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Ramping Up

The Fashion Institute Midwest bridges the gap between business and creativity


Omaha Fashion Week is bigger than Chicago’s Fashion Week.


“People want to be involved here,” said Brook Hudson, producer of OFW. “The attendee response has been overwhelming. We’ve become a model for fashion weeks in the Midwest. There’s some pressure for us to maintain the lead!” But the key growth has been in the needs of the local design community, "We have such a depth of talent here, but they need a support system to enable that talent to be nurtured. To help local designers and other young creatives reach their full potential, Hudson and her husband Nick have helped found the Fashion Institute Midwest, a nonprofit business and creative incubator for regional designers.



As a result of producing OFW for the last two years, Hudson has seen the spring and fall events evolve, and the needs of participating designers have grown right along with them.

Last year, for example, OFW required designers to present their ideas to a selection panel. “Having to explain your designs in a very competitive process, really builds real world skills” Hudson said. She met with designers after their pitches to discuss the panel’s advice. “I’m an interpreter,” she said, “a liaison between the designer and the panel, if you will.”

A byproduct of these post-pitch discussions was the realization that OFW’s designers had certain needs that just weren’t getting met.

“Do they need a little money to buy materials?” Hudson asked. “Can they get access to the right wholesalers? Technical skills to achieve the looks they want? It’s too big for OFW alone to address.”

After the whirlwind of last year’s fall fashion week died down, Hudson put together a business plan for the Fashion Institute Midwest in October. By December, she and Nick began to approach potential board members. March saw the finalization of the board, comprised of local professionals with years of experience and a passion for helping young talent.

“But programming has been going on since January,” Hudson pointed out. Workshops supplied so far include pattern grading, basic business marketing, finance skills and creativity instruction at KANEKO (“Could you ask for a better partner in teaching creativity?”), and a four-month long mentoring program leading up to each season’s show.



Acknowledging her nonexpert status, Hudson is more than comfortable finding answers to the questions she doesn’t know. “I am learning a lot,” she said with a laugh. “I know a little about a lot of things. Just enough to be dangerous.” When one of the OFW designers mentioned it would be helpful to learn pattern grading, for example, Hudson located a leading national expert in Michigan. The Institute brought her to Omaha to show designers how to remake a garment shown on the runway for a client of a different size.

“It’s about being self sustainable” Hudson said. “You can make pretty designs all day long, but many can't continue unless they are able to produce funds.”

For the future, The Institute has plans for more skill development, access to inspiring out of town influencers and even scholarships. There is also a significant program encouraging design and fashion in highschools.

But the immediate goal is to tap into each designer’s creativity first. “They have to own what they’re doing,” she said.

Fashion, of course, can’t be pigeonholed. Each designer has an individual purpose for creating. “For a few it's art for art’s sake, which is fine” Hudson asked. But for most turning a struggling passion into a commercial success is the goal. The Institute aims to be a leader in business incubation as well as creative and technical skills. Nick, CMO of Bloom.com and one of the founders of Creighton University’s Halo Institute, is an old hand when it comes to business, particularly in the beauty industry. “You could compare the two,” Hudson said.

“The Fashion Institute Midwest could be the Halo Institute for the fashion industry.” The other board members all bring very strong skills to the table, Mike Schilken, Sam Hohman, Andrea Hoig with Wendy Chapman as Chairman.

“OFW has been able to nurture the talent this far, but this is a platform for the whole community to be involved in the fashion & design industry. This is the city fostering young talent, creating new businesses, creating jobs. So its much more than just Brook and Nick.”

Funds so far have been raised through corporations and individual contributions, like from the Omaha Fashion Guild. “Again, that’s about focus. The Guild is about volunteers and donors.” Hudson explained that The Institute was very low overhead, with OFW & board members donating the operating expenses. "The great thing is that just a little money and some organization will make a huge difference to the young talented people here".

So far, the Institute has received hugely positive feedback from participating designers. “We have a lot of younger designers in our community, still at high school or having just left. The young talent we have in our community is remarkable. We all believe that if we are able to organize a system of support for them, the positive benefits for the community are huge. Over one thousand participants are involved in OFW each year. With the opportunities that are starting to be available in Omaha - they don't have to go to the coasts to make progress. They don't have to give up a dream of having a creative self sustaining job - anything is possible now." Hudson said.

“Right now this is just for the designers of OFW, past and present.” If Omaha fosters an ecosystem of designers, models, and stylists, then the Fashion Institute Midwest sees designers as the hub.

“They need to be successful in order to feed that to the other players,” she said. “We want Omaha to be the place with the best resources and training for our designers.”



Omaha Fashion Week Schedule

While you’re perusing your closet for that perfect ensemble (don’t forget the shoes) for this August’s Omaha Fashion Week, keep the event’s ever-growing schedule in mind to help you plan appropriately.

Aug. 2: New to the festivities this year, Red Carpet Ready is a night of champagne and jewelry at Borsheims a couple weeks before the runway opens. Admission is free to this two-hour event of all things sparkly. Need to bling up your little black dress for your red carpet appearance? Planning to come straight from work and want to know how to make the day/night switch gracefully? All comers get to learn the industry’s tips and tricks for these and other red carpet hurdles, but you should really try to be among the first 50 to arrive. Can you say swag bag?

Aug. 20-24: VIP tickets for the weeknight shows are $65. That gets you front row seats, free parking, and a complimentary beverage at the Grey Goose VIP pre party starting at 6 p.m., as well as access to the Metro Magazine designer reception. Reserved tickets start at $20 and also allow you to check out Metro’s reception.

Aug. 20: Children’s wear (Aubrey Sookram, Hollie Hanash, Jea Theis, Rebecca Robbins, Susan Ludlow, Yolanda Diaz)

Aug. 21: Avant garde (Angela Balderston, Audio Helkuik, Dan Richters, Ellene McClay, Joi Katskee, Mai Do, Terri Jen Buckner, Tiffany Headley)

Aug. 22: Bridal and swim (Chad Carr, Erin Thomas, Jessica Hansen, Kendra Morgan, Michaela Cawley, Sabrina Jones)

Aug. 23: Evening wear (Bertiher De La Cruz, Buf Reynolds, Fella Vaughn, Juantiesha Christian, Kate Walz, Lameesha Stuckey, Leah Casper, Maximilian Suiter, William Torres)

Aug. 24: Day wear (Audra McAvaddy, Eliana Smith, Kaitlyn Fitzgerald, Masey Rost, JLynn Hausmann, Kaity Rathman, Shamina Wiek)

Aug. 25: The Saturday Finale! Curated from the favorite looks of the week, this event’s VIP tickets run $120 for premium seating along the 300-foot long outdoor runway on Jones Street. Once again, you’ll get free parking and access to the Grey Goose VIP pre party. Reserved t ickets start at $30.




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