May 28, 2014

Emerging Design: Raleigh designer Oami Powers is inspired by fabrics

Raleigh designer Oami Powers’ limited edition womenswear line, Judah Ross, shows her passion for natural fiber fabrics and practical pieces.

Oami Powers works on her vintage sewing machines just in sight of her mother’s gaze. A black and white portrait of Powers’ mother as a young woman with long hair and an open face hangs centrally in her Raleigh home studio. That presence is fitting, since Powers’ limited edition womenswear line, Judah Ross, is named after her parents, Judith and Ross.

“It is a nod to my family legacy,” Powers said. “I have artists, engineers and designers of different stripes on both sides of my family so I really wanted to honor that family background.”

Powers started designing clothes 12 years ago with a friend in California, but describes herself as a “Jill of all trades.”

“I originally wanted to be a painter,” she said. “I went to school for art and art history. When I graduated I bounced around from New Zealand to California, and I’ve worked in a variety of different industries from everything from specialty cheese to an art supply store. And then right before I moved here I was working for a sustainable fabric importer.”

Now Powers spends much of her time making elegant, simple clothing for women. Her line ranges from jackets and shirts to skirts and dresses, and includes designs that are both practical (pockets are common) and fun (as with the bold Tiger Girl applique tee or the subtle speckle in the fabric of a tweed jacket).

“It is always the biggest compliment to me when someone tells me that they have worn one of my pieces so many times that they are embarrassed to admit that they haven’t been able to put it in the laundry because they just want to wear it one more time,” Powers said.

Powers has vivid memories of her mother’s textile collection, of touching and examining the beautiful cloth from all over the world. Those memories have driven her own vision for Judah Ross.

“I’m inspired by the fabrics that I use,” she said. “I have a passion for natural fiber fabrics, they just get better with age. They just become softer and develop more character and they just age gracefully.” She also credits her inspiration to the “women who wear my clothes. I spend a lot of time thinking about where the piece of clothing is going to end up.”

Her seasonal line is carried by stores in California and was recently picked up by Quercus Studio in Raleigh. She also sells her pieces online and takes on some custom work for regular customers.

“There’s a lot of thought that goes into the line,” Powers said. “But it should appear effortless to the person who’s wearing it. I mean, in the end, my goal is to create clothes that have sort of a simple integrity and longevity that become a cherished piece of someone’s wardrobe.”

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