How Aaliyah Taylor creates bold designs while making space for inclusivity in fashion

How Aaliyah Taylor creates bold designs while making space for inclusivity in fashion

 Aaliyah standing in one of her designs and earrings she made. Photo by Gabby Bass-Butler

By Gabby Bass-Butler

Aaliyah Taylor, fashion designer and winner of Magic City Fashion Week, spent half the day worried about her designs. She worried about her clothes not fitting right and had doubts about wanting to give up.

But after collecting her thoughts and taking a nap, Taylor finally found some peace on the night of her show during the fourth season of Magic City Fashion Week.

The process of helping her models get ready for the runway had been chaotic, and although she didn’t think she would win, she finally felt at peace.

“What’s done is done, and now it’s time for you to enjoy the night,” Taylor said to herself as her designs graced the runway stage of the rooftop of Birmingham’s Museum of Art. That night, Taylor was in shock that she won, and she still gets chill bumps at the thought of winning and just being seen by the Birmingham community.

Taylor is in a league of her own not only due to the bold and bright colors she features, but also because of her passion for making size-inclusive designs and exalting the beauty of everyone she comes across. But for Taylor, this is something she has always been passionate about.

From a young girl, Taylor said she instinctively just knew fashion. Like breathing, she did not think about it, she just did it. “Subconsciously, I’ve always been aware of what fashion was. Stemming from my grandmother, my aunts, all the women in my family, they were all just icons for me, “Taylor said.

Taylor grew up in the Titusville area of Birmingham. She comes from generations of family that grew up there, and no matter where she is in the community, she feels at home.

“Titusville is an affluent Black neighborhood, and to see these women and men in these careers succeeding, you couldn’t help but want to mirror and walk in what you were seeing,” said Taylor.

As Taylor got older and started high school, she started developing her own style. Around 2015, Taylor saw design as a potential career path for her, and she created her brand, Exalting in Beauty. Taylor got the name from her own name’s meaning. The brand started out as a blog in 2013 when she was living in Atlanta at the time. Originally, the blog would be called Exalted Beauty but once she saw the name was already taken, Exalting in Beauty was born because she could not let go of that name that was so deeply apart of her.

“It’s a piece of me. My first name means ‘high exalted one,’ and I want to make sure that even people who are not named Aaliyah, are exalted in some type of way,” said Taylor. “Whether that was then with me trying to do a blog, to now with jewelry and scaling into a fashion business. The content is always exalting people, their beauty, uniqueness and individuality.”

Taylor posing in her designs. Photo by Gabby Bass-Butler

Taylor executed just that in June during MCFW. But the road to Fashion Week was something that had always been in the back of her mind.

 Taylor first heard about Magic City Fashion Week when she was still living in Atlanta. She did not try for it the first year, not only because she was not in Birmingham at the time, but also because she felt limited in her skills. But a few years and a pandemic later, Taylor thought “why not?,” even if she still had her doubts. She did not enter to win but to see if she could do compete. She even waited until the eve of her birthday, the last day of applications, to turn hers in.

That was the event’s first season back after the pandemic. MCFW started in 2017 and was born out of the goal to create a space for the artistic community in Birmingham while giving up-and-coming designers the chance to highlight their fashions.

“I may not have had the technical skills fined-tuned, but I do have the ideas,” said Taylor. “Birmingham is my city and lot of people knew me here, so why not? I did not have plans to win, the goal was to see if I could take the step of faith.”

Daniel Grier, founder of Magic City Fashion Week, saw a need for a space for people who look like him and Aaliyah to showcase their designs on a grand scale. Grier is a designer of Splashed by DKG, which he started in 2013. He would get invited to show his work in places like Atlanta and Nashville, but did not get the same opportunity in Birmingham, even though there was a space for it at the time. Grier set out to create a solution instead of complaining about the problem. Since then, he’s noticed that the fashion scene in Birmingham is not the same one he walked into five years ago. There’s more inclusivity and designers and creators of all shapes, colors and sizes, and Grier believes that is in part “because we are nurturing that and that community that we did not have before.”

“I did my research, and I went around to Charleston and all these other fashion weeks and volunteered,” said Grier. “I paired my knowledge with what designers need and we created in Magic City Fashion Week in 2017.”

