When Reuben Reuel first started his brand in 2012, he never could have imagined seeing Beyoncé wearing his clothing a little over a year later. Clearly, it was the definitive sign of his place in fashion.
Since then it’s been a whirlwind –to say the least– for the Brooklyn-based designer hailing from Virginia Beach. Reuel is successful, but not an overnight success. He is consistent, but not stale. And more than anything else, he is dynamic and humble.
Having grown up in a deeply religious home, Reuel has cited on many occasions that Sunday church service was a huge inspiration for him. The grandiose of the traditional Southern Christian church is a runway in itself that dates back over a century. Women attend service not only to serve the Lord but to look amazing while doing so.
Reuel took note.
He began designing in high school, creating his first piece for a class project. He eventually moved up to New York City, was working for a company and got fired. Instead of acquiescing to career failure, Reuel used his unemployment money to start Demestiks. Pulling fabric, sewing and selling on Etsy, he was able to create a natural buzz online which eventually got into the right stylist’s hands. And that’s where the celebrity power came into play.
You have more than likely seen Demestiks pieces on Mindy Kaling, Lisa Price, or even Jill Scott. However, if you’re totally unfamiliar, his signature aesthetic is Ankara print most notable in West African fashion.
“My customer is looking for a handmade, quality garment,” he told HelloBeautiful in an exclusive interview during New York Fashion Week. “The prints and colors make my designs come alive.”
Keeping in the vein of traditional Black aesthetics, Reuel pulls these fabrics because of their vibrancy and historical context in African culture. Although the wax dyed fabric originates in The Netherlands and was initially intended for Indonesian consumers, it was given life by West Africans who wholly embraced the colors and potential for tribal prints. In turn, Reuel breathes new life into the style, but he’s not limited or restricted by it.
“I refresh the Ankara theme into my design from season to season by pairing the fabric with classic designs”
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“I hunt for fabrics that fit the mood of the design; the marriage of the right print, color, and design are extremely important in executing the finished product,” Reuel added.
An important aspect of the Demestiks brand is that the majority of fabrics used are sourced and manufactured in New York. When Reuel first started his company, he was creating all the garments by hand on his home sewing machine. And while he has more help these days, he’s proud to bring business to NYC’s Garment District.
Right now the designer is rolling out his Spring/Summer 2016 collection that includes lightweight maxi dresses, pleated midi skirts, bell sleeve blouses, jumpsuits and cinched mini dresses. The vibe has a 1970’s air to it, which is by no mistake.
“The designers that inspire me the most from the ’70s era would have to be Halston, Willi Smith, Diane von Furstenberg, and Yves Saint Laurent,” Reuel said. “I feel each of these designers understood women and women’s style. Their aesthetics were all different, but their purpose was all the same: to design timeless clothing and make women feel beautiful in how they dressed.”
Reuel’s success can be largely credited to the accessibility of platforms like Etsy, that allow designers to get their work out to international customers, minus a lot of the sartorial business fuss. He has the ability to produce five collections annually on his own schedule. But Reuel also credits his loyal customers –celebrities included– who have a desire for handmade, distinct pieces.
“I have a very diverse demographic of customers all over the world,” he says. “[But] I truly believe each customer values the attention of detail in each style.”
A success story, yes. But Reuel is not settled and has far to go. And we relish in the thought of what he’ll do next.