TEXT by SOPHIA JENNINGS, CREATIVE DIRECTOR ('16)
PHOTO courtesy of EMMANI RAWLINS
PART I: ABOUT EMMANI
I didn’t know much about Emmani Rawlins before FaceTiming her from LA. I knew she never wore the same lipstick twice. I knew she went to Milton Academy. And I knew she studied abroad in Ghana.
She smiles when she talks about it. How it was relaxed there, how, upon arrival, she found Accra to be similar to Port of Spain, her family’s original home. “It smelled like Trinidad, it felt like Trinidad,” she tells me. “It even tasted like Trinidad.”
And the style there? “Dope.” Bright colors and block shapes. Locals bought their own fabrics, designed their own outfits and got them tailored. There was even a tailor at the international hostel, receiving the students’ designs on Tuesdays and returning their outfits on Thursday, week after week. By the end of the semester, Emmani wasn’t just designing her own orders, she was designing her friends’ as well.
But then, on her last night abroad, Emmani was sexually assaulted. “In the situation that I was in, I actually could’ve died,” she tells me. “I could’ve disappeared forever.” The next day she flew home to Boston. A month later she returned to Wesleyan. It was January and there were three feet of snow.
It was then that Emmani experienced her period of great growth matched with equal depression. Sitting in her room in X House, she skipped class and spent days playing music, writing songs, and drawing. By February, she started designing. “I just felt like, the fact I’m here is a testament that I’m supposed to be here,” she says. “What happened hardened the waters for me to move in a different direction.” That direction turned out to be Sol Fashions.
Her first design was inspired by an amorphic top she saw on Facebook. Using a scrap of cotton bed sheet from her grandmother, she cut and sewed the top in her room, running down the hall yelling, ‘yo this is lit! I’m about to start making clothes!” Next up was a bra-let made from a Youtube tutorial, also from her grandmother’s bed sheet. As she finished more and more sewing projects, she found it harder to to focus on her Sociology courses.
“I needed to be doing things with my hands. I needed to bring my life in to the real world,” she explains. It was then that she signed up for the WesFest Fashion Show. It was February, the show was in April, and she had six weeks to make 19 looks.
Forced to face her relative inexperience in actually making clothes, Emmani’s first move was to streamline her approach. “If you have a bunch of pieces that are scattered in all different colors it’s an eyesore,” she explains. “I decided to do black and white. Everything just black and white.”
Emmani made her first piece for the show on February 24th. A pair of white drawstring pants, they were inspired by a five dollar HM purchase. “All I knew was I wanted them to have that squishy feel. The top came later.” When she finished the pants, she had an idea that they would work on her friend, then-senior Aissa Gueye (’15).
For the next six weeks, she woke up in the morning and sewed for twelve hours straight, often forgetting to brush her teeth until bedtime. When she was hungry, she stocked up at Weshop so she wouldn’t have to leave her room again. “I didn’t have a full version of where [the line] would end up,” she admits now.
Neglecting the use of store-bought patterns, Emmani drew her own based on herpieces from her closet. “I don’t have a specific kind of woman I want to make clothes for,” she tells me. “I just want to make clothes for Queens.” And what exactly defines a Queen? "A Queen is a woman who owns herself." Emmani's clothes fit her client's body like they want them to fit, whether that’s flowy or tight, showing skin or covered up. “People should feel like royalty and understand their power of queenship when they wear my clothes.”
But a Queen isn’t just about looking good. Instead, Emmani believes her client is most powerful when she is her truest self. And this truest self comes from taking risks, trying new styles. “You can become different versions of yourself when you wear different clothes,” she says. “You can feel powerful in different aspects.”
For her WesFest Fashion Show, Emmani chose to use exclusively women of color. The models were girls Emmani knew, and helped influence her designs. “She tailors each design to fit the person it’s inspired by,” Aissa tells me over the phone. “It feels custom made and you wear it with confidence because it's part of your identity. The clothes don't wear you, you wear the clothes.”
