New York Fashion Week kicked off on February 8, with designers showing off their Fall/Winter 2019 collections.
A’kai Littlejohn, a Long Island native, was part of this high-fashion industry event that draws designers, curators, photographers, and journalists just a few months ago when he debuted his spring/summer 2018 collection during September’s NYFW. It was his first time showing at the event, and for the 14-year-old fashion prodigy, it was a favorite moment in his career.
“It was everything I wanted it to be,” he says.
A’kai’s first taste of fame was as a contestant on the second season of the Lifetime reality series, Project Runway Junior. Only 13 at the time, A’kai was the show’s youngest cast member. Each week, A’kai, along with 11 other contestants, had to create a one-of-a-kind garment from scratch and only had one day to do it. With the help of Tim Gunn, the show’s host and mentor, A’kai quickly learned that slow and steady really does win the race and that a few sloppy stitches can mean defeat.
“It taught me not to rush and to try and be as perfect as you can,” he says. “The little details matter.”
For A’kai, the experience was priceless and was a springboard to building his success.
“Being on the show built up my confidence and even taught me how to sew faster,” he says.
His love of fashion and drive to achieve has always been his motivation, according to his mother, Kari Littlejohn. When most 3-year-olds were learning to master walking and climbing, A’kai’s Aunt Kim taught him how to hand-stitch. Kari remembers A’kai being able to manipulate any material he could find, such as toilet paper.
“He’d wet the toilet paper then crunch it and press it,” says Kari. “If he wanted it to look like a silk, he would put creases in it. He would even add color to it. You would not recognize it was toilet paper. The texture completely changed.”
Sketching and watercolor painting came naturally to him, and anytime anyone would visit, A’kai would drape them with fabric, says Kari.
“A’kai knew how to drape a garment before he knew what the technique even was,” she says.
His first wearable garment was a dress he crafted at age 4, and it didn’t take long before people started to take notice.
“In first grade, one of A’kai’s teachers told us that he was showing techniques that are only taught,” says Kari.
At age 9, A’kai had the opportunity to be an apprentice for designer Madeline Grudens of Geraci Condello. The experience taught him about the business side of fashion, the technical terms used, and some techniques, including apparel construction and darts.
His mother adds: “His mentor [Madeline Grudens] told me and she also told A’kai that he was a natural.”
Today, A’kai is busy working on his next collection to show at NYFW, for Spring/Summer 2019 that will take place in the fall. He’s also launching his high-end women’s wear line and fulfilling custom orders that will be available for purchase on his website (akailittlejohn.com) at the end of the month.
“I am so proud to be A’kai’s mom,” says Kari, a former event planner and floral designer, who left her business to concentrate full time on her son’s fashion house: A’KAI. “We are so grateful for the doors that have opened for him.”
However, as any mom would be, she is careful not to overwhelm him.
“Even with all the success, he is still a regular teenager that goes to school and has a social life, is involved in many clubs and plays sports,” she says.
A’kai doesn’t let the pressure of being a high school freshman and his growing fashion career get in the way. He takes it all in stride.
“It does not feel like work because I love doing it,” he says.
Favorite Designers: Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel, Dior and Ralph Lauren.
Secret Weapon: “I am comfortable working with any fabric and any design.”
What You Love Most: “I love how people feel when they wear my clothes.”
What’s to Come: “Neckwear for men and women and hats,” says A’kai, whose signature look is a bowtie and a flat cap.