Growth in the ‘Makerhood’ Its 10th Anniversary Ahead, Omaha Fashion Week Celebrates Growth, Impact 12/2/16 12/02/16 10:47:47 AM
Both veteran and fledgling designers get their chance to shine through the various Omaha Fashion Week platforms. Founders dream of creating a fashion industry in Omaha.
Growth in the ‘Makerhood’
Its 10th Anniversary Ahead, Omaha
Fashion Week Celebrates Growth, Impact
By Dan McCann
The Daily Record
Omaha’s Brook and Nick Hudson have their two-year-old daughter at home and their growing “baby” at work – Omaha Fashion Week presented by SAC Federal Credit Union, the glamorous red carpet event that celebrates its tenth anniversary next year and is currently being honored as the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Small Business of the Month for December.
“Fashion Week was started by my husband and a small group of individuals who saw a lot of great design talent in downtown Omaha – these were people who were producing their own shows in abandoned buildings and bars. Nick, in particular, saw a big opportunity to bring these people together and give them a larger platform to show off their work,” Brook Hudson recalled.
Launched in 2008, Omaha Fashion Week (OFW) showcased 12 designers that first year – and welcomed a massive crowd.
“When they started the show that night, there were about 2,000 people in the streets. At that point, Nick knew there was definitely something here. Omaha really wants fashion,” Hudson said. “Since then, it’s really grown.”
Now the fifth largest fashion event in the nation, the glamorous bi-annual showcase supports more independent fashion designers than any other organization in the region. Just last March, OFW celebrated a major milestone when it debuted in its permanent home, the Omaha Design Center.
“Now that we don’t have to move around to different venues and build tents, that frees up our energy to do things more creatively and provide even better support to our designers,” Hudson said.
Those designers – who participate in OFW free of charge – range from experienced to just-getting-started.
“We really love having that diversity. A significant portion [of designers] are high school students, but we do have a lot of veteran designers who’ve been with us for many, many seasons. They come back and create their own collections but also are available to teach and help support our younger designers,” Hudson said.
That same nurturing spirit is embedded in OFW’s very design. The Hudsons and their core OFW team (three additional staffers and five interns) take tremendous pride in serving as a design talent “incubator” offering mentoring, educational opportunities and a professional platform for designers to show their work.
“We’ve created a program that helps the designer go from the point of having an idea through to the actual show,” Hudson said. “We have a selection panel that mentors the designers, and we have regular meetings with them throughout preparation for the show that gives them lots of feedback on ways to improve or tweak their design.”
From working with just a dozen designers that first year, OFW now works over 50 designers in its incubator program alone. “And then we work with another 200 young fashion designers through programs like our Student Night, which happens during our spring season, and through Omaha Fashion Camp, which happens during the first week of June every year.”
For its Student Night, OFW partners with organizations, including the Kent Bellows mentoring program at Joslyn Art Museum, Central High School and South High School, FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) and 4-H.
“All of those organizations have their students create work that is shown on the runway during Student Night. About 90 percent of the audience is high school students. At the end of the show, we do a panel discussion about careers in fashion, which is a great way of capping off the night and making it inspiring and interesting for students,” Hudson said.
OFW launched its annual, week-long Fashion Camp almost four years ago. It welcomes children as young as six.
“We’ve put almost 200 kids through that program,” Hudson shared. “They learn about different careers in fashion and at the end of the week, they have either created a garment or an accessory that they model in a fashion show for their parents. We have the top designers from that program either on the runway at Fashion Week or they showcase their work on platforms during our pre-parties.”
In February, OFW will debut its brand-new Kids Rule Fashion Show for kids ages 5-12.
“It’s really a confidence-building experience for them,” Hudson said. “We’re working with a local children’s wear fashion designer on creating ten collections with about 12 looks in each. … We’ll do a workshop with the kids to teach them how to be confident on the runway and do some fun activities with them while they’re waiting backstage.”
With four Kids Rule Fashion Shows over the course of two days, up to 400 children will be able to register and participate. The experience will double as a fundraiser for Junior League of Omaha.
OFW’s push to cultivate fashion’s next generation reaches beyond the runway – into the classroom.
“We have a great partnership with Omaha Public Schools in helping them develop fashion academies and update their curriculum so it meets where the fashion jobs are in today’s market,” Hudson said. “We just launched with Metropolitan Community College a new associate degree in fashion design, which is focused more on the entrepreneurship side of fashion.”
She continued, “We really have a specialty and have become known nationally as a great place for high school- and college-age designers to get their start.”
As parents themselves, the Hudsons said they understand, more than ever, how important it is to provide those opportunities for children to explore their passions.
“One moment that stands out is the first time we did our Student Night. Nick and I were backstage watching the designers come off the runway. Seeing the excitement and the pride they felt in what they were doing was a huge reward for us. Taking it a step further, when their parents would come up and tell us thank you for what we’re doing and the opportunities we’re giving their kids – we couldn’t ask for anything more.”
OFW will celebrate its tenth anniversary next year by adding new show concepts to its lineup. It is also exploring plans for a second incubator program, one that will help designers turn their work into sales after the show. In addition, the Hudsons are mulling an ambitious, long-range plan to bring fashion production – and new jobs – to Omaha.
“We have a lot of talented people, especially in south Omaha, who have great skills in sewing and working with industrial sewing machines, but they are under-employed or unemployed. How do we get them jobs while also helping our designers grow their business? I think that’s another big next step that will be a great job creator for Omaha,” Hudson said.
While Omaha Fashion Week does not have an extensive payroll (five staffers, including the Hudsons), its ancillary reach is vast.
“When it comes to all of the volunteers and styling and personal assistants, we’ve calculated there’s about 1,000 other people who are behind the scenes helping to produce the show each season,” Hudson said. “It is a small group of core team [members], but we rely on a very large network of passionate people who plug into this ecosystem and help support what we’re doing.”
She knows exactly where the production facility will be located – a burgeoning creative district in north downtown adjacent to the Omaha Design Center. This so-called “makerhood,” located in an abandoned industrial neighborhood, is developing into a place where artists, artisans, craftsmen and designers can set up offices, showrooms, skilled craft workshops and galleries. A group of local philanthropic citizens formed a fund, Future Forward, which has been buying properties to convert for these uses.
Amidst the swirl of past success and future planning, Hudson called OFW’s growth and recognition “a bragging point for Omaha.”
“I think about fashion as the intersection of business and art. If you are interested in art, our shows are applicable. If you’re interested in entrepreneurship and creativity, again, that is the essence of what we’re doing. I think it’s really fascinating that we’re able to reach into different communities and speak to different types of people with what we’re doing.”
United Republic Bank sponsors the Chamber’s Small Business of the Month award. To nominate a small business online, visit www.omahachamber.org. Nominees must be current Chamber members with 50 employees or less.