Wilmington Fashion Week: an outlet for talent


By Cullen Lea

The second annual Wilmington Fashion Week (WFW) concluded Saturday, April 4 with its Designer Showcase at the Wilmington Convention Center. Models, designers, media and more filled the exhibit hall for the meeting and melding of one of Wilmington’s untapped art communities.

“It feels so great to create something with staying power,” co-founder Khalilah Olokunola said. “This year has been so great because we worked smarter. You have to have teamwork to make the dream work.”

Founders TJ Dunn and Olokunola were experienced in the fashion show world, visiting New York and Charleston Fashion Weeks. Through their involvement they gleaned ideas for what would be right for Wilmington.

“I’ve taken tips from other shows in Brooklyn, Charleston and New York,” Olokunola said. “I learned that it’s mostly trial and error. But by communicating with coordinators from those events we have avoided some potential mistakes.”

After its inaugural year, both knew they had something special. They also knew it had to become bigger in scope.

“We were sold out across the board and had to turn people away,” Dunn said. “Also, we couldn’t show all of our designers due to limitations on time. I knew we had to grow.”

Growing meant breaking down barriers between industries to allow the event to materialize. Dunn and Olokunola sat down with various sponsors in the boating and automotive industry. They even developed ideas for a short film with Cucalorus and Freaker USA. The two met with designers to ask for feedback about how to improve their show. Five months of preparation turned into nearly one year of work.

“I’m a cautious person by my nature,” Dunn said. “I knew that we had to work smarter and harder. We had to execute this with excellence.”

As development progressed, so did anxiety levels amongst the team.

“I was nervous the entire time, even to the conclusion tonight,” Olokunola said. “Of course, if you aren’t nervous, then something isn’t right.”

Dunn and company spent hours coordinating volunteers and sponsors.

“Stretching volunteers and scheduling sponsors is a huge challenge,” Dunn said. “We wanted to make sure that they feel appreciated. Without them, this wouldn’t be possible.”

Volunteers like Anna Hogelin stepped up to become the designer showcase director for one of the week’s most important events.

“I’ve never done anything like this in my life,” Hogelin said. “I wanted to cry when it was over; I was so happy and relieved.”

Hogelin spent time with volunteers and the team to narrow the designer list down to six. Social networking platforms Facebook and Instagram helped boost the search.

“It was a team effort finding these designers,” Hogelin said. “I created my own system on prior experience and help from local stores.”

The designers were Crespo, Rove and Roam, Ximena Garcia, Koko Nanga, Dani Oliva and Formation Design Studio.

“We have designers from Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington,” Hogelin said. “In just one year we’ve gotten designers from all over the state.”

All artists presented their portfolios for a judge panel consisting of Natalie Lentz, event coordinator for Cucalorus; Lucy Cherry, owner of Lulu Balou Boutique; Sarah Murphy, co-anchor of WWAY’s Good Morning Carolina; and Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County.

Ximena Garcia won the designer of the year award despite initially volunteering to help with make-up for the event. Once she applied to work on make-up, her designs were discovered and she was accepted into the showcase.

“I just graduated from Meredith College where I studied fashion design,” Garcia said. “I presented my senior portfolio. This event brought me back to life.”

Model of the year was awarded to Lindsey Carrier. Best in show was given to Hallelu Boutique.

WFW also benefitted the afterschool program DREAMS of Wilmington, which provides art programming for children ages 8-18. In a special presentation, students from DREAMS walked their designs down the runway. They were met with a standing ovation.

“Seeing the DREAMS kids walk the runway was something special,” Olokunola said. “We wanted to break barriers and celebrate the community. You have neighbors, boutiques, make-up artists and models all working together.”

The event seems to nix the usual stigma of competiveness in the fashion world. People are happy to have found an outlet where they can celebrate something they enjoy together.

“People don’t have an opportunity to show their talent until now,” Alex Babain, communications director, said. “There is a lot of talent in this town and this is an outlet.”

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