While on a business trip to a jungle village in Honduras in 1999, archeologist Chris Begley decided to spend a day on a canoe trip along the coast. He’d never met the Honduran forest service worker who sat next to him, but by the end of the 12-hour trip he knew he wanted to make her his wife.
The two married just three-and-a-half months later.
Now Soreyda Benedit-Begley is an acclaimed fashion designer in Lexington. She and her husband appeared on this weekend’s edition of Connections to discuss their lives and a new collaborative project.
Soreyda’s rise to high fashion began at a small sewing academy in her native Honduras. As a 13-year old, she improved her sewing skills and learned some basic elements of design. Then, in high school during summer vacations, Soreyda sewed in a sweatshop, working as much as 16 hours a day and earning only about $30 a week. She tried doing it full time for one year, but left when the job and the hours proved too demanding.
That’s when she started working for her nation’s forest service and met Chris, an eastern Kentucky native who had been doing research in the jungles of Honduras since 1991. He is now a professor of anthropology at Transylvania University, and a renowned archeologist whose work has been featured on the Discovery and Travel Channels as well as the BBC.
Striving to Build a Local Fashion Industry
Soreyada uses unconventional materials to create unique designs that have been featured in fashion shows in New York, Atlanta, and Chicago, as well as on the TV series “Project Runway.” (One dress was even constructed from a blue plastic tarp that Chris once used to shield an archeological dig from the rain.) She was also instrumental in creating the Lexington Fashion Collaborative and the Future of Fashion program to help nurture the burgeoning design community in central Kentucky.
“The old concept of the starving artist is still alive and well,” Soreyda says. “So we’re trying to bring back this cottage industry.”
She explains that the challenges for those starting out in fashion design are daunting. There’s the expense of sewing equipment and studio space, building a base of clients, finding stores that will carry your designs, and competing with mass-produced clothing that is much less expensive for consumers to buy.
A New History of Central Kentucky Fashions
Their work usually takes Soreyda and Chris Begley in very different directions – her to boutiques and fashion shows, and him to Central American jungles or underwater archeological sites in the Mediterranean. Yet, the two are collaborating on a project that unites their individual talents: a forthcoming book detailing the fashion history of Lexington from the earliest pioneer settlements to today.
“There was a lot clothing manufacturing in and around Lexington,” explains Chris, who will handle the historical aspects of the book. “So part of what we’ll be focusing is not only the fashion scene now, but also how [clothes] were produced in the past, how and why that changed, and where it might be going.”
Soreyda says the book, which is scheduled for release next spring, will explore how clothing styles evolved through the years, and how those changes were reflected in social, cultural, and economic aspects of Lexington life. They’ll also highlight some of the department stores that sold clothing for generations but have since gone out of business, including Dawahare’s and Wolf Wile.