A Search for Spiritual Leggings Took Her to Tibet and Back


Wendy Newman’s designs emit a whimsical vibe, but you’re looking at hundreds of hours of work. Photo by Megan Ford

Asheville photographer and fashion designer Wendy Newman incorporates intricate mandala patterns into her signature apparel-and-accessories line, including scarves, leggings, kimonos, and umbrellas. Inside the multi-layered images, iconic pictures of Asheville architecture emerge. Asheville Made recently spoke to Newman, a former Miss Florida and a skin-cancer survivor, about her philosophical — and extraordinarily time-consuming — process.

Why do mandala patterns play such a big role in your designs?
I read that any person who makes them is on a self-searching journey. Maybe that’s why. Tibetan monks use them to express the impermanence of life. Maybe that’s my lesson.

What’s your process?
It’s a photo image, converted to a mandala pattern and then converted to a collage. The creation of each mandala takes between six and 20 hours. I made one for a scarf that I donated to a charity fundraiser, and it took 350 hours.

What’s the unique appeal of your fashion line?
I think it’s the colors and the way that the image is relayed. Something about a mandala has a never-ending spiritual quality. But everyone tells me that at first they don’t even see the images of buildings. I have to point them out. That always surprises me.

How did photographic mandalas become clothing?
I’ve been sewing since I was eight, and I live in leggings, so I made myself some. But I put the mandalas in the wrong areas and didn’t pay enough to attention to the crotch area. That took a year to learn and create and develop. Then I made my first pair with downtown Asheville buildings on them.

How’d that become a business?
I made a pair for my yoga-class friend, as a gift. But she opened the gift at a luncheon party where 50 people saw them … and I got 17 orders. “I can’t take orders,” I told them. “This isn’t a business. I just made those for my friend.” They said, “But you have to!”

Wendy Newman Designs launched over lunch?
Well, the next day, I wore my leggings into New Morning Gallery and the sales clerk asked where I got them. I told her I made them. A few minutes later, the owner showed up and said, “You have to take an order.” The very next day Biltmore House called. So I went out and found a factory that could make them for me.

If an introvert wears your designs, will they be traumatized or cured?
One or the other! My Asheville line is so in your face. But my Charleston line is subdued, with those subtle earth tones.

Wendy Newman Designs, sold in Asheville at Asheville Art Museum, Asheville Chamber of Commerce, aSHEville Museum, Bellagio Everyday, Grand Bohemian Hotel, Mountain Made, Perfect Gifts, Scout Boutique, The Barn Door, and the Inn on Biltmore Estate. For more information, see wendynewmandesigns.com.

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