Taylor when she was announced winner of MCFW. Photo taken by Isaac Nunn (@suburbancreative on Instagram)

Grier has said each year’s winner, like Kenya B. and Calechie, of MCFW has had something special about them and set the bar high each time. Aaliyah was no different. Grier does not ever pick the winners of MCFW and consults a high council of judges, but he does give extensive notes about how the process has been since day one.

“I love that she’s a plus size Black woman, and we’ve never seen hardly anything that she is going to do,” said Grier. “I can’t wait to see more of her designs bringing happiness to the world, making all women feel more included and powerful and bold. In a few years, we’ll just be blessed to know her and be in her presence, honestly.”

Although Taylor has a lot of fun in her designs, she is also making space and creating more conversations around inclusivity in fashion. When it comes to plus-size clothing, the fashion industry has a long way to go, and Taylor sees a stigma around “plus-size people not wanting to be fashionable.” She is working to change the narrative around this issue.

“We want to wear couture, we want to show who we are outside of ourselves,” said Taylor. “What I’m coming to recognize is the problem is true-size inclusivity, and the solution is making sure everyone can see themselves in the clothing I make.”

Taylor walking out after her designs hit the runway. Photo by Alana Vaughn.

While she builds a name for herself in the fashion industry, Taylor works full-time in the children’s department at the Homewood Public Library and studies Religious Studies with a concentration in Bible and Theology at Beulah Heights University online. She was thankful to be at a job where everyone was rallying around her and gave her time and space to work as she got ready for fashion week. Through the experience, Taylor learned that the “go, go, go” mentality that she is prone to keep sometimes is not ideal. She is learning to rest and take care of her mind and body.

“I’m still learning and getting to know balance. We are not close friends yet, but we are working to learn each other,” said Taylor.

Even after winning MCFW that night, Taylor did not celebrate like some would think. Instead, she rushed home and wrote a paper that he had due that night.

 “I posted a picture that said, ‘When your professor doesn’t even know or care that you won.’ So, I did that, and I went to sleep,” she recalled.

Taylor has not gone through all of this on her own. Her mother has stood beside her as not only her best friend but cheerleader.

“(Taylor) literally stood above others in her early years,” said her mother, Gelenda Norman. “I felt it was important to celebrate who she is… her height and size. If she could see her beauty and celebrate it, then others will automatically see it and celebrate it too.” 

Taylor even reminisced about the bold and fun outfits her mom used to dress her in, which have impacted her style and design choices today.

Taylor’s Mom, Gelenda Norman. Photo courtesy of Aaliyah Taylor.

Besides her mom, her faith has also been something Taylor has held on to. God and her faith help her stay balanced and centered. Whether it is fashion, working at the library or any of her other endeavors, Taylor says she does it all “for the glory of God.” When it comes to her art and fashion, Taylor looks to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created.”

“God is an artist. So that makes me feel confident enough that being an artist is not something to look down upon,” said Taylor.

Although Taylor has turned down some opportunities since winning MCFW, she has still done a lot of fun things. She has officially turned her business into an LLC. She is also in a program with Create Birmingham, called “co-starters” that helps small businesses owners and entrepreneurs grow their businesses. One of her prizes from MCFW was a redesign of her website, and she is currently working on a brand and product shoot. But the main thing Taylor is focused on for the near future is just getting back to the basics and finding consistency after coming off a high of a successful year.

“So that’s what I want for the rest of this year, and next year, who knows,” said Taylor. “I just know, I pray, I’m still creating, ministering in whatever I create and say, just having fun with it and seeing the growth of my business.”

More Than Jewelry

Fashion is not the only thing that Taylor is passionate about. Through her Exalting in Beauty brand, she makes jewelry out of Pearlerbeads, a craft most do as a kid. While looking in a Hobby Lobby as a college student, she spotted the Pearlerbeads and felt nostalgia at the thought of making them as a child. Taylor started making the earrings in 2012, looking for a way to make money while in college but has found. Once she moved back to Birmingham in 2016 and started making the earring again and displaying them at Woodlawn Street Market, Taylor saw a market for her jewelry. From there her business blossomed, and after winning a grant from JoAnn’s fabric store, the Pearlerbeads brand reached out to Taylor to make a jewelry making kit which can now be bought on Amazon.

“I never expected that. I went from being a broke college kid roaming Hobby Lobby to now selling a jewelry kit with them, which is pretty dope,” said Taylor.

Taylor in earrings she made from Pearlerbeads. Photo by Gabby Bass-Butler