Destinee Macklin, 31, spends her days in her Harford County home sewing for people in her community and beyond. She calls her home a manufacturing mill, and what comes out of it are face masks, dresses and suits, among other fabric goods.
Weeks before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Macklin was preparing to launch her fashion brand. She created seven pieces from scratch, including dresses and kimono robes. Macklin named her brand Devarcia in memory of her late father, who was killed when she was 11.
During the early months of the pandemic, she shifted to make and give away hundreds of face masks.
Now she has turned her craft into a program called Behind the Seams, a nonprofit that makes clothes for teens and adults to help boost their confidence. Macklin said she believes this is how she can help young African American men, in particular, learn to dress for the professions they want to have in the future.
The inspiration for Behind the Seams started in October when she met a 21-year-old Black man named Michael Custis-Gilliam. He was washing car windows at a traffic light at Northern Parkway and Falls Road. Macklin said he had a warm smile and appeared to be humble as he asked her if she had any spare change.
Macklin pulled some change from her pocket, and after giving it to him she asked Custis-Gilliam what his dream job was. He said he wanted to be a model. Three months later, Macklin went back to the same corner with a measuring tape to fit Custis-Gilliam for a suit.
“How you look is how you feel,” Macklin said. “I want to teach [teens] how to curate their outfits to match their goals.”
Macklin, a former detective with the Baltimore Police Department, served in law enforcement starting in 2013. Her career came to an abrupt end when she was in a multivehicle accident in 2018.
She said she now suffers from an incurable condition called complex regional pain syndrome, which causes chronic pain in her arms and legs. Her hands often shake, and on some days she is unable to walk.
“My doctor said I should do something with my hands,” Macklin explained. “You think you’re supposed to do one thing, but God has other plans.”
Six months after the accident, Macklin enrolled in an online sewing class and later took tailoring classes. Fashion is a venture she never considered doing before. But she figured that if she could not serve in law enforcement, she could find other ways to be of service to others.
She started sewing masks, producing roughly 30 to 40 a day. She would make trips to the post office to ship the masks to people all over the county. The designed protective gear was not for sale. Macklin used any donations to buy more sewing materials. Through social media, Macklin received hundreds of messages asking for personalized masks, and she met nearly all 500 of the requests.
The passion Macklin had to make masks kept her going, but the demand was becoming too much and her doctors recommended that she stop. She decided to use her sewing skills another way, one that would help teens and young adults with their futures.
When Macklin saw Custis-Gilliam squeegeeing, she knew she wanted to provide more than just an article of clothing. She wanted to give him support, friendship and a clearer path to achieve his dreams.
“She’s given me mentors who I can talk to and a photo shoot so I can start my [modeling] portfolio. Not too many people come around to stop and change your life,” Custis-Gilliam said. “This lady has a kind heart. She can boost any person’s ego.”
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Custis-Gilliam still squeegees three days a week for several hours, but is now on an early path to his dream job because of Macklin.
“I want to show kids that they can pull their pants up and tailor their vision,” Macklin said.
To help with the program, Macklin is getting the support of a close friend, Glenwood Cornish, 36,whom she’s known for 10 years. Cornish accompanies Macklin almost everywhere she goes in the event that her body is too weak to move and he can step in to help.
“I never went through what she went through,” Cornish said. “Her passion motivates me.”
Macklin wants to expand Behind the Seams to other cities, including New York and Atlanta, but she is proud to have started her efforts in Baltimore. She also plans to launch her clothing line Devarcia in the fall.
This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor, Sundra Hominik at email@example.com.