“After I made my line, I realized I could actually do anything. My life course kicked in and I was like, ok I’m here,” Emmani reflects. And she was right, her show was a hit. She even named the line SOL Fashions, a word derived from the Seed of Life. “The Seed of Life is about perfect balance and harmony,” she explains. “But for me, it just means that the line was born out of the creative process that characterizes everything new.”
Following the show, Emmani took leave from Wesleyan and flew to Port of Spain, where she spent two months interning for Millhouse Menswear, a line founded by her cousins in the late 90s. Also based on a tailoring system, the line introduced the young designer to new styles. “It’s a lot of carnival culture and beauty queens,” she tells me. As an intern, Emmani worked primarily in the Hyatt tailoring room, working on patterns and learning hand stitches. “I went on business but it was also a family endeavour,” she explains.
After two months, she flew home to Boston, where she’s taking the semester off to focus on her brand. In March, her Spring line will launch. She’s even thinking menswear. But for now, there’s one thing on her mind. “I gotta get my license!"
PART II: THE LOOK BOOK
PHOTOS BY MONICA SUN
"This was the last outfit I made in the SOL Walk line; it’s the epitome of black magic. It makes me feel powerful, and sexy, and it’s a testament to my creative process; I didn’t have plans for it, it just came out! "
"I LOVE hotpants! As a woman, I love my body, and I hate having to restrict it; the crop top is super stretchy, form-fitting nylon so if you feel comfortable, you don’t have to wear a bra with it. Thank me later Queens!"
"I love straps, and the versatility they provide. This bodysuit can be laced and tied in multiple ways."
"These. Joggers. The two-tone joggers are by far the piece Queens and Kings ask about most-not to mention being beloved by the ultimate Queen Diva- my mom! "
"Things I like: Sheer fabric, mod cuts and open backs!"
"Regal! I love two-piece sets that show a little tummy—just a little skin to break up the uniformity of the fabric."
"A Queen’s body has its own form. I love this mix and match pair because they move with the body."
"I love this set because it’s soft; it works with a Queen’s body (...and it’s classy af! haha) Sometimes clothing is only made with a slim straight body type in mind, but Queen’s come in every shape and size! This set works with the slim straight type, but also looks amazing on a frame that has more curves."
"One word: R E G A L. These are Queen’s robes! The kaftan is reversible; one side is primarily black, the other white, and the dress is made of crushed cotton—so comfortable, and oh so fresh."
"Sheer obsession. This time it comes with a twist because this set is just barely sheer, so people always ask, 'Is that see through?' It definitely draws attention."
"This bodysuit is my baby!! 1) I love the simplicity of it, then the touch of sass in the back with the v-cut. 2) It taught me about life—as I struggled through the process of making it, I coined the phrase “You don’t know unless you go,” and it’s been my motto ever since."
"I love the color blocking here!"
"So fun! I love the structure of the skirt with the softness of the top. Once again: I love strings! We played around with a few different ways of tying this halter and it came out really cool."
"Sometimes a Queen just wants to show off her legs! I love the lightness of this pleated mini skirt—it moves so freely."
"Yes. Queen. The back of this two-piece isn’t pictured, but I love it! It has a thong bottom for the Queens who like to get a little cheeky, and the top is strappy. I love the way the kimono drapes over the body."
"So badass, I love e v e r y t h i n g about this set! It’s sheer, unrestricting, and the hoodie is dope."
"This outfit has a special place in my heart— it was my very first. It has cool futuristic, yet throwback vibes. It’s made with nylon “swishy” material, shoutout to the 90s, but the bright white and silver carry a future feel—LOVE!
"This is by far one of the most comfortable ensembles in the line. The joggers are made with double-knit scuba fabric and are so smooth on your legs it feel like heaven. Queens need to be comfy and fly at the same time!"