MNfashion Announces Its End

After eight years of being the central force behind Minnesota’s local fashion week, fashion nonprofit MNfashion is no more.

The news isn’t surprising for anyone who follows the local fashion scene; earlier this year, the organization announced it would cease from hosting Minneapolis-St. Paul Fashion Week or producing its signature runway event, the Shows.

Though no official announcement was issued, Pioneer Press shopping and style reporter Nancy Ngo astutely pointed out that the website had gone dark with the following message dated September 26, 2014:

“It has become clear MNfashion’s role and online presence is not needed as it once was. And this is a good thing. It is a testament to the hard-working designers, retailers, event producers and vendors who work to keep the local fashion market alive. As a result, MNfashion is not needed to organize a calendar of events or produce shows to showcase talent to the public like it has in years past. And so, MNfashion will be closing our doors as an organization.”

This begs the question: Has the Twin Cities fashion community outgrown the need for a producing organization? It’s clear that the state of local fashion has grown and evolved to become much more sophisticated since MNfashion was founded by Anna Lee in 2006, which itself came to be as a result of the success of Lee’s annual local fashion event Voltage: Fashion Amplified, which began in 2004 (and continued until 2013). Voltage and MNfashion were crucial in bringing together local fashion designers under one umbrella for the first time, continually setting the bar higher from year to year.

And the lack of MNfashion’s involvement over the past year certainly hasn’t stopped designers to produce their own shows–such as the newly-established Cult Collective, a group of fashion designers, creative strategists, and producers–or independent producers such as Ini Iyamba and Dan Vargas to fill the gap with new shows (MN4MN and Rumble on the Runway & Minnesota Fashion Awards, respectively). And with Voltage’s and the Shows’ absence, the long-running Envision fashion show, produced by modeling agency Ignite, has stepped up its game to become the preeminent runway event to showcase some of the area’s best emerging designers.

Thom Navarro, a local designer and one of the producers behind Cult Collective, reacted to the news, saying, “MNfashion closing their doors is the end of an era. They provided so many opportunities for local designers to reach new audiences. But the local industry has grown and matured over these past years. The fashion community will always need a way to communicate and stand together, and I feel it is now time for us to take on that responsibility.”

Local designer Emma Berg, who has participated in MNfashion events and produced her own shows, says the news of MNfashion’s demise is unsurprising. “The notification was put out on September 26–over a month ago–without being noticed,” she says. “What that shows is that the organization itself had stopped being relevant. They became focused on throwing events, and lost touch of their central purpose. The last show I saw had the designers out of order, no notification of what designer was which, limited exposure of press images to media sponsors, and a VIP front row that was bought by individuals that rarely, if ever, purchase local fashion. MNfashion long ago became diluted, with the only name being remembered after the last event being ‘MNfashion,’ and this wasn’t due to the lack of talent they were showing, but rather what they chose to emphasize.”

A look by George Moskal at Voltage 2010. Photo: Stephen Stephens

Former Minneapolis designer (and one-time Project Runway contestant) Raul Osorio, who had been part of the Twin Cities fashion scene from 2010 until he moved to New York City last year, had experience working with MNfashion as well as producing his own shows, and says the organization was vital to his formative design years.

“Anna Lee did a wonderful job creating MNfashion,” Osorio says, “I feel very lucky that she gave me the opportunity to showcase my work through Voltage. She had an amazing vision for the local fashion scene in Minnesota, and she surrounded herself with an equally talented and passionate team. It was sad to see how MNfashion was never the same after she stepped down. But it doesn’t really surprise me that MNfashion is not able to function anymore–it was a nonprofit organization, so most people were donating their time to run it. MNfashion did what they could with what they had to work with. I’m very grateful to MNfashion and I wish it still was there because emerging designers need some sort of direction when they are taking their first steps.”

Minneapolis designer and fellow Project Runway alum Danielle Everine agrees. “The organization was instrumental in my development as a professional designer. Those of us who benefited from the organization during our formative years have grown to a place where we can produce our own showcases.” With MNfashion’s absence, she says, “Those who are just coming up in their careers will not be so lucky.”

Freelance creative director Kate Iverson, who served on MNfashion’s advisory board in its earlier years and currently serves on the board of directors for Northeast gallery Public Functionary, has a history working with local nonprofits, and she sees MNfashion’s dissolution as unfortunate but inevitable.

“There wasn’t enough money to pay people for their time, and no one wanted to step up the the plate,” she surmises. “It is a lot of work for not a huge return, so I get it. I think if they would have gotten away from producing shows–which is a lot of stress, time, and money–and focused more on being a connecting resource for the public and for designers to flourish and take their talents to the next level through education and business, it would have made more sense.”

In MNfashion’s absence, Iverson says it would still be beneficial to have a dedicated organization in place to help organize a local fashion week through a calendar, print materials and design, community outreach and PR, similar to what the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA) does for Art-A-Whirl. “It’s just nice to have a sense of an overarching brand message for everything, even if it’s just as a communication hub.”

Looks by Hackwith Design House at the Shows, fall 2013. Photo: Rhea Pappas

Berg says, “A functioning and evolving MNfashion organization could have continued to have a positive impact on the fashion community, in organizing a cohesive fashion calendar, exposing designers to new clients and boutique, boutiques to new clients, a broader press outlet, and helping to create a working/repeatable business model for production. I hope, in time, something does come in to replace MNfashion because I believe a parent organization can help make our fashion community stronger through mentoring, curating, and partnering across involved and interested areas to share resources and ideas. The community, boutiques, and local designers will continue to move forward, create collections, lookbooks, sell interesting and hard-to-find garments. But could it be done better and at a faster trajectory with a strong and positive organization leading? Yes, I think so.”

Osorio agrees: “I think Minnesota is ready to have a strong fashion week, and it could really become a destination in the Midwest for people to see all the amazing talent that Minnesota has to offer. I do believe that in order to do make the fashion scene strong we need someone to take the lead, but in order to do this we must all support the local fashion scene by buying local products and not just showing up to an event because you want to have your photo taken with your friends.”

Though Minnesota’s fashion industry is growing and increasingly self-sufficient, it seems fallacious to suggest that it no longer needs the support of an organized local fashion week. Cities of similar (or smaller) size, such as Portland, Oregon, and Charleston, South Carolina, boast high-profile, professionally-produced fashion weeks that rely chiefly on local sponsorship–for instance, Portland’s edition is presented by Aveda Institute Portland, the Art Institute of Portland and other local businesses. It stands to reason that a Minneapolis-St. Paul edition could exist with the support of similar sponsorships.

While new shows such as MN4MN have attempted to continue the spirit of a local fashion week, we have a long way to go. Though more experienced designers are able to produce their own shows, emerging designers as well as the fashion community as a whole could certainly benefit from central leadership with a clear vision and message, along with the support of the community and local businesses. The question now is: Will someone step up to the plate? And if so, who and when?