When you think fashion, Fort Wayne is probably not the first city that comes to mind.
But some local entrepreneurs are out to change that.
In September, Fort Wayne was singled out by CNBC as a national hub for “Made in America” clothes, now that 97 percent of apparel sold in the U.S. is made overseas, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association.
Now one of the men responsible for putting Fort Wayne on the runway is hosting a fashion show to give local designers a chance to show off their stuff.
What started as a small gathering of about 75 fashionistas has grown into a local fashion show that attracts upwards of 200 people and features five area designers.
It’s the Fort Wayne Fashion Show 4.0, and it’s proof of Fort Wayne’s growing fashion scene.
“At first everyone would say, 'Fort Wayne and fashion? What’s going on?'” said local designer Anton Babich, who started the show. “But there’s quite a bit of buzz we have here with large fashion companies, and a few of us little guys getting our names on the board.”
Babich himself is one of the “little guys,” as the one-man-band behind an international brand for men’s dress shirts called Anton Alexander he started through a Kickstarter campaign in December 2013. Since then, he’s been selling U.S.-made shirts online in 22 countries.
Now he’s starting a blog on his website FortWayneFashion.com to bring the many faces of our local fashion industry together and have an effect.
“There are fashion-forward people here,” Babich said. “You just don’t see as many stores or hear as many people talk about it because we are still a smaller city.”
So he’s out to change that. The blog isn’t necessarily about proving Fort Wayne is as fashion forward as Manhattan or Milan, Anton said, although some locals do keep up with the trends and times. Instead, he wants to show how local designers are harnessing the web and Fort Wayne’s manufacturing plants to make their startups a success here.
What brings many “Made in America” designers to Fort Wayne is the lower cost of manufacturing and living here compared with bigger cities.
Even though Cinda Boomershine, founder of the travel and accessories line called cinda b, was born and raised in Atlanta and gets inspiration from travels all over the world, she moved her headquarters to Fort Wayne to save on manufacturing costs, according to Associate Art Director Alex Baker. Now the company produces its products right here.
“We feel creativity is alive and well in this city,” Baker said.
Cinda b is not on Babich’s blog, but he’s hired two summer interns from a fashion marketing and management program at Indiana Tech to help track down similar stories from designers around town and express what it is about Fort Wayne that attracts designers.
Indiana Tech began offering Fort Wayne’s first bachelor's degree program in fashion marketing and management in 2012, and Babich hopes it continues to bring young people interested in the industry to our area.
One story he and his crew might find worth following is that of Olivia Fabian and her mom, Cheryl Fabian, who own a “Made in America” retro swimsuit line in Fort Wayne called OFabz Swimwear.
From April 29 through May 4, these ladies took their high-waisted styles to the Lone Star State, where they dressed 18 women and two children for Austin Fashion Week alongside the stars of Lifetime TV’s hit show "Project Runway."
OFabz Swimwear is sold online and in boutiques around the world, but they had only participated in one fashion show before the national event. Being chosen for the show was huge honor, Olivia Fabian said.
“Although Fort Wayne may not be known for being at the forefront of the fashion world, it has provided us with a place of creativity and encouragement,” she said. “Designing in Fort Wayne has allowed us to be ourselves and take risks we might not have taken if we were under the scrutiny of a larger city.”
Although the Fort Wayne fashion show will be less of a national event than Austin Fashion Week, Babich hopes it gives Fort Wayne a reason to recognize our potential for growing our own fashion scene in the coming years. If excitement and interest continues to build around our small business owners finding success here, we might see more designers thinking “Fort Wayne” when they want to make it big.
Fort Wayne Fashion Show 4.0
The Fort Wayne Fashion Show 4.0 will feature five local designers. There will be live music entertainment by Crush House Entertainment LLC.
When: Friday, June 20. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; show starts at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Yolo Event Center, 4201 N. Wells St.
Cost: $15 for one person. $25 per couple.
To pre-order tickets, visit this website: