The story begins with Eulyn Hufkie. She worked as a model in her home country of South Africa, a place that has attracted photographers and filmmakers for years. She played many roles in commercials and films—a chameleon of the screen—becoming whatever ethnicity her directors needed her to become. Eventually, she knew she wanted something different.
During a modeling job, she struck up a conversation with the person dressing her. A few minutes later, Eulyn asked if she could shadow her. “My first day, she made me put hangers together, in sets of ten with elastic bands,” Eulyn says. “I did that all day, and I loved every minute of it.”
Eulyn’s grandmother spent her life sewing clothes for people much wealthier than their family. Eulyn’s parents wanted a different life for her, like getting a great job and living a conventional life. She had studied accounting in college with the intention of providing them that peace and herself that safety net.
However, because of her modeling career, doors opened for Eulyn that she wouldn’t even have been able to knock on while working in accounting. When Eulyn told her mother about her want to pursue costume design, she didn’t understand. “She thought I was just sewing like my grandma,” Eulyn says.
After several years in the industry, she decided it was time to relocate to Los Angeles. “I was dirt poor,” Eulyn said. “I lived in an apartment the size of a shoebox—I had one sink for both the dishes and to brush my teeth. That was how it was, but I loved it.” While L.A. was exciting and fun, there was a shift happening. The film and television industry was eyeing Atlanta due to new tax incentives, and Eulyn saw it was time to move once again.
Her first big break was on the first season of an AMC show called The Walking Dead. No one knew how successful the show would eventually be—least of all her—when she began styling and dressing the “walkers”. The producers officially hired her for the second season.
It was there, in the laundry room on the set of The Walking Dead, that Eulyn met Hollis Smith. Hollis had left his corporate job to pursue a lifelong interest in costume designing. “I got started very late in life, and that’s really unheard of,” Hollis said. “Because this industry is a very time—and life—consuming animal.”
Life-consuming, but a hell of a lot of fun. Because of Eulyn and Hollis’ working relationship, and the demands of the increasingly popular show, they were on the constant lookout to add to their team.
Eulyn found Makalia Borgerson in a Free People store. Makalia was working with Free People as a textile designer, having studied fabric design in school. She had always been fascinated by fabrics and dedicated her time to learning the ins and outs of the chemistry behind breaking down fibers in clothes.
“Eulyn walked in, and I just knew I had to know her,” Makalia says. “It was intimidating because she was someone I could respect; it was so cool to see someone who was creating the work that I was infatuated with in school. I believe everything happens for a reason, so I introduced myself and began corresponding with Eulyn on a daily basis.”
Eulyn found Jennifer Wright in a bar. After attending Georgia State University for film and video, Jennifer started bartending to make ends meet. She and Eulyn met one night and began talking, and eventually Jennifer connected with Hollis to get a feel for the industry. She liked what she felt and started getting work in costume design from there.
“I always thought I was going to book it to Canada or L.A.,” Jennifer said. “But I stayed here to go to school. And now, I travel all the time, but I keep getting more and more proud to be from the South.”
This isn’t the first evolution of a film industry in Atlanta. In the 80s, a major film movement ignited because of a state-wide tax incentive for production and post-production. When that was taken away, the industry dried up.
“[Georgia] learned its lesson,” Hollis said. “When the tax incentive was brought back, it brought in shows like The Walking Dead, and now Marvel movies are filmed here. It’s so exciting to feel like we’re becoming this concreted entity.”
This small group of individuals is only representative of the community of Atlanta costumers. They are focused and dedicated and never afraid of a challenge. “We have some way to go to earn our legitimacy,” Eulyn says. “But we’re growing. People work really hard here, because we have a point to make. I think costumers from other places often look down on us because we’re in the South. They think we’re slower or we can’t keep up.” This only makes them work harder, and they never fail to make their point.
In an industry as fast-paced as this one, it’s easy to imagine dog-eat-dog mentality. And although the community is growing quickly, the group describes it as tight-knit.
“You can’t have an ego,” Eulyn said. “We’re not afraid of helping people get into the business; we encourage it. It makes us all better.”