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The Jewel of Charlotte:

Ruby Assata
Accessory Fashion Show
Saturday, December 18th,
2 p.m. – 7  p.m. • $20
Hart Witzen Gallery, 136 E. 36th S.
Charlotte, NC

A few years ago, I was at Art for the Masses and one of the ballerinas—a group of girls privy to fashion and general hipness, of whom my BFF Mandy coined—happened to be selling her scarves, bags and T-shirts. The one I had my eye on was was beige and featured screen-printed, hand-drawn black guns and yarn baubles aligning the trim. Alisha Payne carefully crafted the fabric art as part of her brand, Ruby Assata. Instantly, I bought it.

The next year, around Mandy’s birthday, I commissioned Payne to make her a clutch—something delicate and feminine, perfect for Mandy’s style. The outcome was staggering. The inside purple fabric had been screenprinted with old-fashioned keys and the outer lip and bag came crafted in a yellow and pale pink vintage floral print. Mandy swooned over it.

Since, I have bought another clutch and wallet from the Ruby Assata brand as gifts. What I have noticed of them all is the durability to which they hold up.

“[I decided to make] bags when I received a handmade bag as a gift that was poorly made,” Payne says, “and I thought, I could make something better than this. I detest disposable fashion, and want to make long-lasting and functional pieces.”

Carefully crafted from vintage fabrics that she finds or uses from old clothing, the Ruby Assata brand ventured lately into the use of leather. “It’s amazing,” she notes. “It’s so soft but super durable.” Sold at local boutique Edge of Urge, as well as on her Etsy site,, product inventory turns around quickly, with items ranging from $70 to $330. Payne seemingly can’t restock her pieces as fast as they sell.   Of the most impressive aspect: From start to finish, they’re one-of-a-kind.

“I do most of my own graphic design, photography and all of my own screen printing,” she says. “I would love to print my own fabric and incorporate glitter—lots of glitter! I also love type, clean graphic design and pen-and-ink illustration.  All of those things are carried over to the prints I use, like hand-drawn florals, graphic stripes and dots. ”

Born with the desire to create, Payne took up sewing thanks to her grandmother’s teachings, as well as watching “Fashion File” on PBS. Originally from Missouri, her family moved to Kannapolis, NC, when she was a teen, and after high school, Payne attended Central Piedmont Community College, Wake Tech and eventually UNCW, where she received her bachelor’s degree in studio art.

“I took every costume-related class UNCW’s theater department had to offer,” she says. “I worked in the costume shop as a student stitcher and then two years as the manager after I graduated. The experience and knowledge I acquired from the shop and costume designer Mark Sorensen are invaluable to Ruby Assata bags.”

While working as a waitress at Caffe Phoenix last summer, Payne was accepted to Penland for a two-week residency to craft and create. It gave her even more impetus to completely build her brand, and she knew she needed to focus on it solely to make it as a designer. So, in August 2010 she moved back to Kannapolis with her parents to concentrate on product-making. Though leaving Wilmington came with its own set of hardships, the move has turned into opportunity, just as she hoped. On December 18th, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., she’ll have her first fashion show at Hart Witzen Gallery in Charlotte.

“I started sewing accessories for Tara Davis, a fashion designer in Charlotte,” she explains. “She is hosting the show and debuting her holiday collection.”

In fact, the show will be a three-in-one feature, offering Ruby Assata bags, Genuine Gentlemen men’s accessories and FLOW by Tara Davis Holiday collection. An open market takes place afterward, so attendees can buy goods from up to 20 venders who will be selling jewelry, home décor products and more.

“My entire fashion show is based off Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,’” Payne says. “I’ll have handmade bags, backpacks and clutches. I have never done this before, and that is the most frightening. I was really excited to pick the music and design the hair and makeup for the show.”

All Ruby Assata fans are welcome to attend the soiree, as tickets are $20 and can be purchased at For $35, VIP tickets are available, and include a custom FLOW Tara Davis graphic tee, gift bag and access to the VIP area and fashion show seating.

As for Ruby Assata’s other product placements, expect more inventory on her Etsy site, as well as at Edge of Urge, downtown Wilmington, after the show’s over. To follow her works in progress, subscribe to her blog at

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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