Regina McWhite-Brown was 12 years old when she would flip through three-inch-thick copies of Vogue and mimic the designs in her own sketches. Eventually, she said, she developed her own style before she “even knew what style was.”
Now, McWhite-Brown is the owner and designer of Regina McWhite, a couture, ready-to-wear clothes and accessories brand for women and children.
Although the brand launched in 2014, McWhite-Brown is not new to the Philadelphia small business scene. McWhite-Brown debuted her first fashion line for children, Likorice Apparel, in 2001. She said she continued to run Likorice Apparel until 2009, when the recession forced her to stop. Next, she decided to refocus on womenswear.
McWhite-Brown said her brand is still inspired by the issues of Vogue she collected as a girl in the 1970s and ‘80s.
“Those earlier designers, their pieces were more tailored, and I do have a more tailored, classic look that I gravitate to,” she said. “I’m learning the more I design to become a little bit more fluid with my designs so it doesn’t seem so uptight. To give it a classic look as well as a more freestyle look.”
“[Regina McWhite is] a mixture of more classic styles and street style,” she added. “But [streetstyle] that’s not typically followed. It’s not trendy, it’s something that’s based on how I feel. The collection is sophisticated. It’s meant to empower women and to motivate them and encourage them to feel good about themselves.”
McWhite-Brown, who participated in her second season of Philadelphia Small Business Fashion Week from April 5-9, said the event is evidence of growth in the Philadelphia fashion community.
“I felt alone when I did Likorice,” said McWhite-Brown, who moved out of the city to study business after she stopped working on the line. “There weren’t many designers here in the city before, but now it seems like the city has grown overall in terms of fashion. It’s evolving.”
Philadelphia Small Business Fashion Week, a biannual event founded by Dawane Cromwell in 2015, is a fashion week presented by Embacy Entertainment that is meant to support small businesses in and around Philadelphia. Cromwell said to be featured in Philadelphia Small Business Fashion Week, the business must be at least one year old, related to the fashion industry and located in the tri-state area.
Cromwell, who grew up in and out of foster homes, founded the event as a way to give back to the community. He aims to support small business owners as well as charitable organizations like this season’s beneficiary, the Darby Foundation. Each season, all of the proceeds from the event are donated to that season’s organization.
“I just had a dream about it one night and I woke up and started planning it that day,” Cromwell said.
He said in just three seasons, Philadelphia Small Business Fashion Week has reached small businesses in the tri-state area and beyond.
“A lot of these business owners and designers work out of their homes, so this is a chance to give them a platform for people to come see them,” he said.
When McWhite-Brown was initially approached to participate in Philadelphia Small Business Fashion Week, she resisted. She said the recession had been a “big hit” for her and her confidence was damaged. Eventually, she agreed to participate in Philadelphia Kids Fashion Week, another event presented by Embacy Entertainment. She said she had four weeks to prepare 14 pieces to showcase and received a standing ovation.
By the next season, with renewed confidence from Philadelphia Kids Fashion Week, she was ready to showcase her womenswear collection in Philadelphia Small Business Fashion Week.
“I am very thankful to have that platform to reinvent myself and relaunch,” she said.
McWhite-Brown and Cromwell are both focused on philanthropy. McWhite-Brown supports the Chrons & Colitis Foundation of America and is an active mentor in the community, while Cromwell chooses a different organization to benefit each season.
“To bring fashion and community together, that just bridges the gap for us and allows us to reach a larger audience,” Cromwell said.
“I believe that it’s important to give back,” McWhite-Brown said. “Not just money. It’s important to give yourself.”
Erin Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.