Designer talks ‘intimate’ fashion

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From the curb, Megan Summerville’s home appears to be like any other on the street. Upon looking more closely, however, small details such as a cardboard box of bra padding and clothing hangers hint at what lies behind the front door. The 14 industrial sewing machines lining her two bedrooms and the 9,000 bras stored in a shed in her backyard are all materials for Summerville’s home-based, custom lingerie business, Sew Sister.

Last year, Summerville won the title of Texas’ Next Top Designer, an award given by a nonprofit that supports up-and-coming fashion-related businesses, and this year, she will be returning to Austin Fashion Week. Summerville will also launch her new pop-up lingerie store on Third Street.

Summerville entered the fashion world while working as a Middle Eastern dance teacher, making flowing skirts and decorative hip scarves for her students. Her costume work and interest in sewing eventually led her to East Texas, where she bought a custom bra company and learned about the craft of bra making from Ethel Prater, the company’s previous owner.

Summerville’s lingerie-making style isn’t for the Victoria’s Secret audience. Holding her own 32FF stature confidently, Summerville said her customers are similar to her — women whose bodies are such that they can’t just walk into any department store and buy a bra. Summerville’s choice in fabric strays from the norm, too. She’s influenced by belly dancing fabrics and her mom’s eclectic, woven style.

Summerville said one of her most memorable requests came from a client who had one breast that was two cup sizes larger than the other. After ordering a custom bra, the woman couldn’t believe what a difference it made wearing something that was designed for her body instead of having to cope with something pulled off a rack, Summerville said.

“Having somebody tell me that I changed their life because I was able to make them a bra, that blows me away,” Summerville said.

Summerville said she thinks undergarments are probably the most important piece of clothing.

“It is going to define your shape,” she said. “Whether you wear a compression underwear or are comfortable without wearing a bra, whatever underpinning you happen to have on, if it’s of a certain caliber, you are going to hold yourself differently that day.”

And for what it does, Summerville said lingerie doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

“There’s something about the word ‘lingerie’ that turns people’s brains off where they think ‘trashy’ or ‘I can’t talk about that right now,’” Summerville said. “So, it was hard to get in front of press and buyers because they have preconceived ideas about what you’re doing and what you are about.”

Winning Texas’ Next Top Designer competition last year helped Summerville get past these barriers and into the fashion market.

Immediately after the competition was Austin’s first annual fashion week. Witnessing how local fashion was finally on the rise, Summerville was excited and just wanted to be part of it.

At that time, her collection — what she now considers to be her basics — was just beginning to take shape. Summerville said she used fashion week as a way to gather data and get a feel for what women felt was missing when they went shopping. The first Austin Fashion Week was also all about meeting people in the scene, as Summerville is often too busy working to find time for networking.

“I stay in front of my sewing machines all the time,” she said.

For this summer’s fashion week, Summerville will be showcasing her new bridal pieces and resort pieces. The inspiration for these collections was the idea of celebration, she said.

“We have been in a crappy recession and there has not been a whole lot of celebration or holiday mentality,” Summerville said. “I wanted to create an aesthetic where people could feel like, ‘Oh, well. I might not have money to go on holiday, but I can lounge in a really, really great robe and feel good.’”