Daytonian Cayee’ delivers handmade products with vintage flair
By Tim Anderl
Nearly all holiday traditions share at least one commonality: fellowship. Just as the Native Americans invited the Pilgrims to feast on their bountiful harvest during the first Thanksgiving and Christians believe that the inn keeper in Bethlehem found room in his stable for Mary, Joseph and their newborn on the first Christmas, in modern times hosts invite friends and family to share holiday cocktails and meals at their homes. Even little ones extend an invitation to a jolly guy with the white beard hoping he’ll visit them, even if they don’t catch a glimpse of the man in the red suit.
“My vintage-inspired aprons are the perfect accent for holiday cocktail or family party and business dinner parties,” Cayee’ (aka Tanika Grant), a native Daytonian, and the owner of NYAM Modern Vintage explained about one of her many handmade products. “It allows guests to identify the hostess. The aprons also provide the hostess with a stylish, quality piece of Americana.”
Although Cayee’ possesses formal education in engineering – she studied at Tuskegee University – in 2009, Cayee’ became interested in the creative process of tailoring and sewing clothing as a means of expression. She also found inspiration in her grandmother Ida, who was a full-time seamstress for Donnafield’s Department Store in Dayton.
In 2011, this passion led Cayee’ to participate in an eight-month apprenticeship with “Gentleman” Jim McFarland in Savannah, Ga. Active in the garment industry since 1961, McFarland -– a master tailor, pattern maker, designer, and clothing manufacturer – operated a successful tailoring shop in the upscale Buckhead area of Atlanta for 25 years.
“The art of tailoring takes time,” she explained. “The insides should look just as good as the outside.”
While working in McFarland’s studio, Cayee’ produced NYAM’s first collection of clothing that included 16-pieces; dresses, shirts, skirts, jackets and aprons.
With new found confidence as a result of her training, Cayee’ returned to Dayton and decided to expand NYAM Modern Vintage, a business selling custom clothing and aprons, as well as natural, hand-crafted shea butter soap, in an online shop at Etsy.com. The NYAM moniker is inspired by a word of African origin that means “to taste or sample small pieces of things.” Cayee’ believes that each of her products are a sample of her creative spirit.
“Most of the pieces that I’ve created have come from both vintage and modern patterns, although I’ve modified some of them and have created a few patterns myself,” Cayee’ explained. “I enjoy working the natural materials – wools, linens and cottons. More importantly, when I’m in a fabric store I’m looking for a material that speaks to me.”
In addition to shopping at local fabric stores, Cayee’ has also used vintage fabric from her grandmother’s stash. Her favorite find was a fabric that originated in Switzerland in the 1980s and inspired her to read up on the company. Many aspects of the sewing and design process appeal to her research and engineering background.
“This endeavor allows me to be the fabric engineer,” Cayee’ joked. “My mind goes in numbers and plans. And building a varied collection allows me to play Tetris with fabric and designs. And fabrics are like people; they have different weights and behaviors that make them unique and special.”
Although Cayee’ admits that some fabrics are difficult to work with, the feeling of conquering a fabric and holding a finished, quality garment is extremely satisfying.
Her products have already impressed family as well as a variety of customers. “The first time I showed my mom a shirt that I’d made she said, ‘That’s a real shirt! You made a real shirt!’” Cayee’ said. In addition to impressing her mom, Cayee’ has sold custom shirts, garments, aprons and even soap to customers through her Etsy online store.
In 2009, Cayee’ also studied books on soap making and developed a recipe that includes all-natural, food-grade ingredients. “People have been surprised by the quality and consistency. But I wouldn’t offer anything that I wouldn’t use myself and I have very high standards.
“Men have told me that the rich lather from the soaps is perfect for shaving,” she added.
Although each of her products is of the highest quality and standards, Cayee’ explained that the price point is based simply on the time and material; the hours it takes her to cut, prepare, sew garments or concoct and execute the custom recipe for her soaps.
“While my store provides examples, I understand that specific attire is required based on the occasion. The custom variations I offer allow me to be creative, and provide people with options.”
Her vision for the business continues to grow in scope and breadth. This winter she plans to design and execute a business suit and coat. Cayee’ also plans to offer sewing, tailoring and design lessons in the Dayton area for those budding tailors and designers wanting to grow in their craft.
For more information about NYAM, visit: www.facebook.com/NYAMModern Vintage and www.etsy.com/shhop/NYAMModernVintage. For information about NYAM Modern Sewing instruction, e-mail Cayee’ at NYAMModernVintage@gmail.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@daytoncitypaper.com