Columbus is on the way to becoming a Smart City, but it might become better known as a city of smart fashion.
At least that is the hope — and prediction — of the leaders of Fashion Week Columbus and Alternative Fashion Mob, who plan to open on South High Street later this year a fashion-business incubator to support independent designers.
“If we can get our city to be laser-focused on fashion, I think Columbus will find its identity,” said Thomas McClure, founder and executive director of Fashion Week Columbus, which consists of a series of programs in the fall.
“The fashion and retail landscape is changing, with lots of brick-and-mortar stores closing. We’re moving to more independent designers and e-commerce. I love our big brands here, but in five or 10 years, I see them moving to that direction, too.”
Kelli Martin, a Columbus native and Project Runway alumna, came home after dealing with the frustrations of living in California, and she helped create the city’s first Alternative Fashion week four years ago. That quickly evolved into establishing the Alternative Fashion Mob organization, which provides support to local fashion designers.
McClure moved to Columbus from Dallas in 2005 and started Fashion Week Columbus in 2012.
Fashion Week “started with a three-day ‘week,’ and our week is now eight days long — that’s a lot,” McClure said. “In New York, you have people who take off work and go the whole week. That’s not going to happen in Columbus.”
Even so, Columbus is an emerging fashion hub, and the presence of major brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch and Express has made the city the third-most fashion-focused city in the nation, behind New York and Los Angeles. Columbus’ profile also has been raised by winning the U.S. Department of Transportation $40 million Smart City Challenge — after competing against 77 cities — to be the proving ground for future transportation technology.
“There’s so much creativity here,” McClure said.
“In Columbus, it’s more important to be an individual, which is really cool,” said Amee BellWanzo, who co-founded the Alternative Fashion Mob program with Martin. “People of Columbus love expression. However, although we’re No. 3 in fashion, we don’t have an identity. There’s room to build up this industry.”
For the past few years, the Columbus Idea Foundry in Franklinton has housed the beginnings of a fashion-business incubator — dubbed Fabric — that provided the foundation for what is to come later this year on South High Street.
Because they haven’t signed a contract yet, the trio wouldn’t specify the address. But they did say it will be a 17,000-square-foot warehouse space on the South Side. The new Fabric will include a storefront, meeting rooms, a photography studio, fabrics and goods, and work spaces for local, independent designers.
“The first phase is to open, get designers moved in and start offering classes,” BellWanzo said. “We’ll also have business resources, including lawyers, accountants.”
“I think once the incubator gets going … it’s going to snowball,” Martin said. “In five years, I think it’s going to blow up.”