Clothing Designer | Class of 2005
Martha Smith Dixon is an internationally recognized clothing designer and entrepreneur, whose couture gowns worn by First Lady Hillary Clinton helped to launch her career in fashion design and sales.
Martha Smith was born in Clark County, Arkansas, on February 2, 1946, the seventeenth of twenty children of James G. Smith and Beatrice Cook Smith, impoverished cotton pickers and sharecroppers in the South Central community of the county. She attended public school in Gurdon, Arkansas, when work allowed and graduated from Peake High School in Arkadelphia in 1965. The first in her family to attend college, Smith spent two years at Henderson State University before dropping out to work at Levi Strauss and Co. In 1967, she married Huie Dixon; the couple adopted a son, Chris, in 1973, and she became a stay-at-home mother. After her son reached middle school, Dix on returned to her early passion of clothes-making and completed a college correspondence program in fashion offered by the Commercial Technical Institute in Little Falls, New Jersey.
She started her first business, Martha’s Designs, to cater to a diverse clientele. She walked door-to-door to boutiques in the Heights neighborhood in Little Rock before she received her first break when the Casey’s Cachet boutique placed an order for twelve silk dresses. Within two weeks, one of Dixon’s dresses had been selected for Hillary Rodham Clinton, then Arkansas’s First Lady, to wear for the Governor’s Inaugural Ball in 1987 following the re-election of her husband, Bill Clinton, as governor of Arkansas. The jade-green jersey gown was later put on display at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock.
The dress couture business picked up after the high-profile order, which allowed Dixon to place her designs in boutiques in surrounding states. In a local show of support, Arkadelphia business leaders helped pay for the initial material costs for a gown designed to adorn Hillary Clinton for special events during President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. The red gown made of silk, satin, and lace is now on exhibit at the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri.
With a $50,000 loan from the Arkansas Industry Development Council, Dixon created her second business, Dixon Manufacturing, in 1989. A children’s clothing line called Dixon Kids was created in 1997 to supply school uniforms. Dixon’s commercial clients have included Tyson Foods, CARTI, and Walmart. After a devastating fire in 2006 at the Dixon Manufacturing Clinton Street facility in Arkadelphia, Dixon sold the school uniform part of the company, gave the hospital uniform portion to an employee, and retained the food-services uniform portion to run from home.
Dixon became involved in the Democratic Party in Arkansas, serving in leadership roles at the county and state level, including as Arkansas Democratic National Committeewoman for Arkansas in 2000 and co-chair of the 2008 presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton in Arkansas.
Dixon was recognized as one of the “Top 100 Women of Arkansas” by Arkansas Business magazine. She used her influence as a prominent business owner to gain representation for African Americans in the Arkadelphia and Clark County community. In 2011, Dixon published her autobiography, Triumph Beyond Measure.
Over the years, she has served on numerous boards and committees, including the board of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. She is a member of the Arkadelphia Rotary Club. Her accomplishments are prominently featured in a community mural in downtown Arkadelphia, and she has been featured in Southern Living and Emerge magazines.
Dixon resides in Clark County with her husband on land that Dixon’s family first worked as sharecroppers.