by Elizabeth Skenes Millen Photography by Christian Lee
Some people dream of big houses, fancy cars or exotic travels. Inés Figueroa dreamed of having a fashion show. Her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother were all seamstresses. Being one of 13 girls in a family with 17 children, Inés and her sisters were destined to learn to sew. As a child, her mother sat all the girls down and taught them, starting with buttons and hems. By the age of 15, Inés had honed her skills so proficiently, her high school home economics teacher enlisted her help in teaching her classmates to sew. Inés has a gift for sewing with meticulous precision and an eye for detail. She is a beautiful seamstress, both inside and out.
Inés’ life has not been easy. Born in Puerto Rico, she moved to Beaufort, where her son was a Marine, to escape a dangerous marriage—her husband attempted to kill her seven times. Her only options were to flee, or die. At first, Beaufort was hard to adapt to. She missed her large family and her culture, but dove into making Beaufort home. Over time she landed several jobs: One with Elite Bridal as a seamstress, of course, and then moved on to BJH Comprehensive Health Services, where she has worked for 15 years. In 2007, the trailer she was renting burned down and she lost everything. She took it in stride, turned to her constant faith in God, and once again started over, this time with the outpouring of help from her community.
After this kind of devastation and trauma, most would feel defeated. Many would wonder, “why me?” and drag their pouch of pity around for the rest of their days. Dreams would be a thing of the past, but not for Inés.
Re-inspired by a fashion show produced by Beaufort resident Carol Glover, American Idol Candice Glover’s mother, Inés’ dream to hold a fashion show was alive and well. “I always ask God before I ask anybody,” she said. “One night I dreamed I would have a fashion show and in the dream I made a beautiful dress out of paper. The dream was so quick, I woke up and had to sketch it.”
She took this as a sign to move forward orchestrating her fashion show and decided to include original showstopper pieces, designed and created by her, made out of recycled materials. She went to work in her spare time designing and engineering an entire collection of men and women’s clothing made from materials such as newspaper, pages from magazines, plastic table clothes and paper sacks. She intricately adorned the designs with the likes of colorful, deconstructed egg cartons and bottle caps. Each piece was made to perfection, as if using the finest cloth in the land. Newspaper dresses were professionally tailored with zippers, darts, hems, collars, buttons and finished seams. No detail was left undone. “I wanted to do it like perfect,” Inés said, laughing.
On June 10, 2017, more than 150 people showed up for Inés’s “It’s a Passion for Fashion” event, which was held at The Shed in Port Royal to benefit breast cancer. “It was wonderful to see the faces of so many people and my designs on the runway. It was very successful. It made me feel very happy,” she said.
Guests were wowed by the fashions, which included a “professional ” segment, a “high fashion” segment and Inés’ original designs, which were the hit of the show, for both men and women. The entire venue encapsulated her vision with creative breast cancer themed, tabletop décor, step and repeat photo backdrops and interesting fashion vignettes throughout the large room. This day was exactly what Inés dreamed of and came together with the help of her family and friends.
“People are already asking for another one,” Inés said.
Inés is the picture of perseverance. She never let the horrific life events she experienced bring her down; she found a way to rise up and fill her future with dreams and aspirations—a healthy way to live both mentally and physically.
Life is hard, but it’s even harder without hope. That’s what “It’s a Passion for Fashion” was all about: Hope. Hope for a cure, hope for community and hope that Inés has forged a life out of. It is the kind of spirit that ignites others, and why people are already wanting more.