects. I have to go and find it. I think I’m going to come up against a lot more obstacles because I’m not making super commercial clothes that I know could sell. I’m not conveying my brand in a very universal way with the logo that I’m using. I understand that and I am okay with that.
EBONY: Where do you want to go next with your brand?
AN: I’d love to open some boutiques around Manhattan, Brooklyn, around the States and London. I’d love to just have my own boutiques.
EBONY: Do you feel you are afforded more opportunities here to be successful than in the UK?
AN: It’s so much opportunity in the States compared to London. There is so much more opportunity over here. The great thing about America is that you actually do get rewarded for the hard work that you put in. So if you’re a hard worker, smart, and you do well in life, that’s recognized at companies over here. That doesn’t happen as much for women of color in London. I just feel like they will recognize that you do a good job and stuff but they won’t reward you in the same way. I won’t just say that it is that way for Black women in London only, but in general. I moved up the ladder pretty quickly in New York in a way that I’m pretty certain wouldn’t have happened if I stayed in London.
EBONY: Where could people who are interested in purchasing your collection buy them?