Pieces of a Whole

Two Enterprising Fashion Icons Design Wardrobe Pieces that Go Beyond Visual Appeal

Article by Lauri Gross

Photography by Ana Gutierrez Covarrubias

Originally published in Potomac Lifestyle

Anthony Gaskins

Anthony Gaskins knows people. In particular, he knows the look of someone fighting cancer and experiencing chemo. “I have spent a lot of time in chemo wards,” he explained with a heavy sigh as he recalled losing both parents and a sister to cancer within a few months of each other in 2012. Now, when he spots a person with that look, he offers them a hug and a hat.

Anthony also knows hats. He grew up in a family well connected in the fashion industry, and by age 20, when he approached the owner of the Hattery in Georgetown Park Mall with a critique of the store’s inventory, the owner hired him on the spot, as the store buyer and manager, a position Anthony held for decades. Eventually, John, the store owner was dying of cancer and he left the store to Anthony. Anthony recalled John saying, “This is your calling and I want you to keep it going.”

And Anthony did keep the business going for another 15 years until a new company bought the mall “and everyone had to move out,” he said.  

Far from being discouraged, however, Anthony took it as a sign. “The two best days of my life so far,” he said, “have been the day I was born and the day I realized why God put me on this earth - to encourage people fighting cancer.” And that’s when he merged the part of him that knows people and the part of him that knows hats into his new initiative, called Hugs and  Hats, to use hats to help cancer patients. “Because I knew exactly what they were going through,” he said.

“Every hat,” he said, “has its own personality. Hats let people display their culture and their style.”  

For cancer patients, a hat means even more. “Words can’t describe how it feels to give someone fighting cancer a hat,” Anthony explained, and added, “To put them in something that totally transforms their whole mindset and how they feel about the sickness that they have and that they are fighting. So, I decided to start teaching classes to chemo patients young and old. You come into my class. It doesn’t cost you anything. Before you walk out, you’re going to have a one-of-a-kind of piece that you made yourself, that I hope will give you strength in your fighting.”

Anthony taught a few hat-making classes at the Smithsonian Castle and at a homeless shelter. There were some cancer survivors in each class. “That’s where the idea came from to start teaching patients and family members,” he said. He reached out to universities, hospitals, churches, homeless shelters and more, and they were enthusiastic about the idea, but soon, Covid changed everything.  

At the classes, sometimes Anthony brought “raw hats” and embellishments for people to personalize the hats. Other times, he’d teach a two-day class that involved forming the hat, as well as embellishing. Initially, he paid for the materials himself. Now he accepts donations at AnthonyTheHatMan.org.

Covid also meant the temporary closing of a Logan Circle booth where Anthony had been selling his personal hat creations.

“As soon as Covid is over, doors will open up and I will start doing my classes,” said Anthony, who himself prefers a fedora “like Bogart,” he said, or maybe a Panama straw hat in summer, or an Italian Borsalino. Whatever hat he’s wearing, he remains on the lookout for cancer patients and when he spots someone who looks like they could benefit from a hat, The Hat Man will always have one ready.

Sheri Turnbow

For savvy women, the lily, the camelia, the iris and the magnolia are more than flowers. They’re the answer to a fashion conundrum: What to wear to a wedding, charity ball, or other special occasion. Founder and lead designer of Bespoke Southerly, Sheri Turnbow named four of her made-to-order dresses after the quartet of flowers. “Finding dresses for entertaining and events often resulted in disappointment. Dresses were risqué or matronly, and poorly constructed,” Sheri said of her own shopping experience.

Sheri, who grew up in Georgia and Virginia, continued, “Men can customize their suiting but there was nothing like that for women; in particular women going to special events.” So, Sheri introduced classic, timeless dresses in beautiful fabrics, with customizable options, that also have flair.

Sheri’s experience from two career paths converged into what became Bespoke Southerly. After college, Sheri worked as an agent for fashion models and actors, and then for an in-house ad agency for a major retailer.  “I came into contact with different aspects of the fashion industry,” she recalled. When she and her husband moved to the DMV, Sheri worked for non-profits including the World Wildlife Fund, where she became immersed in sustainability practices and corporate engagement. She enjoyed the mission-driven work and found it “incredibly meaningful,” she said, but she also missed the creativity of fashion.

She said, “I grew up with an attitude of investment dressing. It’s what you call it in the south. You have fewer clothing items but they are timeless and created to last. That’s how you build your wardrobe: You invest in key pieces.”

When Sheri launched Bespoke Southerly in October 2018, she said, “I was able to use my knowledge and connections to embed sustainability into the business from the ground up.”

Sheri designs her dresses in her Potomac studio. She works with a pattern maker in New York. Sewing and manufacturing is done in Alabama and Florida. Her fabrics are imported from US-based wholesalers.

“I really try to support made-in-the-USA products,” she said. “It supplies jobs for local communities and the pollution regulations in the U.S. are much stricter than elsewhere in the world.” She said it also ensures good working conditions and living wages. And, because each garment is cut one at a time using only the materials necessary, there is little to no waste, and no excess inventory to go to a landfill. “We partner with a reseller for any unused pieces, so they are not discarded,” Sheri added.

Bespoke Southerly received the 2019 Good Brand Award by Sublime Magazine for the company’s commitment to sustainable and ethical business practices.  Sheri was also a finalist in the 2020 Fashion Group International Rising Star Awards.

When shopping at BespokeSoutherly.com, women first choose a silhouette and style. “They have a range of options,” Sheri said. “Maybe they want to add a ruffle or pockets, and we can do any hem length in one-inch increments. Some styles are beautiful as full-length gowns.” Shoppers can also choose their color and additional details. Dresses are available in sizes 0 to 16.

Sheri “reaches out to every single customer to confirm sizing and to make sure they know the process and are getting the personal touch.” Any final tailoring (which is rarely needed), she said, is best done in person where the customer lives, as Sheri does not yet offer made-to-measure items.  “Technology is not where it needs to be yet to ensure they will get a garment that fits perfectly,” she explained.

Sheri is excited to introduce new customization options this fall, with fingers crossed in hopes that special events soon return to calendars everywhere.

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