Handmade Treasures

The innate specialness of handmade fashion

There’s something undeniably special about wearing something handmade.

My first locally designed garment was a white silk and cotton dress with an orange and black zigzag hem, festooned with a black county fair–style silk ribbon. My friend, designer Max Lohrbach, made it while we were working together on the local fashion show Voltage in 2008. Throughout the years, I’ve added to my collection of local designs: an origami-folded brocade top by Emma Berg, a gold dress coat with matching shorts by George Moskal. When I put on something handmade, I feel as unique and one-of-a-kind as the piece itself.

Minnesota has always prided itself on the handcrafted and the made-to-last. A glance through a list of local companies that have stood the test of time—Red Wing Shoes, J.W. Hulme Co., Duluth Pack, Faribault Woolen Mill Co., Minnetonka Moccasins, and Sven Clogs, to name a few—is evidence enough. And thanks to the recent trend toward all things heritage, handcrafted, and made-in-the-USA, many of these tried-and-true brands are enjoying a renaissance both in their home state and across the country.

The handcrafted tradition continues with a new crop of makers who call Minnesota home. Up-and-coming independent designers such as Hackwith Design House, Martha McQuade, and Lily Stan Studio have found a marketplace for their limited-edition, handmade clothing through the international world of online retail. Other independent Minnesota designers, including Berg, Joy Teiken of Joynöelle, Christopher Straub, and Danielle Everine, have become well-known brands of their own, thanks to strong local presences on the runway and in the fashion community (and in the case of Straub and Everine, on Project Runway). And though the digital realm is an increasing promotional and sales tool in the world of retail, fashion shows are still relevant, especially if this fall’s local fashion week is any indication.

Minneapolis-St. Paul Fashion Week, held September 12–19, has become a venerable showcase for the best in local design since its grassroots debut as Twin Cities Fashion Weekend in 2005. On September 12, the semi-annual Envision fashion show returns to Orchestra Hall with 10 designers. The weekend of September 19–21 wraps with MN4MN, a new annual event comprising tented fashion shows by night and a designer marketplace by day at the Shops at West End Tents, with a mix of designer collections from Berg, Straub, and Hackwith as well as goods from local shops and makers.

This month, I took home my newest handmade piece: a custom-designed, hand-beaded top and skirt, created for me by Lohrbach to wear to the Glamorama fashion show. If you’re looking for one of your own treasures, there’s a wealth of design talent right at your fingertips—I hope you find a piece as keepsake-worthy as the confections I’ve acquired.

Related: Jahna’s September 2014 Style Picks