Photo:Rich Fury/Getty Images
At a first glance, you might think you know everything you need to know about Draya Michele—she has been in the spotlight for quite some time—and can probably recall her days on the reality television show Basketball Wives. But don’t get it twisted: Michele is the definition of what it means to be a multihyphenate creative. She’s an actress, an entrepreneur, a designer, and, in her own words, “a mother first.” But beyond that, Michele is the type of person young women of color look to when searching for a guide on ways to move through the world, and though she’s still figuring it out and her journey has been far from perfect, she’s tenaciously built her life from humble beginnings, on her own terms. If that’s not inspiring, I’m not sure what is. But enough from me. Ahead, you’ll hear from Draya Michele herself about everything from her Revolve collaboration to the evolution of representation in media.
More about Draya Michele: She grew up in Pennsylvania and currently resides in Los Angeles. She is an actress, designer, and ambassador for Savage x Fenty. Michele launched her own size-inclusive swimwear line, Mint Swim, in 2011, and has most recently collaborated on a collection with Revolve.
You came from humble beginnings and have managed to build yourself from the ground up. What advice would you give your younger self on the journey?
I would tell my younger self to not get caught up on what you want to do for a career. Everyone doesn’t know what they want to be, and in my 20s, I definitely struggled with it. I didn’t feel like I fully knew until I was about 27, so I tell girls that are younger than me and that are still struggling, that it’s okay to not know. If you feel like you know, then maybe you do—but there are also going to be times where you felt confident about something, and it’s okay to switch if it doesn’t feel right. You may have grown up your whole life thinking you want to be a nurse, and if through learning you realize you don’t want to be one, it’s okay to switch. It’s also okay to be multiple things. You don’t need to be just one thing. I never knew what I was going to be, and now I’m multiple things. So you don’t have to limit yourself to one thing or one path.
As someone who's been part of reality television and chosen to step away, why do you think it's so important as a person of color to be cognizant of the image we choose to both portray and consume within the media landscape? And how do you think we can change the way communities of color are portrayed both on television and beyond?
I think that over the years, reality television has grown so much—the audience and reach that it has—and when you get to African American shows like the one I was on, there are stereotypes that come with it, and there are people who are not familiar with the black culture that will watch the show and believe that this is what women of color represent, and it’s not the case. I didn’t want to take part in that anymore, because I know as a black woman, we are so much more than that, and there aren’t enough shows that highlight our multitudes. But I do think that times are changing and there are programs being written specifically about women of color that are highlighting us in a better way. We’re playing more doctors, lawyers, teachers, and amazing mothers. Now is the time for women of color directors, writers, producers, to be highlighted and celebrated, and I think it’s only going to get better as time goes on.
You're biracial and grew up in Pennsylvania. How do you feel, if at all, that has impacted how your approach to style and beauty?
Being that I come from Pennsylvania, I didn’t grow up knowing how to do cool makeup or amazing hair. Where I’m from, you’re beautiful based on how you style your baby hair. And the shiniest lip gloss you could buy is what made you beautiful. So baby hair and lip gloss were as simple and as complex as it got. I learned from a young age that less is more. Sometimes makeup and overstyled hair can be a little too much for me, so I try to be as effortless as I can because that’s how I grew up.
What inspired you to start designing?
I’ve always had a love for clothing and all things beautiful and all things expensive. I just dreamed of creating the pieces of clothing I couldn’t afford when I was younger.
What initially led you to create your swimwear line, Mint?
Mint Swim was an idea that I had when I was in Pennsylvania that I needed and felt I needed deep in my soul to move to L.A. to manifest it. And so that’s exactly what I did. I came to L.A. and I started the line.
What is the story behind your collection Superdown with Revolve?
I had been working with Revolve for about three years. I had already been wearing many of the brands they carry and loved them, so when they came to me with the opportunity to have a collaboration with their newest line, Superdown, I was completely excited about it. I wanted girls to be able to wear stuff I wear and for it to be my own creations, so the opportunity was perfect.
