Two years ago, when The Charlotte Observer announced that clothing retailer Ivy Citizens would be opening a store in SouthPark mall, the story noted that co-founder Amanda Laird Cherry was a South African fashion designer.
And just three months ago, when the inaugural World Fashion Awards revealed its nominees for Fashion Designer of the Year — a prize she wound up winning on Wednesday night, beating out an impressive list of names that included Victoria Beckham and Kanye West collaborator Virgil Abloh — it similarly was suggested that Laird Cherry resides in South Africa.
But let’s set the record straight, once and for all:
Though she continues to routinely commute to her home country of South Africa (where she has a chain of a dozen The Space retail stores and an eponymous company, Amanda Laird Cherry Apparel), the 58-year-old clothier has mainly lived and worked for the past decade right here in Charlotte.
“Why didn’t people say I was from Charlotte in these publications? I don’t know,” she said by phone from London on Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after her big win at the World Fashion Awards ceremony.
“I don’t think you have to be validated from New York or L.A. ... Charlotte is an amazing place to have a business. The creative scene has actually increased. There’s more and more interest in creativity, and more people have moved to the city who are in that world. I love it. And I think that the way that the world is today, you’re not confined by your domicile. We’re not constrained by being in Charlotte.”
With her star on the rise, here are seven more things you should know about Laird Cherry and her background.
1. As a young woman, her first preference was a career in theater or acting, and her second was in fine art. But quickly, she says, “I realized that both of those were very risky career paths. ... Then I realized that in clothing, you can create drama and have that theater (on the runway) — and also, it is art. The clothing is three-dimensional. It’s like you’re making sculpture. You’re using flat fabric — a two-dimensional fabric — drafting a pattern — which is like engineering — and then sewing it up to create a three-dimensional garment that’s got to fit onto a body. That whole thing just fascinated me, and (it was more practical because) it could be combined to be a business as well.” Laird Cherry eventually earned a degree in clothing design and manufacture from the Durban University of Technology in eastern South Africa, in 1983.
2. She’d gotten familiar with the U.S. long before moving to Charlotte. Her first job out of college was as a pattern-maker for a boutique design label in South Africa. Eventually, she was hired by an Irvine, Calif.-based surf and sportswear company called Instinct Surfwear, for which she served as design director. During her time with Instinct — which included the latter half of the ’80s and the early part of the ’90s — “I had to spend a lot of time in America and L.A.,” she says, “and I would have loved to have gone back there. But I must say that Charlotte has been such a good place to have a life, and in my mind, a good place for us to start a business.”
3. She followed her husband to Charlotte. Glen and Amanda Laird Cherry relocated from South Africa to North Carolina with their two children because Glen had a business opportunity here. Amanda was able to continue running her companies in South Africa remotely, but also made the trip back across the ocean multiple times a year. A few short years after settling in Charlotte, Glen co-founded The Durban Group, a real estate and development company. Among the businesses he has helped launch via The Durban Group: The Suffolk Punch, a brewery/cafe/taphouse/coffee bar in South End, and Amanda’s Ivy Citizens.
4. The idea for Ivy Citizens wasn’t hers alone. About five years after moving to the U.S., Amanda Laird Cherry was connected with Lisa Thompson, a Charlotte resident who was working on a research paper — as part of a master’s degree program run by Georgetown University — that basically included a business plan for a clothing brand for girls and women. Says Laird Cherry: “Lisa’s whole paper and why I got involved is because she has a passion for getting people to think about how we address each other, how we speak to each other, how we treat each other.” The women clicked, and Thompson sold Laird Cherry on her idea for a female-focused athleisure line that they would call “flex clothing” — garments made from high-tech, stretchable fabric practical for a wide variety of activities throughout the day. Later, by popular demand, they added a menswear line. As for the name? According to the company website, it “was inspired by the ivy vine. With the right sunlight, shade and water, ivy takes off, and there is no stopping it.”
5. The Ivy Citizens brick-and-mortar retail location is no longer open, but products from the clothing line are now in bookstores on college campuses across the country. Ivy Citizens currently holds license with Auburn, Brown, California State University Long Beach, Colorado State, Cornell, Davidson, Duke, Georgetown, Hampden Sydney, Miami University, Washington and Lee, Yale, the University of Virginia and the University of Wyoming; it has also designed custom garments for the University of Tennessee. Why colleges? “We feel that students would get and live that ‘flex’ space in their lives, because they don’t have to wear formal attire to go to a corporate office, and so they’re able to wear stuff that is more in that fusion space of technical fabrics,” she says. “And I think it’s also that the millennial age responds to the newness of the cuts and the fabric and the fit, that they would understand what we’re doing. ... It’s all about making things more flexible and trying to encourage people to be aware of how we treat each other.”
6. Two of the things that matter most to her in business: sustainability, and supporting local. With Ivy Citizens, she focuses on using American manufacturers and American employees; similarly, her The Space stores in South Africa utilize a collective of South African designers, and a business model that demands every single garment be produced in South Africa. As for sustainability, one example is that tencel fabric can be found in many of the products across her brands (tencel fibers originate from renewable raw wood material, created by photosynthesis). Additionally, Ivy Citizens puffer jackets and vests are stuffed with synthetic fill rather than goose feathers. “We’re very intentional about the fabric we choose, the colors we choose, the cut of the lines of the garment,” Laird Cherry says. “We want them to be something that you’ll enjoy and wear for seasons to come.”
7. The theatricality and the artistry of fashion still drive her passion, but when it gets right down to it, what she’s perhaps most interested in is the psychological aspect. “As humans, we tell something about ourselves with the clothes that we wear,” she says. “We respond to either being in the group and that’s what we wear, or being an individual. And clothing is an amazing way of being able to either express yourself or align yourself. That’s what I’m fascinated by ... what clothing can do to boost your happiness, to affect your day, to make you feel confident. Those are the things that are more important to me than just fads and fashions. It’s so much a part of our life. We can’t go out naked, so we need to put clothes on. And I don’t judge anybody if they’re not interested in clothes. I’m just fascinated by the choices people make.”
Théoden Janes: 704-358-5897, @theodenjanes