Clothes to their heart

Local designers, store owners embrace the local fashion scene and plan for Fashion Weekend

Erin Adler

The buzz is going strong. If the number of fashion shows and media coverage is any indication, the local fashion scene has been grabbing attention for more than a year now, and it shows no sign of losing energy.

Designers are still designing clothing. Models are still walking makeshift runways. Local merchants are still displaying colorful apparel on window mannequins.

Increasingly, though, local consumers are taking notice – and they’re not just looking, they’re buying.

According to Minneapolis designer Jen Chilstrom, who designs the line djenne recycling, recent months have brought “more support and interest in local fashion. There’s more of a market now.”

Although Chilstrom said she can’t “make assumptions about an absolute trend” across the Twin Cities, she said recent visits to Uptown boutique Cliché, where her line of clothing is sold, have resulted in many sales.

“It’s been completely unexpected. I’m not pushing it, just pricing it, but while I’ve been there lately, everyone who’s come in has bought something,” she said.

University graduate student Eireann Lorsung, designer of the line bara, agreed that the past few months have brought increased enthusiasm for local fashion.

“Along with the whole do-it-yourself movement, it’s become almost a status symbol for a certain demographic of young women to wear something by a local designer,” she said.

Continued visibility

Although some merchants and designers have seen an increase in sales, the Minneapolis fashion scene had a strong publicity base long before sales followed suit.

Much of that can be attributed to designer Anna Lee, who put together last spring’s Voltage: Fashion Amplifed event, among other events.

Lee also organized the upcoming Fashion Weekend, a “crawl”-type series of 11 events, to be held at venues and stores in the area.

She said that though the emerging fashion scene in the Twin Cities isn’t necessarily news, businesses’ and designers’ levels of organization have changed since the summer.

“We could have made this ‘Twin Cities Fashion Month’ with all the shows and events,” she said.

The organization has led to a “new dimension” in what many local stores and designers are aiming to accomplish, she said.

“The professionalism of design has certainly been upped,” she said.

Delayna and Josh Sundberg, owners of Cliché, said about a third of what their store carries is now locally designed and made. The percentage has increased during the two years the store has been in business.

Delayna Sundberg said she has seen an increase in sales and interest in local fashion, and also more professionalism overall. While previous fashion shows offered clothing to look at, those lines are now available for sale, she said.

“Designers are getting more retail-minded. They’re taking it seriously,” she said.

Cliché will be a part of the Fashion Crawl segment and features live models in its windows all weekend.

The Sundbergs said they see Fashion Weekend as another opportunity to introduce new customers to local designers and to their merchandise.

“We have so many first-time people at these ‘crawl’-type events,” Delayna Sundberg said. “The events are good business not just for us, but for all the independent stores that can’t afford billboards or ads in major magazines.”

In it for the long haul

From University alumna Barbara Heinrichson’s perspective, fashion design in Minneapolis is more than a recent blip on the radar.

Heinrichson’s store, Local Motion, sells about 15 percent local items, she said; some of these pieces are designed by Heinrichson herself. The store has been in business since 1985, and her enthusiasm for fashion design has been around at least as long, she said.

“God, I love textiles,” she said. “And the human body? What better canvas could there be?”

Heinrichson hasn’t been involved in many of the burgeoning industry’s recent events, but as a part of Fashion Weekend, Local Motion will host a wine and cheese reception Saturday, along with informal modeling in the store.

She said that lately, local designers have become more aware of where they can sell their designs. Although her store has always had regular customers, she’s also observed a recent increase in fashion design interest among women of all ages.

“More people seem tired of shopping at malls,” she said. “You go in, and you just don’t find much that’s fantastic. A lot of people don’t like (shopping there).”

Corporate competition?

University alumna Christina Nguyen spends most days working at her Uptown shop, Design Collective. The store, which opened in June, sells the clothing, accessories and jewelry of local designers, including Lorsung.

“I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” she said. “And I think it’s important to support local artists. (Design Collective) is a good marriage of my interests.”

At her desk is a dish of small brown buttons reading, “Make a scene,” in reference to the local fashion scene, and in the window is an advertisement for Fashion Weekend. As a part of the weekend, Nguyen will host a “Stitch and Bitch” encouraging people to bring in and work on their “really bad” knitting projects, she said.

“If people aren’t familiar with the local arts and fashion scene, Fashion Weekend is a good way to dip in,” she said.

Although Nguyen said her business is doing well, Store Nico, an Uptown boutique carrying local merchandise, went out of business in September.

Nguyen said the store’s closing made those in the local scene “aware that we’re all very mortal.”

Meanwhile, four blocks away on the opposite side of the street, posters in an empty store window promised an American Eagle will be opening soon.

While Nguyen knows she is not in direct competition with corporate-owned stores, she emphasized that she doesn’t see her store in competition with local stores, either. The atmosphere surrounding local designers and merchants is one of community, she said.

“We’re not all competing against each other. If we’re competing against anyone, we’re competing together against Urban Outfitters or Express,” she said.

Has it peaked?

Josh and Delayna Sundberg said community is an integral part of the local fashion scene.

They stressed that loyalty to their designers is an important part of their business philosophy.

“There’s a wave of young people putting their hearts and clothes out there,” Delayna Sundberg said, energetically describing some of her favorite designers.

Despite the excitement of Fashion Weekend, Josh Delayna said he sees the next few years, not the next few months, as crucial to the success of the local scene.

“Twin Cities fashion is about to locally explode next year or so,” he said. “We’re still very much on the cusp of what’s to come.”