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  • Aliyah Veal

Elizabeth Keyes: Bolton-Born Fashion Designer Debuts First Collection

By Aliyah Veal, MS Free Press


Elizabeth Keyes: Bolton-Born Fashion Designer Debuts First Collection
Elizabeth Keyes describes her debut collection as being for the modern-day influencer and woman who needs the perfect outfit to match their swag. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Keyes

Twelve-year-old Elizabeth Keyes is crouched over her sewing machine, hard at work on putting together her first-ever piece of custom clothing: an A-line, zebra-print shirt. The Bolton, Miss., native’s mother was blessed enough to hire Sharon Knott, a seamstress who worked at Hancock, to give her private lessons. Keyes is almost at the end of her seam when a stern, feminine voice interrupts her.


“No, that’s not right. Undo it. Start again,” Knott critiques her.


Frustrated, Keyes undoes her work to start anew at the behest of her teacher. She was impatient, but her tutor always taught her to be detail-oriented because a seamstress should not want a customer to turn over a piece of clothing and see that it is improperly sewn.


“When I was 12, I was just discovering that skillset as a seamstress, and the technical work that goes behind making clothes is not a fast process, but you have to love what you do to make quality work,” an adult Keyes told the Mississippi Free Press around a decade later.


Keyes’ hard work and dedication has all led to the launch of her first collection under House of E. Keyes, a women’s clothing brand she describes as bold, creative and inspirational. The collection is a collaboration with Shein X, a three-year-old program wherein Shein reaches out to emerging fashion designers, looks at their portfolios, interviews them and sponsors their five-piece collections.

“What’s so unique about this collection is I thought about like that modern-day influencer, like the women in my life that did so much, but they just needed an outfit to match that swag,” the designer described.


Keyes describes her upbringing in Bolton in three terms: hardworking, hospitality and faith. She grew up on family land with parents who were both ministers at her home church in Bolton. Elizabeth was homeschooled until high school, but that didn’t stop her from participating in various extracurricular activities, including dance.


“I would say my love for fashion initially came from dance,” she said. “When I was around 4 or 5 years old, there was a dance school in Clinton. … What I loved about it was just the costume designs. I was always thrilled with how we had different looks for different scenery.”


Designer Elizabeth Keyes hosted a launch party for her new fashion line in her home state on March 19, 2024, a day after the collection debuted. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Keyes

Her mother always dressed her in plaid skirts and matching sets, a style Keyes labeled bougie. While homeschooling Keyes and her siblings, Keyes’ parents regularly introduced them to lifestyles of creativity and entrepreneurship.


Keyes started watching documentaries on notable designers like Oscar de la Renta and Mississippi’s very own Cross Colours co-founder TJ Walker and fashion designer Patrick Kelly, whom her high school would go on to honor.


“One of my biggest inspirations was Kimora Lee Simmons,” Keyes said. “Like, I have a picture of me wearing Baby Phat as a teenager. That was my go-to.”


While attending Raymond High School, she started the school’s first fine-arts club to encourage the arts and provide an outlet for her classmates who were interested in music, poetry, art, fashion and so on. “I just wanted to be that pioneer to create an outlet for us to start investing and looking at career opportunities, mentors, and just get more experience in the art field,” Keyes said.


At 16 years old, she premiered in her first fashion show that raised money for a local charity for sickle-cell awareness. The collection contained six pieces for kids and teenagers, and her friends modeled her designs.


‘I Can’t Find Any Brand to Fit Me’


During her time at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Elizabeth received great opportunities through the Gucci Changemakers program and a two-year internship with Kohl’s as an intern designer. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Keyes

As a freshman at Raymond High, Keyes began researching colleges because she knew she needed to attend fashion-design school to sharpen her skills and knowledge of the industry.


“There’s a program that still exists in Mississippi called Get2College, and there was an advisor, Stephen Brown,” she said. “I told him these are the schools I’m looking at, and I really want to look into SCAD (the Savannah College of Art and Design). So he went on the tour, brought me back some things, and my mom took me to SCAD Day.”


What drew her to the school was the one-on-one attention that she received from one of the professors, along with the program’s focus on helping students attain careers in fashion. After graduating high school in 2017, she attended SCAD in the fall, majoring in fashion design with a double minor in graphic design and fashion marketing and management. She graduates June 2, 2024.


“For me, my journey has been so unique because I truly have gained the industry skills that I need to land the careers that I have—like being a part of the Gucci Changemaker program in 2021, which is awarded by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. I had a two-year experience internship with Kohl’s as an intern designer,” Keyes said.


The House of E. Keyes collection is filled with ready-to-wear, monochromatic silhouettes that are complimentary for all body types, Elizabeth Keyes said, which is part of her brand philosophy. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Keyes

All of the designer’s hard work and experience has culminated into her first House of E. Keyes collection with the Shein X program. When applying for the program, Shein loved the fact that her portfolio showed her creativity and the technical skills she learned from school like how to do a tech pack and how to draw, the student said.


“All the looks are pretty much ready-to-wear, monochromatic silhouettes that are complimentary for all body types because that’s a part of my brand philosophy, to be more inclusive with size. Coming from Mississippi, that was my biggest thing to become a designer because I’m just like, ‘I’m 13 years old, and I can’t find any brand to fit me,’” she said.


TJ Walker. Patrick Kelly. J. Bolin. Kollin Carter. All of these men are Mississippi fashion designers and stylists who have or had an imprint on the fashion industry. Keyes is honored to see herself as qualified and worthy enough to be a part of this collective of Mississippi creatives.


To celebrate the release of her first collection, Keyes held a launch party in her hometown on March 19, the day after the line’s official debut. She has plans to host a fall fashion show of her collection in Mississippi and to establish her mentorship program, Girls in Grace, here as well. The program is her motivator for helping invest in the next generation of young women to help them follow their dreams.

“I definitely see myself working in the industry,” Keyes said. “My prayer is to be a full time entrepreneur, but I feel like there’s room for a role as an assistant designer in the industry to help mold our private labels to be more inclusive through their sizing, through their advertisement.”


”Definitely have a goal to be a part of, like, New York Fashion Week in some capacity, some state fashion shows,” she added. “I know Mississippi has Rock the Runway, so I would love to participate in that.”


House of E. Keyes officially launched on Monday, March 18, 2024, with new clothes dropping weekly. To purchase from the new collection, visit Shein X’s website here. Follow Elizabeth Keyes and her work at @_houseofekeyes on Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and YouTube. View her portfolio at ekeyesdesigns.com and browse her personal shop at shopekeyes.myshopify.com.  To learn more about Girls in Grace, follow the program’s Instagram page.




 






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