By Summer Stanley
Kelsy Dominick of Haymarket, Virginia, defines entrepreneur in a way many of us only experience vicariously. Since graduating with degrees in international studies and fashion merchandising/design in 2013, she has already launched a custom couture clothing company, DiDomenico Design, which now has clientele spanning beyond the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. In addition to wearing the Designer and CEO titles, she has a non-profit in the works, travels the world to showcase her designs on the runways, and leads sewing workshops for women in developing countries. Oh – I should also mention she has a vividly published book of her global fashion adventures that’s gracing coffee tables this fall.
Passion, without a doubt, is the driving force that helps Dominick manage her full plate of ambition served up from a long line of strong and creative women that came before her. African American and Italian born, she learned to sew at age 9. Her African American grandmother, Lucille, owned a furniture upholstery business, but having a big family on a small budget meant also sewing clothing for her 11 children, including Dominick’s mother, who learned the dying art of sewing that would later be passed on to Dominick. On her Italian father’s side, her Great-Aunt Bessy made elaborate and exquisite wedding gowns for the “Little Italy” community of Belleville, New Jersey. The dedication to detail and perfection in every stitch is the legacy Dominick wishes to continue in her own craftsmanship.
DiDomenico Design is known for its elegant evening wear, custom bridal gowns and designer clothing inspired from around the world. The brand speaks to all women of different shapes, colors and sizes.
“My idea of fashion is storytelling and sharing the work invested in the garment,” says Dominick. “It’s about diversity and travel.”
In 2015, she embarked on a journey to “sew the world” as she visited countries like Egypt, Israel, Haiti and Scotland, to name a few. She began documenting each of the destinations with a styled photo shoot, dressed in her interpretation of the country’s culture, and holding her Aunt Bessy’s century-old Singer sewing machine. She was motivated to show others how beautiful and unique these resources from other lands can be.
With a golden opportunity to show at New York Fashion Week two years ago, the invitations soon began flowing with other new prospects abroad.
Representatives of the Cuban Trade Commission were some of the first in New York to take notice of Dominick and invite her to participate in the Arte y Moda fashion show in Havana last November. Working with the Cuban Embassy, she became the first American designer to send her fashions down the runway since the embargo was implemented decades ago.
“It’s not just about fashion, but breaking down barriers,” Dominick says of her experience showing and doing trade with the Cuban designers, using the arts as a way of strengthening relations between the two countries.
Still, being around all the high-end goods from fashion week events like New York and Cannes Film Festival in France this spring was an eye opener for Dominick. “We’re losing authenticity,” she says.
She explains that the same countries have received all the attention for their trend-setting for so long, that we pay no attention to the attractive and economically sound ideas the smaller-voiced countries have to offer the world: textiles like fresh white linen made from pineapple in the Philippines or Batik style of cotton design made from pure beeswax in Vietnam.
“Instead of building walls of fear, stress and uncertainty, I want to build as many bridges as I can in their place,” said Dominick.
Through her recent travels, she noticed a common thread in many of the villages she visited in developing countries. In particular, her participation in mission trips to renovate schools and teach adult literacy in Haiti and Malawi inspired her, as she was in awe of how women juggle so many difficult tasks in their day, while trying to maintain homes for their families. She heard story after story of women robbed of opportunities. Some spoke of not being allowed to attend school while growing up. Others told of their husbands passing away, and suddenly they weren’t able to provide for their children. In Malawi, for example, it is more common for the men to sew than the women.
This lit a fire inside Dominick as she was compelled to find a solution that would empower these women. So what began as a visual narrative two years ago with her photo shoots in 20 countries, turned into something more than just pretty pictures. DiDomenico Design’s organization, Sewing The World, re-emerged this year with a new mission for Dominick. She wanted to give disadvantaged women something that no one could take away. She came up with the idea of teaching sewing workshops and quickly got to work.
In July, Haymarket, Virginia’s own Park Valley Church led a mission trip to the Philippines, where it has a sister church in Manila. Partnering with them, Dominick and her team were able to teach nearly 100 women new sewing skills that will help them in starting their own businesses to maintain a sustainable income from sewing and selling their clothing. That clothing happens to be both fashionable and authentic cultural designs that tell their country’s story in a modern way.
Dominick saw their skills increase in only two weeks, as the women were excitedly teaching each other. Since the trip, she has even been doing FaceTime with them every other day to keep the spark alive.
“My reason for doing this was deeply rooted in my belief that women can overcome insurmountable things,” said Dominick, who recently returned from a trip to Peru, where she managed photos with her sewing machine at both Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain, the highest elevation of her images to date. She will return in April 2018 for a fashion show in Lima, and she’s making plans to carry out her next sewing workshops while there.
With Dominick’s passion for travel, sewing and fashion, a synergy emerges creating visually captivating styles that make us curious. If she can get her customers interested enough to ask questions and learn about the products’ origins and how they’re helping others, then Dominick’s hope is that the caring becomes contagious.
“You see, our lives are meant to be so much more than what we do for ourselves,” she says.
What is Kelsy Dominick most thankful for this holiday season? “My family,” she says. “Their support is the reason I can do what I do in the studio and away from home.”
Visit the DiDomenico Design studio for a seasonal trunk show on weekends now through December 23rd with ready-to-wear dresses for holiday parties, New Year’s galas, weddings and more. Sip some wine and try on unique fashions at 15054 Doral Place, Haymarket, Virginia. You can also visit www.didomenicodesign.com to shop Dominick’s original designs, and make a global impact by purchasing the Filipino styles and Dominick’s new book, Sewing the World, Volume I. ML