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Remembering Cary Mitchell: Charlotte’s community-connected fashion visionary | WFAE 90.7

Friends and family said their final goodbyes to clothing designer Cary Mitchell on Friday at the Victory Christian Center Dome in Charlotte. Mitchell, who was known for his custom clothing designs in this region and beyond, died on April 2.

Family and friends said if you spoke to Mitchell, he would rarely talk about his accomplishments. But his accomplishments spoke for themselves. He designed clothes for legends such as Tiger Woods and was even dubbed “Tiger’s Pants Guy” in a May 2004 Sports Illustrated. Athletes Dwight Howard, Scottie Pippin, Yao Ming, Alonzo Mourning, Ken Griffey Jr. and Charles Barkley wore his designs. Mitchell also designed the first NBA team uniform, the Charlotte Bobcats.

He made custom suits for former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe and former Mayor Anthony Foxx for their appearances at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Never one to brag, he silently savored the fruits of his labor, his sister said. He was just happy to bring joy to people.

John Mitchell, his brother, said Mitchell was always a sharp dresser and was extremely meticulous with his shoes and blazers. John Mitchell said his brother’s sense of style was influenced by their older sister Sheryl.

“She was like a seamstress. She had her own sewing machine and worked on it a lot. It wasn’t something that sat in a corner,” John Mitchell said. “I remember my brother would go to thrift stores and buy suits that almost fit him, and my sister could make them fit perfectly after she was done. He knew how he wanted to dress.”

“Cary came from Charlotte to Richmond once a week and stayed two days to help care for our sister, who had cancer,” said her younger sister Ida Mitchell. “He later did the same for our parents. We’re just that kind of family. That’s who we are. That’s who he was, and he would do that for anyone.”

Mitchell grew up in a close-knit family and community in Richmond, Virginia. He was born the second child of John Thomas Mitchell and Elizabeth Mitchell on February 20, 1960.

Mitchell’s mother worked in a tobacco company to help support the family. Because she worked nights, she couldn’t go to church as much as she wanted, but that didn’t stop her from helping her religious community and family.

“My mother was a one-person mission team,” said John Mitchell. “We were always helping older aunts and uncles – we were taking people to the next phase, and we had held a lot of hands of older relatives when they passed away. Cary was one of those people who was always caring. aunts and uncles when he was available, and he learned that from our mother.

His father was well known for being one of the first black radio DJs in Richmond, where he met musical talents such as James Brown, prominent political figures and black activists. And their great-great-uncle owned the Richmond Planet, a black newspaper. But it was seeing how respected and adored his father was in their community that Mitchell wanted to live up to the family name.

“My father’s reputation was an example for all of us, but certainly for Cary,” said John Mitchell. “My dad was very popular, but my dad was very humble, especially to the people my dad had to hang out with.”

When it was time to go to college, it was obvious that Mitchell would go to an HBCU. He chose Johnson C. Smith University.

Mitchell’s friend and WFAE board member Nick Wharton said Mitchell loved Johnson C. Smith: “He knew everybody and people knew him for several generations. He was the university.”

JCSU President Clarence D. Armbrister said in a statement regarding Mitchell’s death, “I am proud to know how well he has served the university and so many worthwhile charities.”

Armbrister added: “His journey as a student who embraced his talent for designing clothes – and honoring the communities from which he came, including, of course, our institution, is a true example of what we hope for. that all of our students will become.”

Erik Spanberg, editor of the Charlotte Business Journal, had interviewed Mitchell since the late 1990s. Spanberg said what stood out to him the most was how much Mitchell cared about the community.

“He knew all of these famous people, and while he was excited to do the job, he never forgot the people facing difficult circumstances,” Spanberg said. “He always reminded us of who was being left behind, who was struggling and how we could help them – he loved his community and his alma mater, JSCU, in the best way, which was to look at it objectively. .”

Spanberg said Mitchell would not only talk about bigger issues like education and housing, but also things people need on a day-to-day basis, like access to parks in various neighborhoods and other aspects of life. economic mobility.

“He was such a sweet soul – who was so connected to the community,” Spanberg said.