Local groups provide new opportunities for Valley fashion designers

Up-and-coming designers can find resources at ASU and other local organizations to break into the industry

Although not a "style capitol" like Los Angeles or New York, thanks to the work of a few organizations in the community and new educational opportunities at ASU, Tempe is quickly creating a name for itself in the fashion industry.

The creation of a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree in Fashion Design from ASU and fashion education programs through Phoenix Fashion Week and the FABRIC fashion collective, is opening up new opportunities for aspiring designers.

FABRIC, a collective of local for-profit and nonprofit businesses had its grand opening in Tempe in December, 2016.

Founders Angela Johnson, who teaches fashion design classes at ASU, and Sherri Barry plan to make FABRIC a place where everyone from newbie sewers to experienced fashion designers can come together to help each other and the community.

FABRIC is also the name of the building that houses Labelhorde, Johnson’s fashion directory that helps connect designers with models, photographers, stylists and other industry professionals. It also houses Arizona Fashion Source, Barry’s manufacturing company that helps new designers produce their fashion lines.

The FABRIC building was donated to the cause by the City of Tempe. It is also home to Johnson and Barry’s nonprofit Arizona Apparel Foundation.

The foundation provides funding and resources for the space, along with community programs like sewing and design classes, mentoring and scholarships for up-and-coming designers and internships for students.

Johnson, a Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising graduate, was able to launch her own board sports fashion line, "Monkey Wench," while living in LA. But once she moved back to Phoenix, she had to shut it down because of the lack of manufacturing resources in Arizona.

She began teaching fashion design locally, including at ASU, and started to see a recurring theme.

“I was meeting a lot of students that were graduating from these programs and then had no jobs here and so they had to move to LA or New York or something,” she said.

Barry spent 17 years in retail management for footwear company Famous Footwear before pursuing her dream of becoming a fashion designer.

Barry went back to school to get her MBA from ASU and won a business competition through the school to launch her fashion line. Then Barry went to LA to actually produce her line, which she said was a “colossal train wreck.”

The experience of trying to work with so many different vendors across LA and not having her line turn out the way she wanted it, motivated Barry to want to open resources for designers in Phoenix, she said. This is one of the reasons she believes FABRIC is unique.

“As a designer you can come in here with an idea or a sketch and take that all the way through production,” Barry said. “In most places you have to have different vendors help you do that, it’s that pass-off and that loss of somebody’s dream in communication that causes a lot of problems in the design process.”

Local designer Jessica Kelley, whose line Haus of Miw includes matching clothes for kids and pets, is excited about the resources now available to up-and-coming designers.

“I think it’s going to help designers stay here," Kelley said. "It’s a super exciting time for Arizona.”

Kelley said she plans to enroll in the fashion design program at ASU when it begins this fall.

Another program that is helping designers launch their businesses is the Phoenix Fashion Week bootcamp. Phoenix Fashion Week, now in its eighth year, not only puts on a runway show every October, but finds up-and-coming designers locally and nationally to participate in a four-month bootcamp leading up to the event.

Out of hundreds of designers, 15 are chosen to participate. The program includes bi-weekly conference calls to learn about everything from social media and press releases to costing and pricing, PFW Education Director Alison Callaway said.

By the time they present their collections to buyers in the runway show in October, the designers are retail-ready.

Success stories from the bootcamp program include Dolcessa Swimwear, who participated in 2013 and has been featured in Sports Illustrated's Swimwear Edition, and State Forty Eight, a popular local t-shirt company.

“There are quite a number of talented individuals here and if we can continue to build this market locally it’s a benefit to everyone,” Callaway said.

For ASU students looking to get more experience in the fashion industry, both FABRIC and Phoenix Fashion Week are looking for interns and volunteers. Contact them via their websites for more information.


Reach the reporter at jspearin@asu.edu or follow @JasmineDesiree3 on Twitter.

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