What we wear is an undeniable form of self-representation and I never truly appreciated the impact style can have on your own sense of self, and on those around you, until I started working as a freelancer and realized that I represented my business and therefore my brand.
Although it isn't new, the concept of "personal branding" is something that is increasingly popping up as more people are starting businesses and working from home. But personal branding isn't limited to entrepreneurs; in a basic sense, like personal style, it's the way we each represent ourselves to the world that attracts people and possibilities into our lives. While we are still navigating through uncertainty, strengthening your sense of self, making authentic connections with others, and believing in what's possible is more important than ever before.
Fashion may seem like an unlikely source for connection, but as I've set out to build this brand I've realized that my personal style journey is one of healing and connection. My love of fashion was instilled in me by many women in my family who helped shape who and where I am today; and their experiences, along with my own, have inspired me to create this brand.
When my great-grandmother Mary Louise graduated high school around 1938, she was about a size 18 and her struggle to find clothing was so disheartening that she decided to give up on going to college over her embarrassment of not having appropriate clothing she felt good in, even though she had a scholarship! After her aunts would make her one too many of what she described as "sack dresses," Mary Louise went on to learn how to make some garments for herself, a process hampered by the lack of attractive patterns for young women at the time.
Pictured above from top to bottom: Mary Louise as a teen; Mary Louise and four of her children; my grandmother Penny with my mom and uncle; Penny with family.
Historically, the women in my family began sewing clothes out of necessity. At one point, Mary Louise was a single mother trying to stay on a budget with five young children. She made many of their clothes, and similarly when my grandmother Penny started a family of her own she made clothes for my mom, as well as ran a side hustle making custom clothing for plus size women.
Following in their footsteps, when my mom got married and started her family she began making clothes for me and my sisters, less so out of necessity and more out of a desire to have all four of her daughters in matching outfits...
My mom had begun teaching me to sew in first grade. When I was around ten, she opened up a sewing boutique in town specializing in smocking and heirloom handmades. She named it Wonderfuls after the name I had given my dresses as a toddler.
Some of my best memories are from that time spent at the store, especially the monthly "Late Night Sew" that inevitably turned into an hours-long potluck and gab session to the sound of whirring sewing machines. Listening intently but keeping to myself, I would raid the bin of fabric remnants to make my own designs for my American Girl dolls.
Pictured above: Wonderfuls shop and logo; me and my three sisters.
Dressing up is something I've always enjoyed. There's a kind of ceremony about it. When I was a kid, me and my best friend would go into the back of my mom's closet (with her permission, of course) and take out my favorite pieces: her prom dress (pictured below) and this red silk wrap dress (and matching red cowboy boots!), both of which my grandmother Penny had made her. We'd put on a ton of makeup from an old Neiman Marcus sampler, dress up in our outfits, and dance in the living room with our imaginary dates.
Pictured above: My mom wearing outfits made by my grandmother throughout her life.
As I have started building this brand and reconnecting with my earliest memories of fashion, I realize that so many are linked to the clothes my mom made, and how I felt in those moments is powerful. Besides the fact that they were handmade, these clothes fit me well and when clothes fit you well and feel like you, you can be more present in the moment.
My teenage years were tumultuous. I was seriously struggling with my body image by the time I started high school. I told myself losing weight was the key to my happiness and that once I looked a certain way and could fit into the right clothes that all these doors would open for me. I ended up with a closet full of aspirational clothes I couldn't wear and self-esteem lower than ever. It didn't help that my access to plus size clothing for tall women was still extremely limited.
When I began freelancing in Atlanta, much like the challenges my great-grandmother had faced, I struggled to find work clothes that fit well and represented me authentically. It was all I could do to find a decent fitting pair of black work pants and tops that weren't polyester and tight around my arms. I wanted to look professional and refined, but even still it is difficult to find anything quality in plus sizes, much less sustainable.
After I found a few brands that did cater to my size and style and I felt what it was like to wear something that fits me and feels like me, it was a feeling I never want to let go of again. As my own self-worth increased, I realized that I had been letting mainstream fashion shut me out. More than that, this notion I had that my current body wasn't worthy started to erode as I found more women like me online that were tired of being told that their bodies are something to hide or be ashamed of.
After years of struggling to represent my authentic self through fashion, House of Stone is an idea born from a desire to rebuild my relationship with clothing and explore style in a way that offers more people quality options, and a chance to connect with ourselves and each other through fashion. In the years to come, I hope it is a brand that fosters creativity and connection.