FLINT, Michigan—Her gowns and fashions have floated on the red carpet, flashed on Instagram prom videos, and will walk the international runway this weekend in the 33rd Vancouver Fashion Week.
Shay Oliver has handcrafted pieces for celebrities including Tamara Mowry-Housley from “The Real” talk show, Tara Wallace from “Love and Hip-Hop,” and local activist Mari Copeny when she appeared on the red carpet for the BET Black Girls Rock awards. Now, Oliver will take her fourth collection to Vancouver on the West Coast of Canada in British Columbia.
It is one of many international stages for fashion and it’s where Oliver hopes to make a lasting impression. She is known for her statement pieces — bold colors, waist-deep V-necks, and sparkles that can light up a room.
“Your clothes speak for you when you don’t speak for yourself,” said Oliver.
The 33-year-old Flint native tapped into the unspoken language of fashion in 2010 when she started her own business called Dress House and just a couple of years ago when she started sewing her own pieces under the Shay Oliver brand.
Shay Oliver comes from a long line of seamstresses who helped inspire her own journey to as a fashion designer.
Creating clothes is a family inheritance that goes back generations. Oliver’s mother and her mother’s grandmother as well as her father’s sisters were all seamstresses. As a child, she would watch as her mother, Florenda Lee-Hall, would magically transform fabric into her homecoming and prom dresses.
Back then, Oliver thought she would find her own voice by creating her own clothing lines, designs, and signature styles.
Oliver graduated from Flint Central High School and went on to Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in advertising. She worked for several years selling advertising for Fox 66 — and spent six years as girls varsity basketball coach at Flint Southwestern — before deciding in 2016 to focus on building a new career in fashion design.
“(At the time I felt like) if I go at my passion hard, I could probably make as much doing … what I love to do and have the opportunity to spend time with my kids,” said Oliver.
Oliver and her husband, Isaiah, have four children. Their youngest, Isaiah II, is 7 months old. Oldest daughter, Zaiah, 8, can sometimes be spotted wearing some of mom’s fashions (even custom school uniforms). Meanwhile, 5-year-old Carrington wants to have a fashion show for her next birthday party and 2-year-old Chelyn can often be found wrapped up in mom’s fabrics.
Now, two years into her career as a full-time fashion designer, Oliver’s average routine begins at 8 a.m. and sometimes doesn’t end until the next day. She attributes her skill as a seamstress half to YouTube video tutorials and half to those early memories of her mother’s creative process.
Oliver’s previous collections have featured more muted colors, but this time she wants to showcase more boldness. Shimmering sequins, vinyl, and neon colors are part of Oliver’s wheelhouse of creativity for the debut of her 12-piece collection on the Vancouver Fashion Week runway.
Titled “Dream Out Loud,” this is Oliver’s fourth collection and it is inspired by the Flint entrepreneurial scene. It hits the runway on Sunday, Oct. 13, the final day of Vancouver Fashion Week, and will showcase a variety of dresses, jumpsuits, ball gowns, and suits.
“It’s kinda’ just based off of what I feel like being a young professional in Flint is all about,” said Oliver. “... It’s just a city of so much potential. You have a lot of people here with brilliant ideas who are just looking for the opportunity to present their idea to the world, just for that big break.”
Shay Oliver is known for her ability to create standout statement pieces.