Columbus was recently ranked as the #3 US city for fashion (falling only behind New York and Los Angeles), with over 500 fashion design professionals employed here by large companies including The Limited, Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Express and several others. While that statistic is something worth being proud of, some independent designers have found little available support for growing the industry from the entrepreneurial side of things. Rather than sitting around and complaining about it, some of those designers decided to work together and start creating the types of incubation resources that they see lacking in the community.
We spoke recently with Amee BellWanzo, one of the members of the Alternative Fashion Mob, which is working to promote the efforts of clothing design entrepreneurs through their Alternative Fashion Week series of events, with the hope of creation a full time fashion incubator space in the future.
Read on for our full Q&A with Amee, below:
Q: What can you tell us about the background and formation of the Alternative Fashion Mob?
A: The Alternative Fashion Mob is a group of industry professionals that includes designers, stylists, models, set designers, marketers, event planners, photographers and general enthusiasts who came together with the goal of fostering Columbus’ independent design industry.
We were originally assembled by Kelli Martin — Project Runway alum, designer and owner of Anti.Label, and Columbus native — to help stage Columbus’ first-ever Alternative Fashion Week. Thanks to all the community support and interest we received right off the bat, we realized we could do more than focus on independent fashion for only one week of the year, and the group then became the Alternative Fashion Mob.
Q: In converting to a more year-round organization, what type of projects have you taken on since the Alternative Fashion Week event?
A: Our near-future goal is to raise enthusiasm for the Columbus independent fashion community with local events and shows. Our far-future goal is to open the Columbus Fashion Incubator, which will be a facility including a storefront, meeting rooms, photography studio, fabrics and goods, and workspaces for local, independent designers, as well as a place where they can network, make industry connections, take classes, and find a supportive environment that encourages them to stay local and flourish in Columbus, rather than fleeing to a larger city.
A big part of what we’re currently doing to meet those goals is fostering the Columbus design scene by encouraging the Columbus community at large to participate in fashion. A lot of people have the feeling that in order to really express yourself through fashion, you have to be rich, a size zero, or live in New York. We want people to know that’s not true. We believe that fashion is for everyone, regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status or other factors. We encourage everyone to participate and enjoy, which is why we’ve put together a roster of events that are participatory — such as workshops, gatherings, cross-media collaborations — as well as traditional fashion shows for a range of styles. The events are affordable for everyone. General admission to our Alternative Fashion Week Grand Finale runway show is only $10 – and you’ll see 10 collections on the runway from local, independent designers, as well as enjoy music from a great local band, The Girls!, and dancing with two local DJs. There’s a little something for everyone. We want to encourage everyone to come join in the fun!
A: There is a lot of enthusiasm brewing for the local scene right now. It’s an exciting time to be here!
Columbus definitely already has a place on the national stage. As I’m sure you know, fashion power houses Victoria’s Secret, The Limited and Abercrombie and Fitch are all headquartered here and employ thousands of designers locally. We also have a vibrant community of local, independent designers. Locally, people are starting to be more interested in the fashion scene, as evidenced by all the support we’ve received from groups like Experience Columbus, as well as the average person-on-the-street. And there is a lot of interest coming from outside of Columbus. Just in the last several weeks, we’ve done interviews for USA Today and for Air Tran’s in-flight magazine, which featured Kelli Martin’s designs on their cover and touted Columbus as a fashion destination.
There is, however, still definitely a lot to be done to really foster the independent design community. That’s part of what we’re doing as the Alternative Fashion Mob. We want all of Columbus — and then the rest of the world, of course — to be asking ‘Hey, where do I get clothes by Kelli Martin or Aaron James or Crys Darling or some of our other great local independents?’ We want people to think of fashion as another form of art that they can go out and participate in around town, just like music or visual arts. That’s also the eventual goal of the Incubator — to make it easier for local talent to support themselves locally, without feeling like they have to head to New York to make it in the business.
Q: Do you see the role of the Alternative Fashion Mob falling under the “Shop Local” umbrella for helping to support local businesses?
A: Abso-freaking-lutely. That is a huge goal of ours. We are encouraging people to shop their local designers. First step — making everyone aware of just how many talented local, independent fashion designers we have in Columbus to shop.
Q: What types of other business resources exist in Columbus for helping fashion design entrepreneurs?
A: There are a few great local resources, such as the Small Business Beanstalk, that support local small businesses, but that aren’t necessarily fashion-focused. CCAD also just started a small pilot program with a small number of local designers. And there are a handful of great local shops that sell independent fashion, including Substance and Royal Factory.
A: Some of the resources lacking are ones we hope to eventually provide with the Columbus Fashion Incubator, including fashion-focused business resources, meeting spaces, networking opportunities, photography and other marketing resources, work spaces, dedicated storefront, etc.
Other business resources that we wish were more plentiful are ones involved in actually making the clothes, like manufacturing resources. There are very few places in town where designers can even purchase unique fabrics. Maybe we’ll figure out how to tackle some of those issues down the road.
Q: What upcoming events does the Alternative Fashion Mob have in the near future?
A: We have a full roster of events during the upcoming Alternative Fashion Week:
- Monday June 3: Motive Monday at Brother’s Drake Meadery. Participate in screen printing and fashion-focused workshops.
- Wednesday June 5: Colors And Bottles at Via Vecchia Winery. Fashion-focused art class. Learn to paint while enjoying wine.
- Thursday June 6: Alternative Fashion Night at Circus Club & Grub. Fashion show of emerging styles including tattoos, avant-garde hair creations, accessories, costumes, and more. Shopping area for unique accessories.
- Saturday June 8: Alternative Fashion Week Grand Finale Fashion Show at the Franklinton Arts District warehouse (421 W State St.). Ten unique Columbus designers. Ten breathtaking collections. Hosted by Suede. Live music by The Girls!, dancing with DJs George Brazil and Dave Espionage, bar provided by Rehab Tavern, and We Are Glitterati photo booth. After party next door at Rehab Tavern with a DJ. Columbus’ fashion event of the year! And basically all the fun and fabulousness we could squeeze into a giant warehouse.
- Sunday June 9: Bizarre Bazaar at The Garden Theatre. Come here to buy your favorites from our runway. Trunk show of local fashion, accessories & art + bar = best shopping ever.
After Alternative Fashion Week, we have a couple trunk shows in the works, as well as some fashion shows and mixers.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: We encourage everyone to join in the fun. If you’re a Columbus area-based designer, you should be featured on our website and take part in our events. And if you’re a fashion enthusiast who shares our desire to see our local industry thrive, you should also be involved. We’re always looking for volunteers, promoters, and fellow partiers… so hit us up, yo!
For more information, visit www.alternativefashionmob.org.
All photos by Matt Reese of www.mattreesephoto.com.