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Elizabeth + Afton products may no longer be hand-painted textiles sewn by sisters from Wilson, but that doesn’t mean the duo doesn’t pour their heart and soul into every item.
“I think what makes us different is that we try to play a role in every part of the production,” said Ashton Smart, 23. “I know many textile or home good companies that will source their textiles and even the prints, but we’re interested in creating the original artwork for the patterns ourselves. We do a lot of watercolor, hand and computer illustrating to come up with the prints and our involvement continues through to the final product.”
Smart started the textile company last August with her sister, Caroline Monson, but it was not the first collaboration for the Sorenson sisters. When 26-year-old Monson was a junior and Smart was a freshman at N.C. State University, they partnered to create three outfits for the school’s Fashion Week. While Monson stuck with N.C. State to earn her fashion and textile management degree in 2014, Smart ended up transferring to Brigham Young University and graduated in May with a degree in graphic design. After graduation, Monson worked for a handbag company in Portland, Oregon, then returned to North Carolina while her husband got his master’s degree.
“I had just had a baby when we started our company around the kitchen table,” Monson said. “We were handpainting the textiles and sewing them into bags ourselves. We’d sew at night, work all day, then sell the bags.”
While customers loved the handpainted textiles, it was a time-consuming process.
“Now we do our patterns by hands, do a textile repeat and manufacture it into our prints,” Monson said. “All of our stuff is done in-house and we have local production by hiring women to do the sewing.”
The company’s current line is a Palm Springs-inspired line of vibrant pillows.
“Ashton is the unicorn... the rainbow... the idea person,” Monson said. “She’ll have an awesome idea, then I’ll figure out how to make it happen. That is where my degree comes in with a higher-level, big-picture practicality. Her off-the-wall crazy personality is balanced when I bring it back to the point where we can make it actually happen.”
As the middle two of four children and with similar interests, the collaboration came naturally to the sisters.
“Honestly the hardest part is not us working together. That is probably the easiest part,” said Monson. “The hardest part is maintaining our lives by balancing our husbands, my son, her full-time design job and making time for the company. It is hard to make sure we’re giving everything enough time.”
She said support from family and friends in Wilson has been unwavering since they launched the first item — a connection that is important to the duo.
“Wilson is really unique because it is such a small town and everyone knows each other,” Smart said. “My mother is an interior designer, so I’ve always had that as an influence. Both my sister and I were in dance at Hunter’s Dance Studio, so I remember all the bright costumes and textiles. Everyone from Wilson has been so supportive, so when we launched our company, we were able to lean on the community and get going.”
In addition to the California oasis pillows, Elizabeth + Afton also offers full design services and textile workshops.
“We’re not focused on the seriousness of making money,” Smart said. “We want to do what we love and everything else will follow.”
For more information, search for Elizabeth + Afton on social media or visit www.elizabethafton.com/.