Driven by Design
For Oxford native Beaty McKnight, a fascination with fashion led to a dream job in New York City.
Written by Aleka Battista | Photographed by Jeffrey Taylor
Meet Beaty McKnight, a 25-year-old Oxford native who landed a fashion career in New York working for some of the most esteemed designers and coveted brands in the industry. She spends her days primarily behind the scenes, promoting fashion shows and project-managing campaigns — and she loves every second of it.
McKnight says fashion was always a part of her life. Although she holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, she credits her hometown and her family with introducing her to sewing and working with textiles, and spring-boarding her career. Before attending SCAD, she spent a year as a student at the University of Mississippi, where her interest in the industry grew, through art classes and a job at Village Tailor. Here’s how she went from the velvet ditch to behind the velvet ropes.
Q: Were you always interested in studying fashion?
A: I’ve always had a passion for fashion design, but it was always a hobby: I’ve been drawing fashion sketches ever since I can remember. It was not until I went to the University of Mississippi that I was really starting to take art classes. I was taking color theory and art history. I realized that I was excelling in those classes; meanwhile, other ones were a little hard to get through.
Q: Who were your fashion inspirations growing up?
A: I’ve been most inspired by my family. My father bought me my first sewing machine. My mother let me explore my creativity at an early age by allowing me to dress myself. My Aunt Amy has always been someone I admire watching pursue her creative talents. Growing up she would make these exquisite ice-skating costumes for my cousins. She’s now a professional quilter in Oregon. Also, my Aunt Cindy. I would visit her store, Boston’s of Memphis, and play dress up when I was little. I look up to my grandmother, Barbara Blakenship, of Oxford, who used to make dresses for my mom and aunt. I would say my inspiration comes from my heritage.
Q: What was the first garment you created?
A: When I was given a sewing machine in middle school by my father, I attempted sewing a tank top that was supposed to look like a long tunic. It ended up looking like an apron. I realized there was a lot to learn.
Q: When did you decide to work in fashion?
A: After my freshman year at Ole Miss, I had an internship in Dallas at a luxury clothing store. I worked mainly with menswear. That was when I started playing with swatches and seeing the whole process of a custom garment being made — from a client coming in and working with them, and then working with the company to create custom pieces (for the client). They also had an in-house tailoring studio. I would hang out with them all the time. My second internship in college, between my junior and senior year, was with a tailoring and bespoke design studio in Manhattan, which is when I recall solidifying what I found joy being a part of — working alongside designers to bring a client’s vision to life.
Q: You entered SCAD to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in fashion design but changed your major. Why?
A: I started to learn the construction and the process of making a garment and the extensive preliminary steps involved. I ended up keeping fashion design as my minor but decided to pursue fashion marketing and management because I didn’t want to just do fashion design. I cared about how you make a garment, but I also cared about how you market it. What’s the story behind it? Why are you making it? And why should someone else buy this?
Q: Tell us about your first job after graduating from SCAD.
A: I graduated from SCAD on a Saturday and started working on Monday for a company in New York, where I was doing a lot of visual merchandising. I was merchandising their showroom for the market week, doing public relations and communications, and I was styling models to do press presentations.
Q: What’s the best part about your current job?
A: My favorite part of any job I’ve had is working with designers. Being a project manager, my goal is to make their process as seamless as possible. I think coming from a design background helps me to better understand their way of thinking and then figuring out the best way to nurture that process in hopes that it facilitates new ways of thinking that lead to innovative ideas and being able to bring those ideas to fruition.
Q: What led you to project management?
A: I knew project management would allow me to be involved in many different aspects of a company. I have a lot of interests and hobbies, so I felt that it was a career path I could take and keep growing. There is still so much to learn.
Q: How would you describe your own style?
A: I don’t really have a particular style. I think for me design is kind of like a way of life. I’ve evolved with my style and become more consistent, just because I know what I like on me. For work, my go-to is jeans and a T-shirt, but I throw on a blazer.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone interested in getting into fashion?
A: Having good mentors is important. Also, exploring the type of fashion career you want. People don’t realize there are so many different careers in fashion. Communication skills are essential, too. Public relations and communications can be a great place to start. My best advice would just to be to pursue what you want and don’t think twice about it. I think that if you set your mind to something, you can accomplish it. It’s just a matter of really pursuing it and putting that energy out there for it to come back to you.