By Evan Brown, Studio M staff
In the city that prides itself as being the music capital of the country, there’s a growing trend of creatives eager to establish themselves in another arena: high fashion.
Little by little, Nashville is starting to be recognized as a city harboring young, innovative designers and artists on the verge of shifting the fashion landscape.
“It’s exciting to be here witnessing the birth of something that is probably going to be world-renowned,” says Eric Bornhop, menswear designer and founder of Eric Adler Clothing.“Nashville is like a little Hollywood in that respect. There is all these (music) and film opportunities as well as fashion; it’s like being a little fish in a big pond.”
Beginning in 2011, the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund has collaborated with several of the city’s local designers to help develop Nashville Fashion Week, a week-long festival showcasing the brightest and best brands the city has to offer. While designers from all over are welcome, NFW helps put a spotlight on local artists looking to showcase designs inspired by the city they call home.
While Nashville is far from the only city outside of New York or Los Angeles offering fashion festivals — Austin, Washington and Atlanta hold semi-annual fashion events as well — those cities tend to rely on established designers and celebrity appearances to bolster their prestige. What separates Music City from the pack is the promotion of local talent, fostering them into a tight-knit community and providing a haven for creative minds to interact with one another.
One designer who has benefited from this communal aspect is Bornhop, who was awarded the fifth annual Nashville Fashion Forward Fund, which provides money and resources to promising, local designers, solidifying himself as one of Nashville’s premier stylistic talents.
Rather than taking the traditional path of studying fashion design in an academic setting, Bornhop worked as an apprentice of local hero Manuel Cuevas, who taught him the artistry and skills necessary to become a respected designer. While he admits is hasn’t necessarily been the most comfortable path to embark upon, he seems to revel in it.
“That’s what I love most about starting my own business: the challenge,” he says. “I was never trained in fashion design in college, so that part is the most rewarding.”
Another upstart designer, Truly Alvarenga, is working diligently to create her own fashion presence in the music capitol. Having been born and raised in Nashville while also being involved in NFF for five years, Alvarenga, 29, didn’t need to stitch her way into the exclusive community; she was already woven in.
“It’s not like any other city, and it never will be,” she says. “Southern women know how to dress, and I think people just want to be individuals.”
Alvarenga started her own company, Pink Elephants Design, eight years ago at smaller, local venues when the fashion scene was still in its baby stages. Through years of hard work and perfecting her craft, she experienced growth in her artistry and credits Nashville’s fostering community for providing an outlet in which she can hone her creativity, unlike more notable fashion destinations.
“New York is rather impersonal when it comes to fashion,” says Alvarenga. She adds that in Nashville, she’s learned “everything is always going to be a challenge, but don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself.”
The fashion industry goes beyond design, of course; marketing a brand is just as, if not more, important than creating it. No one knows this more than Lisa May, affectionately known as Lizzy Mars, a 21-year-old creative consultant, co-founder of #HALFTHESTORY and a Creative Strategy, Marketing and Communications student at Vanderbilt University.
May is aware that marketing oneself in the digital age is absolutely vital in generating exposure for one’s brand and establishing an intimate connection to the consumer, which she believes is an art in itself.
“Social media is a form of marketing, and marketing is a form of art,” says May. “Art is not reality; it’s inspired by reality.”
Beginning as a fashion blogger in high school, today May serves as a creative consultant to several different companies such as Feels and Spring Inc. (links?)
“Technology is directly affecting the fashion industry in so many ways,” she says. “The ways consumers interact with brands, the way consumers are purchasing, who consumers are looking to for influence. The future of fashion is now.”
As Nashville’s fashion industry continues to gain exposure, the artists involved stress one key difference between their scene and others: a strong sense of community.
“In L.A., the first person to trip you wins, (and) in New York, the first person to the end of the race wins,” says May. “But in Nashville, everyone is there to help each other get to the finish line. That’s what makes this place so different.”