Bellisario College of Communications

Empowering through fashion

Alumna cites influences of family, functionality for five-pocket dress design

Alumna Kay Makishi created a five-pocket dress, something that itself could fold into a pocket for travel, as a versatile option for a variety of occasions. Credit: Photo ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

From cycling the Silk Road, to attending fashion design classes in Spain, to volunteering on a nonprofit cruise ship, Kay Makishi has led an adventurous and diverse lifestyle. She started to get tired of packing multiple changes of clothes to fit the different occasions. Not only was this bulky to carry around, but the clothes would get wrinkled in her suitcase or backpack, and a lot of the outfits weren’t super comfortable.

This is how Makishi got the idea for the Little Bamboo Dress — a dress made out of rayon made from bamboo that has five pockets and is versatile in whatever occasion it can be worn for. She started a Kickstarter campaign for the dress and raised over $48,000, surpassing her Kickstarter goal on Aug. 26 of this year.

“What makes us different from all other athleisure wear or any other type of apparel is that every single piece is designed so it can fold into a pocket,” Makishi said. “I think women nowadays are traveling a lot, and so I view this as a vehicle — it’s empowering females through fashion.”

Makishi graduated from Penn State in 2009 with a degree in advertising/public relations. She started out working for Digitas, a Boston-based advertising agency. While working there, Makishi was awarded a fellowship from the Japanese government to travel to Okinawa for a year. She decided to take the opportunity and went to Japan to connect with her extended family.

“My family has a 300-page book published of our family tree starting over 400 years ago,” Makishi said. “It was a big puzzle piece that has been missing in my life, just getting in touch with my roots and learning about my heritage and culture. I’m the 15th generation Makishi.”

From there, Makishi continued to travel the world, exploring her heritage and gaining an interest in fashion design. While traveling, she really started to develop a passion for creating a global community and supporting cross-cultural pursuits.

“I’ve always been interested in peace building, and that’s sort of been the common thread all throughout my life in whatever I did,” Makishi said. “I’ve been to 50 some countries, and I’ve concluded for myself that people everywhere — we all want the same things. We want love, we want to protect our family, we want happiness, and we just want to feel like we belong and that we’re contributing to our community.”

In 2016, Makishi moved to Spain to work with a small garment manufacturer in Valencia as a business consultant through an entrepreneurship program sponsored by the European Union. Her original plan was to help small businesses reach American and Japanese markets. However, she ended up surrounded by clothing design, which inspired her to start taking fashion design courses in Spain.

This is when she started working on the design for the Little Bamboo Dress. She said it originally was a long sleeve shirt, but because she ended up wanting multiple pockets, she changed the shirt design to a dress design.

Makishi said it was important for her to incorporate her Japanese culture into the design, and so the insides of the sleeves of every dress have a custom print pattern inspired by traditional Okinawan design meaning “I’ll love you wherever in the world, forever.”

Once she had a finalized design, Makishi went to New York to turn her business idea, Makishi Apparel, into a reality.

Now, after completing a successful Kickstarter campaign, Makishi has five more products in product development in addition to the Little Bamboo Dress, which is scheduled to ship to consumers in February 2019.

Makishi said she is currently in the midst of building a larger full-time team and applying to different start-up incubators.

“For the consumer end, I think it’s making people look and feel good, and I think when people look and feel good, you feel more confident, and when you feel more confident, that leads to happiness,” Makishi said. “The whole mission of Makishi Apparel is to help women feel unstoppable as they pursue true happiness.” Makishi in Japanese means “Pursue True Happiness.”

Kay Makishi works with a pattern on the original design for the Little Bamboo Dress. Credit: Photo ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated June 02, 2021