This talented Afrocentric fashion designer has been making dresses since he was a teenager—for his sister, his mom and the women in his hometown Virginia church. Now he owns his own company and even has some big-time celebrities wearing his creations.
Are you ready to wear a Reuben Reuel design?
Join us for more about Reuben: how the women in his life inspired him, how God guided his steps—and of course, what he has to say about style and his newest designs.
What do we love about Reuben’s clothes?
Without a doubt, there is the gorgeous pattern, color and movement of them, but what comes through beyond that is the underlying respect and understanding he has for women. Ladies, he gets us: “Women want to feel special, beautiful. They want to be complimented and discover themselves.” This kind of empathy doesn’t happen by accident…”Three strong women inspired me to be a designer.”
“Three strong women inspired me to be a designer.”
Rueben’s FIRST customer? His Sister
As a young teenager, Reuben made his first dress in school. He started practicing with patterns from McCalls, making things for his sister, his first “guinea pig.” “When my sister found out I could make clothes, she was still a teenager and very excited.”
“OMG, MY BROTHER CAN MAKE CLOTHES!” She still likes to tell people, “I was his FIRST customer.”
Reuben’s best (and worst) client? His Mother
“Growing up, my mother always dressed up for church. She was used to getting compliments, and she could sew very well. Since she knew how things should be done—down to the smallest detail, she had high standards for everything I made. Everything needed to be done right.
“As I started making more and more custom clothes for the ladies at church, things got a little hectic sometimes. I always made my mom’s clothes last. She would say, ‘I understand that you’re a business man, but make sure my things are done.’
“The best thing I ever made for her was a yellow suit made with stretch sateen and beaded lace. It resembled a St. John’s knit suit. I will never forget the joy she had wearing my things. That made me very proud.”
Reuben’s Practical Style Icon? His Grandmother
“My grandmother was able to add just the right accessory or twist to make her style all her own. She was very frugal and mixed high end clothing with thrift store finds. I feel that style gets more creative when shopping on a budget. I design with this in mind. We all have a limit and a budget. I have set out to reach a broader audience with my clothes and make women happy.”
God’s Timing and Provision (the opportunities and people He provided)
“I was lucky. My high school actually had a fashion program. I don’t question God’s timing. Shortly after I graduated, it ended! That program totally changed my path in life. From there I went to Norfolk State University and ended up at the Art Institute of NYC.” Reuben was also “lucky” to grow up with strong women around him—and in a church full of walking designing opportunities. “I learned a lot about designing from those amazing women.”
Reuben’s Leap of Faith
So what did Reuben do?
He took a job working for someone else. (LADIES, this isn’t a fairytale. It’s a real story. Haven’t we all denied our callings at one time or another?)
Reuben took the job working for someone else…
“It lasted for 2 weeks. It wasn’t for me. I was frustrated. Every day before I arrived to work, I cried.” The prompting to strike out on his own wouldn’t let up. “I felt called to create beauty in the world. I knew how the woman I was designing for wanted to look and feel, and I wanted to make it happen.”
So what did Reuben do then?
He quit and opened an Etsy store with his own designs: 1 dress in 4 prints and 2 shirts in 2 patterns. It was scary, and it was a lot of hard work…but he survived and now he THRIVES. He’s doing what he loves and making women feel as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside. LUCKY US!
Now let’s talk about his clothes!
“Fabric inspires me—especially cotton. I try to incorporate structure into my designs so that they’re almost sculptural.
How does Reuben achieve this sculptural look? He loves creating dramatic silhouettes that stand out: style details like ruffles and peplums, but then he goes one step further with “horsehair” hems. Reinforced hems add even more structure. They can make skirts fuller and collars moldable. Ruffles and peplums stand out and get more dynamic. In the olden days, real horsehair was used to achieve this; now, designers sew a stiff but bendable ¼” synthetic ribbon into the hem.
“Color and pattern is important too. It attracts the eye and makes people happy.”
Reuben gravitates toward Afrocentric designs because they’re so dynamic and unique. “They’re from the past, a culture that I don’t know about, but one that is a part of me.”
Drawing from his experience designing for the women at church, Reuben also learned how to create feminine details that create allure and surprise—without revealing too much.
“Growing up at my church, I designed clothes that had hems to a certain length and arms covered.”
“I can’t help thinking back to a particular dress I designed for a friend. Where she worked, she had to wear black. So I made her a black turtleneck dress that went below the knee. To make it special and unique, I cut a slit in the sleeve at the wrist. Wrists are delicate, feminine parts of the body.”
“I try to include that element of surprise in my designs…and keep the woman who will wear it top of mind.”
“Every one of my dresses are named after a woman I know or a woman whose style I admire.”
“The TAMMIE Dress is named after Tammie from St. Louis, a very bold, fun loving, FUNNY woman. She’s one of those people you immediately love. Someone who likes to be seen. A big personality.”
The TASHA Bishop-Sleeve Dress is named after Reuben’s sister in law. The classic, feminine style complements her curvy silhouette and reflects her more quiet, introspective spirit.
Reuben on STYLE and the Magic of Clothes Style Comes from Within
Reuben advises us, “Let who you are bubble up into how you put yourself together. Dress with JOY and experiment. Try on new things that are different than what you’d normally wear. You really don’t know what looks good on YOU until you put it on. That’s where the magic can happen. For accessories, add color and metallics. PLAY with your look.
What’s Reuben’s style?
“I’m a shoe person. I usually wear interesting shoes with a plain outfit. Shoes are my thing. In all kinds of colors. My whole family is into shoes.”
Clothes are Powerful
“Clothes can change the way you see yourself. You can feel horrible, go to your closet and at least look good on the outside. Put on something you love, look in the mirror, and things aren’t that bad. The right clothes can even change your walk. It’s like therapy.”
Ashro and The Woman in Red
“Black women have a sense of style that’s different than what mainstream markets show. I like designing and seeing clothes that the women I know would like to wear. I feel like the marketplace is often missing these women.”
“When I think about Ashro and Ashro style, one woman in particular comes to mind. I was working in St. Louis at the time and spied her through the office building window. The memory feels a little like a dream. She was wearing a red coat, red and black tights, and red and black shoes. She looked fabulous.”
“When I saw her crossing the street, I was hoping that she would come in to my office building—and she DID. When she came in, I had to ask her where her outfit was from. She was a confident, strong woman of style and did not mind my complimenting her and asking where she bought her outfit. After smiling and saying thank you, she answered, ‘I got it at Ashro.’ I love seeing women dressed like this, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to design for Ashro.”
“It’s a joy to see customers in my clothes. Please enjoy this collection. I designed it for you.”