Following the Thread: Jazmine Motley-Maddox ’09

Following the Thread: Jazmine Motley-Maddox ’09

A publicist found her calling designing costumes for stars like Jennifer Aniston and Octavia Spencer

Jazmine Motley-Maddox

Jazmine Motley-Maddox ’09 with Atlanta rapper T.I. on the set of Netflix’s “Rhythm & Flow.”

Some people say appearances don’t matter, but Jazmine Motley-Maddox ’09 has always thought differently. Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., she often watched her grandmother, Zellean Maddox, feed fabric through the bouncing needle of her sewing machine. And on weekends, they spent time combing through the racks of department stores like Gus Myer, Parisians and kids’ boutiques like Jack & Jill.

Little did she know, her grandmother’s was weaving a thread of Black history through generations of family clothes—most of the clothing she shopped for were pieces from the collections of famous and emerging Black fashion designers. Her grandmother taught her that clothes often tell your story before you even have the chance to introduce yourself.

“She instilled in me a love for dressing up,” said Motley-Maddox. “I was the little girl that enjoyed wearing frilly dresses, fancy socks and hair bows.”

Now, she wears blazers, fun-print sets and sneakers to her job as a costume supervisor in television and film, taking her grandmother’s proverb of the value of fashion to the Hollywood silver screen. Working with superstars like Jennifer Aniston, Octavia Spencer, Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown allows Motley-Maddox to create art that influences millions of people.

“I truly enjoy being a part of the behind-the-scenes process. It is rewarding to have those unique, once-in-a-lifetime stories in my memory bank, and art that lives on for people to enjoy.”

After graduating from Auburn with a public relations degree, she held communications positions at CNN, FOX Sports and The Weather Channel. She was living her dream as a publicist, but she believed she had reached a glass ceiling—one that she wasn’t passionate about breaking through. Leaving her job, heels echoing among the Atlanta skyscrapers for the last time, she left to pursue another passion.

“2015 was a year of self-reflection, growth and the search to find a career that I would be fired up about and find purpose in. I interviewed for many publicity positions and never landed one, which was a hard dose of reality for me, but confirmation that it was time to move on.”

Ready to get back to work, a friend suggested that Motley-Maddox interview for a position to run Bloomingdale’s Studio Services in Atlanta, where she would manage a clientele that included costume designers, costume buyers and wardrobe stylists in the music, television and movie industries. She interviewed and was offered the position on the spot. After just a few weeks, she felt an intriguing spark each time a designer would come to the store to shop. After putting a sofa and coffee pot in the studio, she spent months listening and learning about how to shop for and buy costumes.

“I had never heard of a costume designer, but I always kept in mind that I had been praying for something new.”

Once she was comfortable with costume designers and fluent in the retail side of their business, Motley-Maddox asked a designer if she could shadow her on set. But she got more than that—she was asked to be the designer’s assistant for an album release party.

“I spent four days shooting R&B videos, an album cover and shopping for a press tour. It was the type of creative liberty I had been searching for.”

After that experience, she jumped into the industry working as the wardrobe assistant for “Office Christmas Party,” a holiday film starring Jennifer Aniston and Kate McKinnon. Since making the big leap into costume design, she has worked on many projects, including “STAR,” “Sistas,” “Young Dylan,” “Thunder Force” and “Rhythm & Flow.”She is now working as the costume supervisor for the upcoming holiday comedy “Miracles on 125th Street,” starring Nick Cannon, DC Young Fly and Lil’ Kim.

As the costume supervisor, she oversees the day-to-day logistics of the costumes department from prep to wrap. She breaks down scripts, opens retail accounts, hires team members and makes sure all work is done on schedule and on budget. She works with the costume designer to ensure that each look is prepared and ready for fittings and camera. During filming, she supervises the continuity of each character’s look—the cleaning, maintenance and any repairs or adjustments.

When filming is over, she supervises returns and the breakdown of the department. Her professional relationships with actors like Regina Hall and Brian Jordan Jr. have often led to other professional opportunities—Motley-Maddox has been called upon for personal shopping, on-set costuming and closet organizing.

Motley-Maddox still loves coffee and a great conversation with costume designers. Combining all her experiences with her complete and utter passion for costume design, fashion and storytelling, she manages a blog, Costumes & Coffee, that explores the stories of the costume designers behind the lens of some of culture’s most iconic looks.

Though set life calls for a more casual dress code, Motley-Maddox still believes that blazers mean business.

“A person’s wardrobe holds meaning that is more than its simple threads. It tells their story.”

