Already a creative incubator for musicians and filmmakers, Sarasota is finally taking a crack at becoming a city recognized for another artistic empire: fashion design. With new clothing boutiques popping up in the downtown core and the addition of SRQ Fashion Week, city merchants have a unique opportunity to support local talent by purchasing ready-to-wear lines created within the city limits.
Presently, however, little to no support is available. Local designers have limited choices regarding where to sell their creations, leading many to move their studios to prominent cities where fashion can be profitable.
Think about it. When is the last time you saw a resident designer’s work for sale locally? Better yet, when’s the last time you purchased an article of clothing downtown? For the 20-to-40 set, downtown clothing options often appear dated or too expensive. Store hours are not convenient, with certain boutiques closing before shoppers get off work.
Recently, I had an experience where a boutique was closed in the middle of a Thursday with no explanation, no sign on the door indicating regular hours. This confused me. I wondered, are these really stores or just hobbies for people who have nothing better to do? How are we going to create a walkable city if there’s nothing to walk to? Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t believe a Wal-Mart in the downtown core will help promote downtown as a shopping destination. In fact, as of now, I find downtown clothes shopping extremely limited, forcing me to take my business to Tampa or online outlets. And that’s a shame, because I like clothes a lot.
But there isn’t a younger demographic to make a trendy clothing outlet feasible! Floridians like to wear flip-flops and palm tree button-downs!
Perhaps in the past, but aren’t we working together to transform this great city into something even better? I’m not sure about you, but I find fashion, style and artistry in general to be a key indicator of whether or not a city is progressive. For me, clothing is architecture in the land of skin. I don’t believe age should be a factor when it pertains to style. Nobody likes to dress poorly, and I know many older individuals with grand wardrobes and a wicked sense of fashion. There is a market in every city for affordable, wearable designs, down to something as simple as a printed tee. (Side note: Clothesline Gallery and Boutique has taken a grand step in bringing in some wonderful fresh tees, if you’re searching for affordable with a bit of an edge. On St. Armand’s Circle, Shore also has some great beachwear designs that can be spiced up for an active nightlife.)
To discuss the state of Sarasota fashion, I spoke to Paul Gruber, the executive director of SRQ Fashion Week, to learn more about the upcoming event and what’s next in local design.
Anthony Paull: What inspired you to create a Fashion Week in SRQ?
Paul Gruber: Four years ago I had a Vampire Fashion Show, and it was really successful. During that process, I realized the need for a huge fashion event that was not geared toward one particular person or one particular event but would stand alone, placing a national spotlight on SRQ fashion.
AP: What local designers are leading trends on future looks?
PG: We have several. There’s one named Russet Coviello who has great eco-friendly designs that can be used for multiple looks. There’s Joni Ross, who literally hand-paints clothes, making wearable art. And this year, Clay Olson, a local pop artist, is collaborating with me to exhibit a women’s line.
AP: How common is it for a local designer to have a collection picked up in a SRQ boutique?
PG: It’s not very common. There are so many people doing it. I know some local designers who are perfectly content with not being picked up. There’s a lot of competition, and a lot of people don’t know how to get there. Having a collection picked up by a national retailer is the equivalent of a college football player being selected for the NFL. It’s very, very difficult.
AP: What’s hot in regard to local design?
PG: Jewelry is really hot in SRQ now. A lot of local jewelry makers seem to be doing well. Gold is coming back, along with bracelets bearing multiple chains. Makeshift scarves seem to be popular in the winter months.
AP: Tell us about the Sarasota Garment District, which you began.
PG: It’s consists of warehouse space on Industrial Boulevard. We lease the space out for designers to create or host elaborate runway shows. Recently, we had a NY photographer complete a shoot there. We’ve also had a local filmmaker shoot video in the space. We plan to host several events in the space for the 2012 SRQ Fashion Week.
PG: This year we plan to focus on the models. A lot of up-and-coming models will be trained to properly walk the runway. Anyone interested can visit the Facebook Fashion Week to learn about more opportunities to get involved. We welcome everyone, from volunteers to models to designers.
SRQ Fashion Week will be held October 21 through 27, 2012.