A major fashion aspiration right now appears to aim for nothing short of emotional resurrection.
“Honestly, I am having so much fun with my clothing and my wardrobe—more than ever,” Sarah Edwards tells me by phone. Gazing into her closet as much as into her post-pandemic future, Edwards says she’s really excited about a pale pink fabric she happened upon while shopping. It has gold-beaded starbursts exploding all over it. “It just makes you feel happy,” she says. “I don’t know how else to say it.”
Edwards is the CEO and co-founder of the Twin Cities’ Fashion Week, a biannual showcase of local designers and boutiques. After last year’s COVID-induced cancellations, Fashion Week MN (FWMN) stages a comeback this week over the course of four days (April 28-May 1).
In a return to form, the series is setting up runways in commercial spaces throughout the Twin Cities metro. Whether in person or online, expect high-fashion hats, face shields, and flower arrangements; a show with a “tropical vintage vibe”; the “woodland fantasy” of northwoods wear; and other joyful examples of local couture.
Whereas last spring saw well over a dozen slated events (“too much noise,” Edwards reflects), this season’s lineup, called “Awake,” features just seven—all “very focused … with very specific audiences.”
Tickets to the in-person parts of the show (which follow COVID-19 guidelines, Edwards assures) have almost sold out at this point, although the events are also streaming online. “One positive thing with the pandemic is that we can reach a wider audience,” she notes.
In addition to a thirst for stylistic liberation, FWMN is tapping into a sense of anxiety and responsibility.
Reading almost like a political mission statement, as drafted by the FWMN management team and a fashion advisory council, this spring’s themes are “vintage/thrift, sustainability, and ethically sourced and local fashion.”
In terms of spectacle, watch for those ideas in such features as the eco-friendly pieces by Sun50 that prioritize skin cancer prevention, or the spotlight on women-owned boutiques for vintage and secondhand garments presented by Everyday Ejiji.
As far as post-pandemic themes go, FWMN’s direction this spring reflects fashion-industry trends that COVID-19 has reportedly accelerated.
You can see those trends in the “State of Fashion 2021” report by McKinsey & Company. The consulting firm’s December release states that the pandemic has furthered consumer interest in “fairness and social justice.” In short, that suggests shoppers are paying closer attention to harmful and exploitative labor practices in big supply chains. On top of that, experts have raised the alarm on the resource-intensive fashion industry’s environmental impact.
For Edwards, those themes have characterized a Minneapolis in flux. “I think one positive about the pandemic and everything that we’ve been through as a community in Minneapolis, with social unrest, is that I think people are starting to be more aware of where their clothes come from, and being a little more socially conscious about who makes their clothes, the story behind it, trying to stay away from fast fashion,” she says.
Forswearing “fast fashion” (think: catwalk-inflected, cheaply produced clothes sold under bright mall fluorescence) means eliminating a relatively inexpensive option. That’s where the “vintage/thrift” theme comes in. “Obviously, not everyone can afford [sustainable clothing],” Edwards says, “so I think thrift shopping and Goodwill and all those places are having a moment that will continue.” (FWMN is featuring local options for vintage and resale, like Down the Rabbit Hole and Glam Diggers Vintage.)
FWMN also marks what you could count as a grand Twin Cities debut for tucked-away, dreamt-about outfits.
For Edwards, it arrives after a period of personal apathy. She “just didn’t care” about fashion amid COVID-19 and social unrest. “I was feeling depressed and anxious and sad, and clothing has always been a sense of light in my life—it has been that one artform that really gets me excited,” she says. “And I just felt like I was wearing the same sweatshirt and—not even jeans: leggings—every day, and not doing my hair and makeup. I was just in this routine of sameness, like Groundhog Day. I just didn’t feel good.”
Edwards isn’t alone. Purchases of sweatpants went up 80% in April 2020, according to The New York Times, which also published a defense of leggings in November. Because, yes, athleisure has done well, too.
“I’ve kind of always had pretty loud style, but I think I’m leaning into that even more,” she says. “I guess I’ve always thought of fashion as theater, in a way, where you get to dress up and play a character and have fun.”
She foresees a wild scene akin to the Roaring Twenties, when people “got up and dressed and partied and went out” while bouncing back from the 1918 flu pandemic. “I think the pandemic has taught us, OK, I understand that maybe [this outfit] is uncomfortable, but there’s something about just feeling good and getting up and getting dressed and taking care of yourself and your clothing.”
At the same time, the McKinsey report predicts diminished demand for fashion even as our public lives ramp back up, due to “restrained spending power amid unemployment and rising inequality.”
In a similar vein, Edwards senses Marie Kondo-ing afoot. “My thought is … we’ve been at home so much, so we’re just staring at all of our stuff,” she says. “Before, we were maybe running around like chickens with our head cut off. In every aspect of our life, we’re putting it under the microscope [and asking], ‘Is this working for me? Is this bringing me joy? Is this bringing me goodness?’”
Edwards herself is exiting quarantine with a new hobby: sewing—a potentially sustainable thing to do that kept her eyes off screens while stuck at home. (Pro tip: She’s obsessed with her sewing teacher, designer Keiona Cook, of the youth-focused Lovely’s Sewing and Arts Collective.)
As for that pink fabric—the one with the gold starbursts—you can catch it at the end of the show. Edwards says she gasped over it with her friend Ramadhan “Rammy” Mohamed, a featured designer from Ramadhan Designs. Together, using the happy fabric, they co-designed a maxi-length skirt with an off-the-shoulder crop top, Edwards says—an ensemble set to debut at this season’s finale. “Rammy’s making it,” she’s sure to point out. While a sustainably high-fashion world may await on the other side of this athleisurely year, “I’m not that far advanced in my sewing yet!”