100 Creatives 2014: Ashton Miyako, Dressmaker

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The dresses of Ashton Miyako Designs are colorful, textured, and fun. But these designs are no lightweights; they have serious character. Much of their thoroughly modern, yet, classic appeal comes from the fact that Miyako uses vintage fabric, much of it pre-'80s.

And since her work is custom-made, her pieces reflect the vibrant personalities of Houston women. Her designs also carry a mature sense of taste. "My dresses are form-fitting garments that work will people's bodies well," she explains. "You don't have to show a ton of skin to be sexy. That's something that I want to promote, that you don't have to be naked to be noticed."

Miyako's fashion sense developed early on. She was born in Kansas and grew up in Alaska, both fashion wastelands. She started small, literally. "I would always get in trouble for cutting up my clothes to make Barbie doll dresses. I would make clothing for my dogs. I did it because I liked it." When her family moved to Santa Cruz, California, she realized that fashion could also be a striking form of self-expression. She began to reconstruct clothing for herself, and became a skilled practitioner of upcycling, or using old material to create new pieces.

In San Francisco she started working as a model at 16, primarily doing runway work. "The more I started to do that, trying on different designer's clothing, I thought, I can do this too," she says. Her designer friends invited her to help with making garments, and from there she started creating and selling her own dresses. Now she's focused on transforming the Houston fashion scene by encouraging consumers to buy one-of-a-kind pieces from local artists. Compare that with buying an expensive bag at a department store. "It's not an entirely exclusive piece," she points out. "Just because it's designer doesn't mean it's going to stand out. The local artists here are fantastic, but it's about getting people to open up a little bit and see what's in their own backyard."

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What she does: Fashion designer is a job title that doesn't quite encompass everything Ashton does to complete her individualized creations. For one, she actually knows how to sew. "I tell people that I'm a custom dress-maker, and that usually sparks their interest," she says. "When they ask if I can make them something, I ask if they have a picture of a dress they like, and I'll create a piece that works for them."

Why she likes it: "I love that fashion is an expression of one's self," she explains. "It shows the world what you have to say as a person." A big part of her enthusiasm for comes from the impact a great dress can have on a woman's confidence. A dress, as she points out, has the ability to transform a wallflower into the center of attention. "I like to create pieces that are conversation starters. If you don't feel comfortable talking to people, you have a piece that makes them want to talk to you." What inspires her: "It's really the fabric that inspires me, the textures, and the smell - I smell everything." Ashton is also drawn to the stories behind fabric, and the new narratives she can create by using repurposed materials. "I use a lot of vintage fabric, fabrics that are donated to me, and even upholstery fabric."

If not this, then what: "Designing is where I'm at," she says. "But if I couldn't design, I would always choose a path where I make women feel amazing. I'm all about making women feel amazing."

If not here, then where: If she wasn't in Houston, Ashton would take up residence "somewhere laidback, and that doesn't require too much upkeep." Recently, she's been delighted to discover that Ashton Miyako Designs has quite a following in Australia. "I ship things there all the time. I'd love to have my clothes all over the world."

What's next: Her looks will be featured in fashion shows throughout the city over the course of the summer, including Dionisio Winery's 3rd Annual Wine Festival on August 30. And television just might in Ashton's future. "Project Runway has asked me for the past four years to fill out an application, but I've been scared to. This will be the first year I actually submit it."

More Creatives for 2014 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page). T. Smith, artist Lindsay Finnen, photographerKaitlyn Stanley, tattoo artist Eleazar Galindo Navarro, video game maker Kate de Para, textile and clothing designer Shawn Swanner, video game painter Andy Gonzales, painter Chris Foreman, comic book sketcher Theresa DiMenno, photographer Jessica E. Jones, opera singer Atseko Factor, actor John Pluecker, writer, poet and language justice worker Ricky Ortiz, painter, tattoo artist Rabēa Ballin, artist David Wald, actor Lisa E. Harris, performing and visual artist Stephanie Todd Wong, executive director of Dance Source Houston Pamela Fagan Hutchins, novelist Heather Gordy, artist Mark Nasso, comic artist Shelbi-Nicole, artist Marian Szczepanski, novelist Jonathan Blake, fashion designer Doni Langlois, interior designer Kat Denson, dancer Blame the Comic, comedian Margaret Menchaca Alvarez, artist Jacquelyne Jay Boe, dancer Rene Fernandez, painter Teresa Chapman, choreographer and dancer

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