When seamstress and clothing designer Markell Mockabee first got her hands on her mother’s sewing machine when she was only 9 years old, it was love at first sew.
“My mother was a seamstress,” she explains to me one afternoon at her sun-lit home studio in New Jersey, smiling at the memory. “So every time I heard her working at home, I would go and watch. She let me sit there with her, but she always said to me, ‘Don’t touch this machine.’” Here, she laughs. “She said, ‘You can’t touch this machine until you know how to use it and respect it.’ So little by little, she taught me how to sew.”
Mockabee still remembers the first outfit she made: tan shorts with big stitches and a matching fringe vest, which her mother hesitantly let her wear to school. Then, the following Christmas, her mother bought her her very own sewing machine, and she hasn’t stopped sewing since.
It wasn’t until recently, after years of raising her children as a single parent, that Mockabee was able to retire from her job in education and dedicate her time to sewing. Now, she spends her days creating bright, patterned clothes for her brand, Markell’s Closet, as well as teaching private sewing lessons and volunteering at her church.
“I do a lot of clothing for teens,” she explains. “I love that age. I do proms, birthdays, things like that. I love to experiment with people of all body types, too.”
Perhaps her biggest break so far was when she collaborated with New Jersey teen Kyemah McEntyre to create her prom dress this past spring, which went viral online for its beautiful draping, vibrant colors, and princess-inspired styling. After the two collaborated on the design, Mockabee sewed it and brought it to life. Images of the dress spread like wildfire on the Internet, and it quickly caught the attention of Power’s own Naturi Naughton. Once Naughton, who is also from New Jersey, learned that Mockabee sewed the dress, it was only a matter of time before Mockabee found herself sewing Naughton a dress for the 2015 BET Awards.
“I knew this was a chance of a lifetime,” Mockabee explains. “I worked day and night on the dress, and Naturi was so great to work with.”
The bright orange mermaid-style dress rightfully ended up on Best Dressed lists everywhere, and like a domino effect, Mockabee’s business boomed. Now she’s designing and sewing pieces for buyers all over the state, as well as catching nationwide and even worldwide attention.
This season, her newest adventure
is a men’s line, which has doubled her clientele. The collection will be available this fall, and includes ready-to-wear vibrant dashikis, vests, custom bowties, and neckties. To say she’s excited to branch off into menswear is an understatement.
“I was making so many custom dashikis for guys this summer, I thought, why not just make a whole collection?” she says.
In addition to designing pieces, Mockabee is also very passionate about giving back, especially by being involved in her church, helping the homeless, and attending local events to support her community.
“You know,” she tells me at last, “I’ve been through a lot. I’m just thankful that God helped me through it. He had to teach me some lessons and I had to go through some fire in order to appreciate some things, but now, I’m so grateful for that. I’m a stronger person now because of that.”
For more information, visit markellscloset.com.
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BY MEGAN PORTORREAL
Photographed by Christopher McCormick (CVisuals)