Building a Space for Fashion in Columbus

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Columbus may be the number three city for fashion design, but not many folks outside of Central Ohio, or even in the city for that matter, are aware of Columbus’ fashion prowess. A recent Startup Week panel discussed the city’s burgeoning fashion industry and what’s coming down the pipeline to claim Columbus’ name in fashion. 

Outside of being the headquarters for major fashion companies like L Brands and Abercrombie & Fitch, the city does support two fashion weeks – Fashion Week Columbus, founded by Thomas McClure, and Alternative Fashion Week, headed up by Amee BellWanzo and Kelli Martin of the Alternative Fashion Mob. 

McClure started Fashion Week Columbus in 2010 after working for a local talent agency booking models for retailers. The event was successful in its first year, growing in its second in 2011, then in 2012, Columbus started catching buzz as a hub for fashion design after an article in The Atlantic. Now in its eighth year, the week has evolved to an eight-day affair bringing in a number of organizations to support the fashion industry.

Martin’s desire to do her own thing brought her back from another fashion capital, Los Angeles. Once she graduated, she knew she didn’t want to work for a large company.

“I wanted to work for myself and I figured if I wanted to do it my way, then I should kind of step back and assess what my goals are, and I ended up coming back to Columbus,” Martin says.

She and BellWanzo had connected, melding BellWanzo’s musical career and Martin’s fashion experience into hybrid shows. Although she has a background in music and marketing, BellWanzo gravitated towards the emerging fashion industry in Columbus. It was an industry that could still use a push.

The duo shed light on a different part of the fashion world, giving a platform to more emerging designers through Alternative Fashion Week. The interest and success of the shows morphed things from a one-week affair, to an organization ready to promote Columbus fashion all year long with the Alternative Fashion Mob. And while the fashion shows are great, “There’s so much more you can do,” BellWanzo says.

“We knew there was an end goal,” Martin says. “We can’t just have the fashion weeks. We wanted to include education; we wanted to include collaboration with the community, and that’s where Fabric kind of came along.”

Fabric will provide a fashion incubator for designers in Columbus.

“It’s going to basically be a one-stop shop resource center for local designers, but also for the public,” Martin says.

The Alternative Fashion Mob had previously set up shop on the second floor of the Columbus Idea Foundry before its renovation. Martin and BellWanzo knew they were on to something and there was a need for a facility like Fabric when they were drawing in visitors, even in a raw space.

Space will be one of the many things Fabric provides to designers.

“A lot of our designers, especially emerging designers, are sewing on a kitchen table or in an extra bedroom or something which isn’t really great to meet clients,” Martin says, also noting they are focused on making the space affordable for the many designers who are getting started as a side-hustle.

In addition to about a dozen studio spaces, Fabric will offer community space with cutting tables, machines and more open to those that don’t need or want a studio. Also included in Fabric’s list of resources are classes and events, like fabric swaps and sales.

“Eventually, we want to definitely have more business-like resources,” Martin says. “A lot of our designers are very creative and don’t always have the business side of the deal, and we need both.”

Fabric is still securing its location, but is eyeing a large space on the South Side. BellWanzo and Martin hope that creating that physical space for fashion design will be a factor in bringing in more talent and resources to the fashion community. It will give the city more to promote as a fashion hub than just the non-tangible elements touted now.

Stay up to date on Fabric’s process at fabriccolumbus.com