Anna Brakefield ’12: Growing a Family Business

Anna Brakefield ’12: Growing a Family Business

A daughter and father team up to create a homegrown cotton empire

Long rows of cotton plants grow up through the red-earthed farm in Lawrence County, Alabama where, decades ago, Anna Yeager Brakefield’s ’12 grandfather moved his six children in order to teach them the values of hard work.

What started as a hobby farm with a few hundred acres now numbers in the thousands thanks to the work ethic and business sense of Brakefield’s father, Mark Yeager, and is now home to the father and daughter duo’s business, Red Land Cotton.

When it came time to go to college, Yeager wanted Brakefield to go to the University of Alabama, but, after visiting their campus and then comparing it to Auburn’s, her mind was made up. Yeager reluctantly agreed.

“That was much to my parents’ dismay, because they had always been Alabama fans,” Brakefield laughed. “But my dad kind of converted. He says wherever he has his money go, there his heart goes, too.”

One of Yeager’s expectations for her daughter was that she would major in agriculture, with the expectation of returning to the North Alabama to help her family’s farm. Once again, Brakefield had a different future for herself in mind. After taking an agriculture class and making one of her worst grades ever, she decided to change course and applied to the graphic design program. Once again, Yeager supported her daughter, albeit reluctantly.

“Until we started working together a couple of years ago, I don’t think he [Yeager] had a single clue what graphic design was, or how it applied to the real world, or how anybody would make money doing it,” Brakefield said.

Despite what her father may have initially thought about graphic design, Brakefield was able to find a job soon after graduating from Auburn in 2012 with Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, an advertising firm based in New York, where she worked for around two years on big name accounts like BMW and American Express, as well as a campaign for rapper Jay Z’s cologne

Then, after getting married to her college sweetheart and moving to Nashville, Tennessee, Yeager approached his daughter during the holidays in 2015 with the idea for Red Land Cotton, a family business that would oversee not just the growth and harvest of raw cotton, but manufacture finished home goods like bed sheets and towels. Every step of the process would be done within the United States.

Anna Brakefield

sBrakefield said that her father came up with the idea when he posted a photo of his cotton onto Instagram (which he’s come to be an active user on over the years), and his sister commented on his photo, wishing that her bed sheets were made from cotton like his.

“So I said ‘What the heck’ and we started putting a supply chain together in February of 2016 and we had a product by October of 2016 to ship out,” Brakefield said. “I was able to take the foundations that I learned at Auburn in the graphic design department and the advertising knowledge that I acquired in New York and was able to apply that to create a business.”

As a co-founder of Red Land Cotton, Brakefield oversees the company’s sales, marketing and product development, while her two brothers help her father with the farming side of the business.

Brakefield said her father does a lot more outside of the farm, too, including writing scripts for radio ads and voicing them himself, creating videos about their business while also educating people about the way the farming process is handled and, generally, fixing snags along the supply chain whenever they arise. To hear Brakefield describe it another way, “He has a unique ability to get things done.”

Brakefield said founding a business has had its share of challenges to overcome. Because they want to keep their product grown and manufactured in America, they must deal with the consequences of a global economy and outsourcing, which includes the closing of certain businesses they rely on within their supply chain. 

 “So many of these textile shops have shut down,” Brakefield said. “Anywhere that you go, there are women who know how to cut and sew, and there are people in other countries willing to work for significantly less than what our standard in the United States is, so it’s very difficult from the production standpoint to make something here and have it be competitive.”

Another more surprising issue is some more vocal users on the internet who misunderstood Red Land Cotton to be politically affiliated, either because it’s based in Alabama or because it has “Red” in its name (which is meant to describe the color of North Alabama soil, as opposed to any affiliation with the Republican Party). Brakefield said that someone online told them that she would “make it her lifetime mission to never buy or support anything from us, and called us racist.”

Despite the difficulties, Brakefield said that business has been good since Red Land Cotton’s founding and that they’re considering expanding their product to include goods like pillows and comforters. In 2018 they started selling quilts.

“I like to quantify our growth like this: We started out on our first run with 48 bales of cotton, which was the minimum the spinner would spin for us. This year we will have consumed over 400 bales of cotton,” Brakefield said. “We started out with one weaving loom and now we’re weaving off of six looms. So it has been steady growth and a steady climb.”

Founding a business has taught her to never take no for an answer, because there’s always a solution and a way to work something out, Brakefield said.

“One of my professors at Auburn said, ‘A graphic designer is someone who solves problems.’ When you run a business, that’s what you do. Every single day, you solve problems.”