By Tonya Jameson
When most people think of fashion design, New York and Parisian runways come to mind. Talibah Dawan imagines Serena Williams diving for a tennis ball.
Dawan’s fashion world is sweaty, active and cute. Dawan owns Charlotte-based Cotton Locks Inc. For more than a decade, she created costumes for dance companies in the region. This fall, she plans to expand into “athleisure” wear.
“Athleisure” is performance apparel that can be worn outside of the gym. It’s a pair of leggings that look as good with heels as it does with tennis shoes.
“It’s going from the gym to the streets all in one,” said Dawan.
It’s also one of the hottest fashion trends in the last couple of years. Juicy Couture’s velour tracksuit was a trendsetter when it debuted more than a decade ago. Suddenly, Hollywood celebrities were seen wearing the candy-colored sweat suits everywhere. Today, companies such as lululemon, Nike, Gap Athleta and countless others have helped make “athleisure” a more than $30 billion industry.
Dawan is targeting independently owned boutiques rather than big-box retail stores for her line. Dawan studied fashion design and manufacturing at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. She developed bedding and bath fashions as a freelance stylist for Springs Industries Global. Her accounts included Walmart, Kmart and Bed, Bath & Beyond. In the mid-‘90s, she and her former husband moved here promote his Negro League baseball apparel throughout the East Coast.
Dawan eventually met a Morris Costumes designer who encouraged her to make dance wear. Although, Dawan built a strong reputation in dance wear, her heart always remained with athletic wear, which she designed while living in California.
“I like the garments that go along with the sports industry,” said Dawan, who doesn’t play sports. “I’m most happy doing performance wear. It allows me to have the creativity that I’m used to.”
Dawan, who has two adult sons and several grandchildren, likes the business of design, from conceptualization to manufacturing. She also prefers to be behind the scenes.
“Everybody can’t be Michael Kors,” said friend Tara Davis, a fashion instructor at the Art Institute of Charlotte. “But you can still make a living doing what you love.”
Davis is also an independent designer. Her company, Flow By Tara Davis, specializes in ready-to-wear dresses. She’s spent a lot of time at Dawan’s 1,000 square-foot studio in Plaza Midwood.
The front of the studio has racks of leotards with sequins and intricate patterns for her rhythmic wear clients. Another wall has a sports bra decorated with patches of fabric and sketches for pants and tops. The sewing machines are in the rear. These aren’t your mother’s sewing machines. Some machines sew only certain types of materials, such as the straps for tank tops. Dawan sews mock-ups for her contractors to manufacture.
Davis said Dawan’s “athleisure” apparel is actually wearable for leisurely activities. A lot of “athleisure” clothing still looks like performance wear, but Dawan’s designs are a good combination, Davis said.
“I like that she has the eye for what she does,” Davis said.
Hopefully, customers will like Dawan’s style, too, and her leggings, sports bras and cover-ups will be carried in a Charlotte boutique near you.