Guru of Fashion Retires from University

Posted March 21, 2024, 2:40PM

Wadeeah Y. Beyah enrolled at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in 1967, but after falling in love during her sophomore year, she quit school and got married. Twenty-five years and two daughters later, she re-enrolled and earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics from NCCU in 1997 and  a master’s degree in human sciences, with a concentration in textiles and apparel, from the institution in 2000.

After earning her degrees, Beyah wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, so she continued cleaning bathrooms for Beyah’s Cleaning Service, owned by her husband William. Unbeknownst to her, Debra Parker, Ph.D., then-chair of the department of human sciences, had read her master’s thesis. Parker was impressed and offered Beyah a one-semester contract teaching dimensions of learning, a course intended to help students get acclimated to college, learn NCCU’s history and develop an appreciation for the school.

Beyah accepted the job and in 2000 began teaching at NCCU. She kept getting offered new, one-semester contracts, and when the coordinator in the apparel design program left, Beyah stepped permanently into the role in 2005.

Things were going well for Beyah, until later that year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Parker implored her to take a medical leave, but Beyah asked if she could remain on the job.

“It took my mind off the cancer,” Beyah explained. “I shared my condition with my students and the staff. The students were very encouraging, and it turned out that one of my faculty members was a breast cancer survivor and she was very encouraging. It was a better place to be than at home worrying about it.”

Beyah retired from NCCU in December 2023, after training hundreds of students and establishing an apparel alterations lab that has produced some award-winning alumni like Tukii Tucker.

“As an instructor, Mrs. Beyah is a guru,” Tucker said. “There’s nothing that Mrs. Beyah has encountered that she does not know how to fix, and that’s aspirational. I have always wondered if it was it her life experiences or her background in apparel alterations that spilled out when she was in the classroom giving instructions.”

In November 2023, a month before graduating from NCCU, Tucker placed first for innovative designs at the Sustainable Fashion competition organized by Howard University’s at the French Embassy.

Tucker took at least eight classes under Beyah and credits her with pushing him to become an exceptional student of fashion design and to be an even more exemplary educator of the subject. While away from NCCU, he worked a six-month internship in Chicago. Despite not being enrolled at the time, Tucker said Beyah always took his calls when he had a fashion question or to simply check in and catch up on life.

That doesn’t surprise Darlene Eberhardt-Burke, Ph.D., interim associate dean for the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. She’s known Beyah since 2005 when they were the only textiles and apparel professors in NCCU’s program.

“Students were very fortunate to be under Mrs. Beyah’s tutelage,” Eberhardt-Burke said. “She has touched hundreds of students and will never be forgotten. She opened the alteration shop when I started in 2005. I don’t know of another alteration shop on a college campus. She’s a trailblazer.”

Beyah taught a pattern-making class and also taught students basic alterations, including how to shorten garments and how to taper jackets and pant legs. Thanks to her, there are quite a few NCCU alumni working in the fashion industry, including some with celebrity clients, Eberhardt-Burke said. Alumnus Adrian Murchison is currently working with Tamar Braxton and alumnus Albert Cobb has worked for Grammy-winning artist Fantasia Barrino, who starred in “The Color Purple” on Broadway and in its theatrical release.

“Through the alteration shop, we work a lot with athletics, especially the football team,” Eberhardt-Burke said. “Mrs. Beyah would mend the uniforms and fit all of the coaches with their clothes. She also worked with the music department hemming their dresses for recitals. She was featured in the Wall Street Journal because she, alone, [once] hemmed the graduating class robes after they arrived late, too big and too long.”

The alteration lab, formerly called Sew Unique, was renamed Beyahunique Alteration Shop in 2023 to honor Beyah, who said her 23 years at NCCU never felt like work because she loved what she did and the students she taught.

“I was the first instructor to get to campus, and I was the last one to leave,” she said. “The classes are usually 50 minutes or not more than 75 minutes, but I was there all day. I never left while the alteration lab was open. I would tell the students that when people saw their work, they were seeing me and they were also seeing NCCU.’’

A degree in fashion, apparel and textile design studies is now being offered at NCCU, with concentrations in fashion entrepreneurship and textiles and apparel innovation studies/digital fashion. An annual fashion competition also continues.

Beyah was confident she left the program in good hands when she retired from NCCU. Not only did she find her life’s calling there; she found her life’s partner of 56 years and counting.

NCCU, she said, prepared her for a great career.

“I found that North Carolina Central was very much like family, [with] small classes, and the instructors were people that I wanted to copy and be like,” Beyah said. “I liked the way they dressed, the way they carried themselves, their demeanor. I saw role models. When I became an instructor, I saw people that I tried to emulate. It paid off for me.” 

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