Tennille McMillan and Her Fashion Line NaKIMuli

Monday, 03 September 2012 19:57 Written by  Aspyn Jones

The transition from dance to fashion is quite seamless. Amid all the stretching, memorization of choreography, and tireless rehearsal, it would seem as though style would be a priority, right?

Not really. However, for Tennille McMillan, the self-proclaimed one-and-a-half-woman mastermind behind fashion line NaKIMuli—that’s Nah-Kim-You-Lee—is gaining much notoriety. Her looks have been seen on stars such as former America’s Next Top Model contestant Eva Marcille. She’s been clothing fashionistas since NaKIMuli’s inception in 2009.

“Growing up I really hated that name,” Tennille admits. “People tease you because, you know, it’s African.”

Tennille’s teasers would be stunned to see the heritage they originally heckled her for would become a major theme in her successful fashion line. There’s tribal prints, eclectic designs, and “dookie” bracelets and chains, which are basically over-sized and puffy fabric accessories.

But her brand didn’t take off overnight. Originally a lover of dance, she decided to also take on fashion. However, she started from humble beginnings.

“I was on Big Cartel and then we started to get a lot of press,” says Tennille. “Daily Candy did a story on us and that really was a great launching pad for people to start buying stuff.”

With more press came the need for a bigger store, according to the designer.

More attention also brought along the need for something else to increase: her dress sizes.

“People [wanted] me to do plus size. I have a friend of mine who said you should do plus size, and I said no, I’m not going to do that,” adds Tennille. “I think a lot of people get intimidated by it.”

However, the demand for a plus size line became overwhelming, spurring Tennille to rethink her original stance on creating frocks for fuller figures.

“[My friend] kept egging me on to do it, and she would request things to do, and I’d do it, and she’d get all the people asking for it, asking where she got it from.”

And the hits keep rolling in for the Brooklyn-based designer. She gushes over styling for celebs such as Erykah Badu, Solange Knowles, and Willow Smith. She trills with excitement over finally seeing a celebrity wearing her designs.

“It was dope!” she gushed, after seeing Eva Marcile wearing her intricately designed brocade kaftan. “It’s not so much that [my clothes] have been featured on celebrities. It just hasn’t happened. So this was great to have happen because, finally, I’m not saying, oh, this is going to happen and it never does.”

Up next for Tennille? She wants to make a line for men and children. And, there’s even more on her fashion plate. She’ll be showcasing her Spring 2013 collection at New York Fashion Week.

“So this is the first time I’m actually working on fashion schedule,” she says. “Really looking forward to that.”

With all of her fame and success, the rising design star has remained humble and level-headed.

“I just want to say thank you everyone who supported me and continues to support me. It’s something I appreciate from the top to the bottom of my heart.”

Aspyn Jones

Aspyn Jones

Aspyn Jones is a new GMO staff writer. She can be contacted at aspyn.jones@loop.colum.edu