I am so excited to share my profile of suakoko betty designer Charlene Dunbar! Her line of day and cocktail dresses is now available in select Belk stores, and you should run – not walk – to check them out. Dunbar’s custom and red carpet work has been worn by notables such as Atlanta broadcasting legend Monica Pearson. I’ll be rushing over to Belk’s Girls Night Out this evening to try on buy the peplum dress!
Who is “suakoko betty”? ‘Suakoko’ means place of new beginnings. ‘Betty’ represents the western connection, the every day woman. My line is the junction of African aesthetic and the everyday woman – where the two collide. Most of my aesthetic is print and color; that’s my core. I encourage women to be adventurous with their style – just be bold and confident. For me it’s a fun way to be confident and express myself. I want people to feel sophisticated, to feel elegant, to feel put together.
What is this collection’s story? The line is inspired by the women who have inspired me: my mom and my aunts who left Liberia without anything and still had this sense of dignity and style. It comes from my seeing their ability to rise to the occasion and be pulled together. You know they’ve been through hell and back, but they’re not wearing that [emotion or strain]. It’s tough but they’re making it. That spoke to me. A lot of the dresses are named after women I know. That’s how I learned about being a Liberian woman: from the women I watched hold each other down and how they wore their African clothes.
Why did you choose to work with wax fabric? Wax print started as an imitation of batik fabric and it became an industry unto itself. Many of the designs are inspired by proverbs, and a lot of the African prints speak to our lifestyle: we’re going to rock color; we’re going to rock crazy prints. It’s also a bit of making lemonade out of lemons. Early on my uncle would just sent me fabrics. What he sent was what he sent and I had to make it work. That suitcase would show up with pumpkin, eggplant and fuchsia and I just had to make it work. A lot of times I was just making things fit. That’s how a lot of my designs come about. One thing will catch my eye and I’ll look for a color or print that’s surprising.
Will the fabric used in the Belk line incorporate fabrics sourced from Africa? Yes. For the Belk line, that fabric was printed in Ghana. I was very proud of that, that most of the fabrics were made in Ghana. Yes, some [wax fabric sold in Africa] comes from Holland, some from China, but the fact that this stuff was made by someone in Ghana who gained employment from these designs is awesome.
You have a full time job. How do you balance it all? (Laughs) I don’t. Perfection gets put on the altar of “get it done.” My blog has gone silent, there are times when the online store is stale, but I keep putting one foot in front of the other. The most important thing is just staying in the game. My husband is super supportive, and my mom is a r great administrator; she’s cracking the whip and making sure things are moving along as we expect.
What legacy are you leaving your children? I hope the message they’re picking up on is just the idea of building their own thing. My generation was about going to school, getting a good education and getting a good job. Yes, I want them to be well-read and go to college, but I want them to learn they can build something of their own and the second piece is that it will take sacrifice. You can have these great dreams but no one is going to serve them to you. I know they’re proud when they see the success, but they see when Mommy was cutting patterns on the floor and calling people. (Laughs)
Without further ado, the winner of our suakoko betty giveaway is Malia Marbury! Thank you to everyone who entered!
Images via Belk