Q&A: MN4MN's Ini Iyamba

When local fashion nonprofit MNfashion announced in January that after nearly a decade it would no longer be coordinating a Minneapolis-St. Paul fashion week, a question hung in the air: What would happen to the local fashion scene? Since the announcement, local fashion shows have forged ahead, some produced by local businesses and publications, such as this past weekend’s long-running Envision show, and some produced by designers themselves, including the recent Icons fashion event.

This weekend, a new show is poised to pick up where MNfashion left off. MN4MN—Minnesota for Minnesota—is dubbed an “NYC-style fashion week event in Minnesota” that includes two nights of runway shows from local designers, including Emma Berg, Christopher Straub, Caroline Hayden and Hackwith Design House, and local stores as well as a designer marketplace on Saturday afternoon.

It’s the brainchild of longtime retail professional and local fashion supporter Ini Iyamba. The Nigerian-born Iyamba is a familiar face to many fashion scene regulars as the owner of now-closed clothing boutiques Ivy and Ivy Men’s + Design and the founder of now-defunct local nightlife website theskini.com. Following the 2010 closing of his stores, Iyamba consulted for G-III Apparel Group in New York before returning to Minnesota to work as a district merchant for Macy’s in 2011—a position that came to a close last February.

I spoke with Iyamba about MN4MN’s vision and mission, and what to expect at this weekend’s inaugural event.

Marked Leather’s MN4MN-exclusive canvas and leather tote

How did you come up with the idea for MN4MN?

I started thinking about MN4MN before then, but when I went to Montreal Fashion Week in March, I really realized we have a great opportunity. I walked into a store in Montreal and there were four Minnesota brands, two of which I hadn’t heard of. When I look at the restaurant business right now, the whole farm-to-table approach, I can see that crossing over to the retail side. Celebrity chefs don’t survive here—Jean-Georges (Vongerichten) at Chambers Kitchen, Wolfgang Puck at the Walker—they all closed. Minnesotans are all about supporting those who live here and enjoy being in Minnesota. The heritage trend, for instance, has been very beneficial to Minnesota brands.

What’s your vision for MN4MN? 

It’s not just about a show, it’s about a movement. I truly believe that. The movement is built on four pillars. One is to showcase Minnesota businesses, boutiques, and designers. We have 20-plus vendors—Duluth Pack, Faribault, Mill City Fineries, Marked Leather, Elixery, Sanborn Canoe—we have a lot of vendors in a curated designer environment, and it’s free and open to the public. There are a lot of brands here in the state that people don’t know about. So this is about supporting and showcasing these companies.

The second pillar is about curating an environment that is nurturing and supportive of Minnesota designers. We want to make sure they’re getting the support they need in order to be successful.

The third pillar is about earning a place at the table as leaders in order to bring the community together. We don’t have enough fashion here to do a Minnesota fashion week, but if we are succinct in our approach and we have a clear mission, we can get national attention.

The fourth is to bring everything full circle. In order to create success for our designers, we must create an environment and viable opportunities in which they can be successful—selling in stores, for instance. We want to create a wholesale marketplace that will allow our designers to succeed and earn a living after the fashion shows are done. We want to become a show that when designers have made it to the MN4MN show, they’ll be able to make a living. We’ll create a space where designers be in front of buyers. We’re not just about an event—we’re more than that. And that’s what we want to build on as we go forward.

Oh Dier’s fashion icon “Block Bots,” made exclusively for MN4MN

Target is a lead sponsor of the event. What is Target’s involvement in the show?

Target’s involvement is an opportunity for them to be a part of the designer fashion community. When we sat down with Target, one of the things they showed us was a video of what they’ve done—like being a part of CFDA. They do a lot in New York, but they saw the opportunity be involved with the local fashion community. This may be one of the first public fashion events they’ve done locally. They get to showcase their Target-owned brands—Merona, Mossimo Supply, Mossimo Black on Friday night. On Saturday night, they close out the show with nine Target designers. We all know Emma Berg as a designer, but a lot of people may not know Emma works for Target. Same thing with Lindsey Hopkins. Even though they work for Target, they are involved with the designer community.

What part of the show are you most excited about? I noticed there are a couple of exclusive MN4MN collaborative products, including Caroline Hayden with Faribault Woolen Mill, Marked Leather totes, fashion icon “Block Bots” by Oh Dier, and a custom MN4MN bicycle by Handsome Cycles.

It’s definitely about the collaborations. I’m really really excited about the experience we’re going to give the attendees. This is our first year, and when I take a step back and look at what we’ve accomplished, I think it’s great that we’ve been able to collaborate with Faribault, and with Handsome Cycles, all these things go back to one of our goals, which is to support and nurture our emerging designers. The proceeds from the Caroline Hayden capes and shawls and from the Handsome Cycle bike raffle will benefit the MN4MN fashion fund, which will go toward a university’s department to help support student designers.

MN4MN takes place Fri., Sept. 19 & Sat., Sept. 20 at the Tents at West End in St. Louis Park, with VIP doors at 6 p.m. and GA doors at 7:30 p.m. both nights plus a free afternoon market from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. Fashion show tickets start at $30 and range from $75-$150 for VIP. For tickets and more information, visit mn4mn.com.

Learn more about the event at the below video (in which I made a brief cameo):

More designer sketches from MN4MN: 

Sketch by Christopher Straub

Sketch by Emma Berg

Sketch by Lindsey Hopkins

Sketch by Natasha Toth