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Eastside grad building international clothing design career

Special Photo ---- Kita Nolley is building a career in the fashion industry through her clothin company, Expatriate.

Special Photo ---- Kita Nolley is building a career in the fashion industry through her clothin company, Expatriate.

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Special Photo ---- Models on the runway at Charleston Fashion Week show off the Culture Club line, created by Kita Nolley, who grew up in Newton County.

Kita Nolley had a successful job as a corporate financial analyst, but the work did little to provide her with an artistic outlet. To fill that void, she learned to sew.

"It's hard for me to articulate what I liked about it," Nolley said. "At the time, I just happened to be one of those people who really pays a lot of attention to detail and I'm kind of a perfectionist and it's kind of a hobby that lends itself to that."

At age 30, Nolley, a 1998 Eastside High School graduate who holds a degree in economics from the University of Georgia, decided to abandoned her high-demand financial career and return back to school to pursue as a profession the pastime in which she dabbled.

"I needed something to be my creative relief and that is when I started sewing a bit and then I realized I'm really pretty good at this and that's when I went back to school at (the Savannah College of Art and Design)," said Nolley, who earned a master's degree in fashion design from SCAD in 2012.

Nolley's clothing designs recently garnered the attention of the organizers of Charleston Fashion Week, a five-day event in Charleston, S.C., which features fashion shows, fashion competitions, model competitions, bridal shows and runway shows. Charleston Fashion Week chose Nolley, out of 163 applicants, as one of its Top 20 Emerging Designers. Nolley attended the event, held in April, and watched her clothing designs modeled on the runway.

"There are lots of heavy hitters from the fashion industry who were involved in the whole production," said Nolley, who got critiques and advice from fashion professionals. "I would never had any access to them before. It would have taken years to get to that point."

For the Charleston Fashion Week event, Nolley entered her fall/winter 2013 line, Culture Club, she produced for her fashion company Expatriate, a ready-to-wear clothing line. The Culture Club line includes pieces -- both tops and bottoms -- influenced by African culture.

"The whole idea behind that line is that if it's the introduction, it needs to be about me. I'm African American and I wanted to use that ...," said Nolley who described the line as patterns that are African but applied to European or American silhouettes. "I felt like it was a blending of my cultural background."

As part of her education through SCAD, Nolley worked as an intern at Zoe Jordan, a fashion house in London. Each day on her way to the business, she'd walk along Savile Row, a famous street in London known for its men's tailoring shops. Nolley admired the shops where, since the late 18th century, men's suits have been made to fit each individual customer.

"There's a process to it and it's delicate and beautiful and a tradition that's been around since we started dressing this way," said Nolley of the creation of the men's suits, known as "bespoke" tailoring. "I think that it filtered down into the way I design now because I do like structured tailored things. That's the way I design now ....

"My aesthetic has always been the same. I like dressy separates. Everything I do is inspired by menswear because I have a love for fine menswear."

Nolley's London excursion, coupled with a five-month internship in Bangladesh shaped the direction and branding of her business.

"The name of my clothing line, Expatriate, is inspired by my love for culture and travel and people," she said. "I take patterns and fabric inspired by that culture and make them work around my own design, work them into something contemporary."

Nolley's next line of clothing, due out in spring/summer 2014, is dubbed Destination: Marrakech. She is producing her clothing lines out of her home studio in Atlanta, but is researching factories to take over that responsibility.

She said her background in economics, along with assistance she is receiving from her connections through internships and at SCAD, is helping her navigate the production effort.

"It's a slow process, but I feel like I'm doing the right things," said Nolley.

To learn more, visit www.expatriateclothing.com.