Bishop Craig Coates began his foray in fashion design by sketching and designing fashions in the 10th grade in 1983. His grandmother was a seamstress who owned a Kenmore sewing machine. Coates recalls taking a trip to a local fabric store with her, then purchasing a piece of terry cloth fabric to make a fashionable Dolman sleeve dress, which is known to appear like a bat wing. The creation was worn by a friend at school. Coates progressed to creating trendy jackets, skirts, and MC Hammer style pants when he was a student attending South River High School.
His stylish journey eventually led him to become the director of fashion shows at Annapolis High School every spring for approximately five years, after graduating from high school. In Coates’ early years, he was influenced by Ebony Fashion Fair traveling shows and Baltimore’s fashion icon, Travis Winkey.
Over time, Coates held on tightly to his fashion design calling. He graduated from University of Maryland College Park with a degree in fashion apparel design. Coates later began making original clergy clothing and choir robes under his Modern Priestwear brand. He worked his way up to linking with Anthony L. Williams, who was the costume designer and stylist for VH1 TV’s “Single Ladies” show. Coates ended up designing items for Nicole Arie Parker who was an actress on the show. Coates’ talent was viewable on television for a season.
Reaching another pivotal milestone recently occurred for Coates shortly after Black Business Month kicked off in August. He hosted a grand opening of his new bridal shop called Craig Coates Couture. Attendees celebrated the entrepreneur’s new venture at 1910 Forest Drive, Suite 2A on August 6, 2022 while catching glimpses of his unveiled, new collection pieces.
“My store is an experience,” Coates told The Baltimore Times.
Coates’ other role is serving as the lead pastor of Fresh Start Church in Glen Burnie, Maryland. He has been devoted to the ministry as a pastor for 29 years. This month marked a time when Coates took a big step to embrace his dream to open his first flagship store. Fans of his design work have sought him out to create custom prom and bridal pieces. Employees now work at the entrepreneur’s store full time. Customers come to the new location for fittings, too. Craig Coates Couture is an eclectic blend of fashion extravagance and upscale statement pieces. It is divided into three sections and offers a diverse selection.
“There is the bridal couture section, which is the whole bridal suite where I do couture gowns,” Coates said, noting that he received positive feedback about the featured dress he made. “The other area is where I have [sic} selected gowns and dresses that are vintage dresses.”
Coates explained that he handpicks beautiful gowns that originally cost thousands. Shoppers may always purchase them at Craig Coates Haute Couture for under $1,000.
“The third section of my store is called Free Your Mind. So because I went back to college as a Black history major, I infused that into my design work. Every month I will be highlighting the life of a historically Black designer and their impact on culture. This month for the opening we chose Elizabeth Keckley,” Coates said.
He noted that Keckley was the first African American designer who was a slave. For 30 years she sewed until she could buy her freedom. Her talent led her to become First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal designer and confidant for four years in the White House, according to Coates.
Additionally, Coates’ unisex t-shirt brand called Free Your Mind is ready-to-wear. He also creates all menswear, both custom and otherwise.
When Delegate Shaneka Henson’s husband needed a tuxedo for their wedding at the last minute when the couple’s initial attire plans fell through, she contacted Coates. He stepped in to create an original tuxedo.
“Bishop Coates has built a trusted brand that makes a statement in any room. I’m thrilled that he chose to locate his new retail shop in the heart of Parole and bring his worldwide talent home to Annapolis,” Del. Henson said.
Coates’ customer base is diverse but primarily African American. He believes that it is because of his longtime community roots that leads to word-of-mouth publicity. However, Coates’ fashion influence extends beyond blackness.
“My customers are people who are looking for unique, original designs and are willing to pay for it, because it’s worth it,” Coates said.
Visit https://craigcoatescouture.com/ to learn more about Coates’ store, or to attend the online virtual launch on the first Saturday in September. Orders must be placed on that day to receive a sale price on ready-to-wear and vintage items.