In southeastern NC, fashion wavers on the streets, from hippy, earthy looks to hipster grayscale color palettes to bold and bright coastal prints, where palm leaves cover the torso. It’s a hodgepodge of at-ease living in all its incarnations. However, one eastern shoreboard designer finds a bounty of inspiration from the beauty of her surroundings—sea, sand, sun.
Emily Newnam launched her fashion line Southern Frock in summer of 2010. The designer doesn’t just copy and paste prints from stock photos but carefully hand-paints patterns—along with the help of her friends—to design dresses, tunics, rompers, jumpsuits, blouses, and beach cover-ups. Pineapples, star fish, coral, and geometric swirls come in bright hues from cobalt blues to kelly greens. “Our signature prints give Southern Frock a certain personality that is recognizable to our customers,” Newnam says.
We interviewed Newnam—whose clothing line is only available locally at Spectrum Art and Jewelry in The Forum, yet can also be found at Belk department stores and online. She dished about her business and the inspiration that continues to see it grow.
encore (e): Tell us how you got into fashion design; where did it all begin?
Emily Newnam (EN): I’ve always had a creative influence throughout life, growing up. My dad majored in art at East Carolina, and my mom and dad both have always been a huge support in following my dreams. I had no idea I would have my own clothing line one day.
I majored in textiles at NC State, then transferred to Meredith College in Raleigh to major in fashion design, where I graduated.
e: What was the first piece you made?
EN: I think I first started playing around with making dresses and skirts in high school—nothing too serious; didn’t really use patterns, just having fun with a sewing machine that my mimi gave me. The first dress I made was a brown strapless dress with a turquoise ribbon that ties in the back. I still have it!
e: What were you doing before you launched Southern Frock?
EN: Right out of school I worked for Patsy Aiken, a children’s clothing designer in Raleigh, where I learned the back side of the clothing business. Aiken has proved to have a big impact of running a clothing line; She is a huge inspiration to me for all she has accomplished in the industry. Patsy, like myself, after over 30 years of running her successful children’s clothing company, packed up and moved to the coast. She now lives in Wilmington, too!
Growing up in eastern NC, I’ve never really had the urge to move to NYC or LA to try to start a fashion career, so after Raleigh and working for Patsy, I moved south to Charleston, SC, where Southern Frock was born. The inspiration of Charleston is unlike any place in the world and has had a huge influence on the line!
e: What was the impetus to create the company?
EN: I think as I started learning more and more about the industry—and many years of trial and error working for other clothing lines—I decided to go out on a leap of faith and see what would happen. It’s something I really love and have a true passion for. The support and influence of my family and friends has meant the world over the years as Southern Frock has continued to grow. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. All of my best friends are my models—especially my family.
My mom, Betsy, is the other half of Southern Frock and has been my business partner since the second year of getting started. She is such an inspiration and puts so much into business. Aside from wholesaling to Belk department stores and boutiques all over the U.S. and Caribbean, we opened our first flagship shop in Beaufort, NC, where the business is based out of. My dad was a huge influence in that project, right down to drawing the blueprints. It takes a village! My sister, Jenny, is also my biggest fan!
e: You have bright, bold prints, many of which are inspired by coastal life. Tell me a little about what draws you to these prints.
EN: I just love color. It makes people happy. A lot of the inspiration comes from my travels to the Caribbean and Italian coastline, as well as India, where we manufacture. It’s incredible to see the vivid culture in these small coastal towns. All of our prints are hand-painted by myself and good friends, which makes the line so special! All of the prints are signature to Southern Frock.
e: Do you have any new designs or ones you’re readying to launch?
EN: We are launching our first fall line in September, which will have new signature prints and styles. It will be a smaller collection compared to the spring and summer lines but a good jumping-off point for our first launch.
e: Will the color palettes and designs change for the fall line—will they continue to be bright and bold?
EN: The colors will continue to be bright and bold patterns, a little more black and tan for fall but with a pop of color. The pattern designs for fall will be kind of an abstract, blown up animal print with bright colors, as well as chambray.
e: What are your upcoming goals for the business?
EN: I am playing around with the idea of launching a small children’s line to compliment some of the fabric patterns used in the line. I hope we continue to grow with patterns and styles that more and more women love. The best compliment of all is knowing other ladies love the line just as much as mom and I do.
e: Any advice to women looking to improve their style and fashion sense?
EN: Definitely accessorizing and dressing for your body type is the best advice for women’s style. My mom has a big influence in the direction of the collection as we continue to grow. Throughout the years, We have added styles with sleeves and silhouettes that compliment a wide range of body types and ages. Also, a pop of color is always a must!