Raised on the South Shore and trained in Italy, Mya Royal returns to her roots to launch a bespoke apparel business on the Plymouth waterfront.
By Kelly Chase Photography by Julia Cumes and Ella Farrell Photography
A salty sea breeze blows off the harbor as fashion designer Mya Royal opens the doors to her second-floor atelier in downtown Plymouth. Inside her studio, bolts of fabric lean against the wall, finished suits and dresses are neatly arranged on hangers, and works in progress—like jackets made of satin and wool—lie next to sewing machines.
The Italian-trained designer’s studio is much more laid back than what one might expect to find in Florence, the city where Royal studied. Inside, her two tiny dogs do a few frenzied loops before settling into a sunny spot. In a corner, a playmat is outfitted with toys and games for the afternoons when her two sons accompany her to work. While pointing out wedding gowns and other completed projects, Royal tells stories from her career and life abroad, but admits that there’s really no place like home.
Royal grew up on the South Shore and it was in the hallways of Silver Lake High School in Kingston that she tested out some of her earliest fashion designs. “I was young when I came across a sewing machine and some interesting fabric—it was a lightweight yellow cotton with exotic birds on it,” says Royal. “I decided to make some pants.”
More stitched creations followed and Royal was surprised by her classmates’ polarizing reactions. “There was a dramatic response to the clothing I was making—some kids really liked them, and others hated them,” she says. “It really drove home the fact that you can say something with your clothing.”
Seemingly undeterred by the opinions of her peers, positive or otherwise, Royal continued to sew and followed her passion to the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in art. She later moved to Florence, Italy, to pursue a master’s degree in fashion design.
While in Italy, Royal found herself in the presence of world-famous fashion houses, such as Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo and Robert Cavalli, and as a result, she was able to tap into many of the same provisions. “When I went to fashion school in Florence, I had the opportunity to take advantage of all the resources that were there,” she says. “I was able to get my hands on materials that were every bit as good as what the world-class luxury houses were using.”
A few years later, Royal accepted a job offer that took her from Florence to the Aeolian Islands off the coast of northern Sicily. There, she managed a local museum shop and was able to sell some of her custom-made clothing designs at a nearby studio. When Royal became pregnant with her twin sons in 2015, she moved back to the South Shore to be closer to her family. “It was a simple decision to come back, I wanted to give birth to my children where I grew up,” she says. Once her boys, Rocco and Romeo, turned 4 years old, she decided the time was right to move her home studio into a larger space. Royal opened her bespoke apparel business, Mya Royal, in a spacious, sunny studio space on the Plymouth waterfront.
Operating a fashion business on the South Shore is decidedly different from Italy, and many are welcome changes for Royal. “This is an inviting place to do business,” she says. “There’s a lot of freedom here to do what I want to do, and no one is telling me to abide by fashion rules. That elbow room has been really nice. The fashion industry has a lot of issues, and it’s good to get away from that and be in America’s hometown.”
Although she is an ocean away, Royal continues to order many of her fabrics from Florence. Her products, however, have changed to suit the tastes and needs of local buyers. “[In Italy], customers would order custom clothing that they’d use on a daily basis, and here people more often want custom clothing on a formal basis for special events, or for a job that requires them to dress up every day,” she says. Royal also makes custom handbags and outerwear, but the majority of her business has been formalwear. Of course, all of that changed in the winter of 2020.
Less than a year into her new business, the pandemic arrived in Italy, and Royal quickly pivoted her production and began making face masks. “I had packages [of masks] ready to go to Italy, but then the country started to get things under control, and it became more apparent that the masks I was making were going to be necessary here,” she says. While she had never made masks before, she learned quickly, and people in the community soon began dropping off materials for her to use. “There was a call to duty,” she says. “I was considered an essential business, so I just kept making masks.”
At one point, Royal was making 50 to 100 masks each day. Fortunately, her orders for face coverings have decreased and she’s happy to have resumed her formalwear projects. She believes, however, that her business model will be forever changed. “Clients still need suits if they need to wear them to the office every day, but many people will continue to work from home on a more regular basis, so I expect people to begin asking for more casual things.”
Pivoting once again, Royal will be launching her first American-made ready-to-wear line of clothing this winter. the inter-seasonal collection will feature stylish-yet-casual clothing for men and women, from comfortable sportswear (think joggers and bomber jackets) to form-flattering dresses, shirts and pants. “The collection is extraordinarily wearable because it is based on classics,” she says. In addition to clothing, her collection will include outerwear, handbags, and even home accessories like bed linens and candles.
Royal’s new clothing line features eye-catching printed fabrics modeled after a series of large-scale monoprints she made in college. Much of her fine artwork sold while she was in school and helped pay for her tuition. But when she moved home, she revisited the remaining pieces in her portfolio. “I had this work sitting in front of me and I knew I needed to do something with it,” she says. Royal adapted a series of her fine art prints and had them printed on fabric. “The colors are vibrant and beautiful,” says Royal. “In a way, it’s what we all need right now, because people have been so down. It has been uplifting to work on.”
Mya Royal’s new ready-to-wear collection will be available to consumers on her ecommerce website this in the spring/summer of 2021. She hopes to host a fashion show in the future, but until then, she will continue to bring her creative designs to life from the comfort of her Plymouth atelier—close to where her love for fashion began, and inspired by her experiences from a world away.