Meet Our Industry Experts & Trainers
Javier Valencia, Designer
Javier, immigrated from Ecuador to the United States in 1965. He settled in East Harlem with his family, where he still resides today. In middle school, Javier received a full scholarship from A Better Chance (ABC) to attend The Birch Wathen Lenox School. While still in high school, he first developed his passion for art and fashion by sewing and experimenting with the deconstruction and construction of garments. He was accepted into college at Cooper Union where he further developed his talents, refined his work ethic and set out a course to become a designer.
Javier embarked on his professional career in 1990, beginning on Seventh Avenue as a production assistant to the late designer Fabrice Simon. Fabrice was known for his intricate bead work and high end evening wear. His clientele ranged from socialites to movie stars. Javier was involved every aspect of production. He also worked with Eva Chun, a high end sportswear brand. Again, he began as a production assistant but within a year was promoted to production manager. Javier was responsible for processing, manufacturing and delivering all orders on time to vendors which included Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and Neiman Marcus.
For Javier, December 2018 marked his 20 year anniversary working with Koos Van den Akker, where he began as production manager and for the past 15 years worked as a designer. At Koos, Javier learned the art of mixing different prints, colors and textures to create one-of- a-kind designs.
The common thread connecting his experiences and the workplaces where he has flourished has been the trust and support he has received. Javier can transform an idea into an actual product given the skill sets he honed as a pattern maker, designer and seamstress.
With Koos Van Den Akker closing at the end of 2018, Javier ceased the opportunity to establish his own atelier where he can provide couture caliber garments to all of his current, new and future clients at SoHarlem while working with our Apprentices.
Henry Smith, Master Tailor
Henry Alfonsa Smith, is an accomplished custom tailor for Gilberto Designs, the house of custom style and old world craftsmanship in New York. His recent accomplishments include custom made suits and tuxedoes for The Ice Man Cometh (with Denzel Washington), Kinky Boots, Hello Dolly, and Motown.
Born and raised in Harlem, Henry earned a Bachelor of Arts from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and certification in Ladies and Men Tailoring. Smith also worked at FIT’s Apparel Production Department as the sewing machine technician responsible for advanced technology, which included computerized fabric spreading, cutting, serging and sewing machines.
During the 1990s, Smith relocated to Atlanta, Georgia where he established and managed a custom tailoring for 17 years. Among his clients were Dan Reeves of the Atlanta Falcons and Dwight Eubanks of Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Smith is a protégé the late Marion William Anderson, Sr, the Harlem garment industry icon and educator who established Manhattanville Needle Trade School on West 141st Street, where he made suits for Harlem’s elite. As a fifteen-year-old high school student, Henry studied with Anderson, eventually becoming his assistant. Smith helped Marion run the Trade School and the two remained close friends until Anderson’s death in 2015.
As a trainer for SoHarlem’s Community Training Institute, Henry Alfonsa Smith keeps Marion’s legacy alive by sharing with trainees and apprentices the skills and lessons Anderson instilled: If you can sew you can eat.
Margarita Ayala, Master Seamstress
Margarita Ayalla, SoHarlem’s Master Seamstress, is a self-taught sewer, with expertise in French seaming, baby hems, blind stitching, cording and many other techniques that enable her to work effectively with contemporary designers to create high quality styles of clothing.
Born and raised in Cuenca, Ecuador, Margarita began sewing when she was only eight- years-old. While employed at the Matbri Factory, a 40-person factory specializing in denim and suede, she helped fulfill wholesale clothing orders. Once Matbri closed in 1997, Margarita left Ecuador to move to the United States, where she worked in the Garment District for two decades and gained expertise on a range of industrial sewing machines.
Margarita is a master at working with knits and woven fabrics. Since joining SoHarlem, she has contributed her numerous talents to the manufacture of designs by members of the SoHarlem Collective, including Blue Olive, TJ Hyde and KP Indie.
Jacqueline Puello-Raboy, JPR Designs & Sewist
Jackie began sewing at the age of 13. In 1985, she joined, Veronica’s Fashion when it was located on East 125th Street in Harlem. Veronica’s Fashion created women’s wear for major department stores. During her 10 years with the company, she learned from the most seasoned seamstresses in the business. In addition to the works she creates at SoHarlem, Jackie specializes in creating decorative items for birthdays, baby showers, weddings and other celebratory occasions.
Since joining SoHarlem she has created hundreds of accessories from bags, wraps to neck pieces.