What is your approach when it comes to creating clothing? And what’s the inspiration behind Superdown?
I definitely keep in mind things I like to do. I definitely have a good time and go out. But I also try to keep in mind what’s going on on social media, what the current trends are, and what my followers are asking for. At the end of the day, I’m just designing for the women that follow me and for the woman that’s confident in herself.
And for spring, is there a specific trend you’re excited for with your own line or in general?
Well, I started leaning toward pastel colors, which was never really in my color clothing palette before, but I decided to put it in my line as almost a way to force myself to wear it. And I’ve been loving it! In addition to pastels, after February, we move into the festival season in March, and I’m excited about that, as we will start promoting our festival clothing. And that’s a bunch of brighter colors—neons, iridescent, sequins. So I would definitely say I look forward to more color and colorful pieces in the spring.
Can you name one to three other designers who inspire you and why?
I really, really love Victoria Beckham as a person and what she represents as a designer. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the evolution of Rihanna’s career. I’ve been following her since the beginning, and she’s really just this freaking powerhouse. And I’m a fan of Stella McCartney and everything that she and her brand represent with its commitment to sustainability and its use of vegan fabrics.
How would you describe your personal style?
I definitely have two different styles: one for the daytime in which you’ll catch me in a great pair of denim jeans and a neutral color top (whether it's black, white, gray, ivory, beige), and I love a bodysuit-jean combo for the daytime. And for the evening, I like anything with glitz and sparkle and metallics and a lot of blacks and patent leather. I’m definitely dressed to go out at night and very casual during the day.
What’s the one piece every woman needs from day to nighttime?
The most common answer would be a little black dress, but I’m going to be a rebel and say a little white dress because I don’t abide by the rules around wearing white in fashion. I think you can wear a white dress in every season during the daytime with a cute pair of sneakers, but then you could dress it up for the evening with a different pair of shoes, and it can easily transition.
What are one to three key pieces in your wardrobe you can’t live without?
I have an amazing Tom Ford leather biker jacket that’s a staple in my wardrobe. I’ve had it for a few years, and the older and more rugged it gets, the better. I also love a really great thigh-high boot. A few years ago, I was way too shy to wear thigh boots; I thought you needed to be a superstar performer or someone ultra famous to wear thigh-high boots, and I just felt like if I wore them, people were going to be like, “Where the heck does she think she’s going?” But now I live in them, and I have a great pair of Saint Laurent ones I wear any chance I get. Finally, my last staple piece is a great bikini. I love anything from my line, Mint Swim. I’ve made really great ones that have lasted over the years. In fact, I don’t buy any new bikinis because I still wear my own, and it's essential to invest in a suit that’s not too trendy, with simple, clean lines that can last you through the years.
You have your go-to wardrobe pieces, but do you have any go-to effortless beauty looks or hairstyles you rely on as a busy mother?
I love a middle-part low bun. I’m not a fan of high buns. They look great on other people, but I love a low bun. I feel like it just accentuates your face and gives anyone an off-duty model look.
Do you have any holy-grail beauty products you abide by?
I love everything from Sunday Riley but swear by their Good Genes serum. It's super concentrated, which is rare because it’s hard to find good, spa-quality products that are also affordable.
What does your beauty routine look like?
I really think it depends on what’s happening in my life because one day a week, I’m the girl that will give myself an extreme facial at home, or I’ll go get a facial. But I’m also the girl who, after a rough night, will fall asleep with a full face of makeup on, which is bad, but I’m definitely guilty of it. But it all depends on how much time I’ve allotted to care for my skin.
And finally, what’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned, not only from being an entrepreneur but also from being a mother?
I learned time management. You have to be able to prioritize what’s important to you, and if you’re going to follow your passions, you have to accept that you’re going to be busy, and you’re going to have to prioritize for the things you love most.