After a couple years hiatus, local fashion will once again make its way down the runways of northwest Arkansas.
Fayetteville resident Robin Atkinson is working to revive the dormant NWA Fashion Week, and hopes to turn the event into a destination for fashion lovers from all over the region.
Atkinson recently took over as CEO of the organization, and has been preparing for a reimagined event set for March 1-4 in Bentonville.
The new event will feature four days of fashion featuring galas, workshops, and more culminating with a two-night runway show in downtown Bentonville this spring.
A new leader
Atkinson, a Fayetteville native who recently returned to the area after several years working as a museum curator in New Orleans, got involved with NWA Fashion week after she moved back to town for what she thought was a temporary transitional period.
Specifically, she had moved home to get sober, she said, and fully anticipated moving back to a larger market to continue her career as a museum curator once she got her life back on track.
Then she met a boy, and through her new relationship, began to rediscover the charms of the Ozark Mountains. Suddenly, Atkinson realized that she no longer wanted to leave her Fayetteville home.
“We started going hiking, and kayaking, and hanging out in Arkansas,” she said. “I realized, it’s totally great here.”
That revelation led her to begin looking for a new career path that would allow her to remain in Fayetteville, and a friend suggested she look into NWA Fashion Week.
The event had been on hiatus since 2014, after founder Jade Terminella moved to California, and transferred control of the organization to board chair Jordan Sherrod.
Before Atkinson inquired about reviving the organization, she said, Sherrod and others were considering closing it down for good.
“I think they just weren’t sure how to pull off the event anymore, and they were kind of ready to put it to bed,” she said.
But Atkinson saw potential in the brand, and the support it had received in the past, so she offered to take over day-to-day operations in hopes of bringing the event back to life.
“I think I saw an organization that was not so dissimilar from myself, in that, it was really successful, had some difficult times, but is now totally ready for a revitalization,” she said.
A new mission
One of Atkinson’s first orders of business was to solidify the organization as a non-profit, and to answer questions about where the money raised at past events had ended up.
The parent organization, called Arkansas Fashion Week, was registered as a non-profit with the state, but had not applied for federal 501(c)(3) non profit status. Atkinson said she is working through that process now, and plans to have it in place sometime next year. In the meantime, she will work with the NWA Creative Arts Network as a fiscal sponsor to oversee their large cash donations for this year.
In the past, NWA Fashion week donated their funds to a host of other local nonprofits. In their last year in 2014, they split around $20,000 among about 13 organizations.
“That pretty much zeroed out the budget,” Atkinson said.
In the future, Atkinson plans a bit of a more focused approach. Going forward, the organization will have three main goals: to fund scholarships for locals looking to get into fashion; to offer grant funding for local designers who are looking to put their designs into production; and to support the local chapter of Dress for Success, an organization that donates professional attire for women looking to enter the workforce.
NWA Fashion Week’s new mission, at least initially, would be to highlight some of the talented Arkansas fashion designers by helping them get their ideas off the ground.
Doing so, Atkinson believes, could foster a whole new industry in the region, and bolster the local fashion community as a whole.
“I think we can fill that hole in the cultural landscape here,” she said. “We have art, and we all the music festivals you could ask for, but what we don’t have is a well-supported fashion industry, and there are a set of people here who are very interested in what it would look like if we could foster some of that.”
From there, the sky is the limit.
“Our main goal is to create something that promotes itself locally, but that we can also promote elsewhere,” she said. “I think it could become a real landmark event that could provide a totally different tourist attraction for the area.”
The new NWA Fashion Week
Atkinson said she is hoping to organize two large NWA Fashion Week events per year, one in Benton County, and one in Fayetteville.
Her first major event will kick off on Wednesday, March 1 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art with a public gallery talk pairing designers with curators to talk about the relationship between art and fashion.
On Thursday, March 2, a gala is planned at 21C Museum featuring a preview of some of the designs that will be on the runway later in the week, auctions, music, and other performances.
The spring event will culminate with two runway fashion shows March 3 and 4 at The Record in downtown Bentonville. Both shows will highlight designers with an Arkansas connection, and local fashion boutiques in an alternating format.
“In the past, we’ve split them up where the designers have their own night, and the boutiques had a night, but I think it’s important to combine them,” she said.
Ticket and additional information about this year’s runway shows will be announced at a later date.
Black Out Affair fundraiser
In addition to the larger events planned in the spring and fall, NWA Fashion Week will also host a few smaller events throughout the year as well.
The first of those is a called the Black Out Affair, a fundraiser coming up Nov. 25 at Stage 18 in downtown Fayetteville.
The event will include performances by artists Sophia-Odelia Bauer and Christian Davis Serrano-Torres, as well as a fashion show featuring new designs from Material Concepts, Esque by Leslie Pennel, Rosie Rose Designer, Felix Bui Couture and Alberti & Co.
After the fashion show, performance artist Cynthia Post Hunt will collaborate with The Movement Dance Studio and glitch video artist Dillon Dooms to create a special performance piece, and the evening will end with a dance party DJ’ed by Stephanie Stetra Tran.
Food will be provided by MOD, a new restaurant opening in Bentonville, and the show will be hosted by local TV anchor Allison Wise and model Jacqueline Manhattan.
As the name suggests, the dress code will be all black and strictly enforced at the door.
Tickets are $100, and all of the funds raised will help pay expenses for future NWA Fashion Week events. Only 100 tickets will be sold, and they’re now available via EventBrite.
For a bit more information about the Black Out Affair, check out the Facebook page for the event.