Jody Lentz

Jody Lentz is a free-agent facilitator with a background in publishing, sales and marketing communications. An alumnus of the University of Tennessee and MBA, this Nashville native’s Tennessee roots run deep, and he’s quick to point out the parallels between the growing regional fashion industry and the city’s other leading industries: music and health care. When he’s not busy helping organizations cultivate, in his words, a “high-performance, low-drama culture with better teams, better meetings and better decisions,” he helps out the NFA by lending his considerable facilitation skills. Read on to learn more about Jody, including what item of clothing he’s worn more than 300 times in the past year …

How did you get involved with the Nashville Fashion Alliance?
Van Tucker and I met a couple of years ago, then I co-facilitated the NFA's formation meetings, and then I joined the Board.

What do you think people should know about our fashion community? Do you think Nashville is poised to be a player in the global fashion industry?
This may sound hyperbolic, but the fashion business in Nashville today has many of the same qualities as the music business in the 1940s and 50s. There is a brilliant and supportive creative community here -- the largest concentration of independent designers outside of New York and Los Angeles – and it is starting to draw an industry around itself. The fashion business here needs the fundamental business visionaries like Chet Atkins, Fred Rose and Harold Bradley, but instead of publishing and studios and sidemen, we need to establish a fashion-production ecosystem of materials, sewing and distribution (and much more).

I'm also fascinated by the applications around a "medical fashion" niche, which would dovetail with our healthcare and entrepreneur ecosystems. From linens and scrubs to wearable tech, smart fabrics, and surgical tubing, there are ground-floor opportunities.

In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers and opportunities that the regional fashion industry faces?
Old mindsets about what the fashion, textile and apparel industries are -- the next wave is all about technology and sustainability. Even with the growing wave of "re-shoring" jobs from overseas, we are not going to reboot all the shuttered textile mills in the south. Also, Nashville has a great entrepreneurial history with services, but not so much with "making stuff.”

How would you describe your personal style?
Prepster -- the odd little place where my preppie history meets my hipster aspiration.

How would you describe Nashville's style?
The same way I describe Nashville's unique flavor of creativity: authentic, collaborative and kin.

When you're not working, what are you doing?
Working in the garden, playing guita, taking in some music with my wife.

What's the one item in your closet you can't live without?
It would have to be my Imogene + Willie Barton slim jeans -- I think I wore them over 300 days in the last year. My Nisolo chukkas aren't far behind ...

 

PHOTOS BY KELSEY CHERRY

Mary Mooney

Visual artist Mary Mooney creates vibrant abstract art that’s sure to dress up your home and your jewelry box. Using a canvas of museum-grade acrylic, Mooney’s stunning necklaces are the perfect accent – or centerpiece – for your outfit, and her hexagon-shaped wall art will surely be the conversation piece of any room (see both at her booth at Porter Flea this weekend). We caught up with Mary, who recently participated in OZ Arts Nashville’s Modular Art Pods installation, and talked about her adopted hometown of Nashville, her favorite pair of pants, and why a great piece of jewelry makes getting dressed easier.

Where are you originally from?
I NEVER know how to answer this! I was born in Atlanta but my family moved every up and down the east coast every three years or so, and I don’t really have one place I identify as a childhood home. I have a lot of family in Georgia and Florida, so the South is a pretty familiar place.

How long have you lived in Nashville?
Four and a half years! In six months it will be the longest place I’ve ever lived! Can I say I’m from here then?

Tell us a little bit about your background.
I ended up at Denison University for college, earning a BFA in Studio Art. The career track for that program was pointed at an MFA, then working in academia, but I have never felt a strong calling for teaching and wanted to choose where I made a home instead of following a career opportunity. After a few meandering years working at an arts nonprofit, a stint in retail, and some time as a graphic designer, I simplified things and decided my goal was to make art work as much as possible.  I knew to be responsible doing that I had to make it my income and become an entrepreneur. Luckily, running a business gives all that prior job experience context. The jewelry line was an accident ... or maybe a logical conclusion of my studio practice and what I appreciate in art. My larger paintings and each pendant are the same material, the difference is on this smaller, wearable scale where I zoom in and curate each brushstroke.

How did you get involved with the Nashville Fashion Alliance?
Van Tucker, of course! We met at Porter Flea last summer when she came by my booth and handed me her card. After one coffee date with Van I knew I needed to be a part of the NFA community. (This has to be a popular narrative!)

What do you think people should know about our fashion community?
How full it is of wonderful, passionate people! I used to find the fashion world intimidating, but we’re all just working really hard to turn something we love into a something sustainable. There’s also a big emphasis on community over competition, which is so healthy and creates an environment ripe for collaboration. I’ve been fortunate to work with the teams and designers of Elizabeth Suzann, Emil Erwin and Portmanteau.

Do you think Nashville is poised to be a player in the global fashion industry?
I think there are certainly players in the Nashville fashion industry now that are already participating in or have their eyes set on the global stage, and I think there are a lot of designers here that are staying intentionally small. The quality and design innovation is there on all levels, and I have complete trust in the leaders at the helm of this fashion community. We’re ready. It’s on the horizon.

In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers and opportunities that the regional fashion industry faces?
Affordable studio space is a big one. The downside to living in an “it city” is a lot of the would-be studios are snatched up and quickly developed. Balancing the time you need to grow a business with the time it takes to evolve creative design. I also hear manufacturing and skilled labor can be an issue, though it’s not something I deal with as of yet.

How would you describe your personal style?
Probably minimal/functional with a touch of an artistic identity crisis. The one thing about running an accessories line, you can really pare down your wardrobe and rely on jewelry for variety! I gravitate towards comfortable, durable clothing I can wear in the studio, then throw on some jewelry and wear out to a meeting.

How would you describe Nashville's style?
Eclectic and thoughtful. Since we’re surrounded by farmland, the slow food movement is strong, and it’s been great to see that trickle and create conscious consumers for a slow fashion movement.

When you're not working, what are you doing?
Worrying about not working! But I’m trying to work on that. Hanging with my fella and my dog. Meeting up with a pretty fantastic roster of artists, designers and friends. Cooking. Building furniture for our house.

What's the one item in your closet you can't live without?
My Cecelia pants from Elizabeth Suzann, mainly because I can wear them in the studio, dust myself off, and then go out into the world feeling confident and stylish. I honestly beat the hell out of them, but you wouldn't know it because they hold up to anything. If you see me out, I’m probably wearing them. If not, it’s probably laundry day.

 

Click here to view Mary's website. 

PHOTOS BY ANGELA MARSHALL

Abby White

Abby White is the development director for MTSU's College of Media and Entertainment and a contributing editor to Nashville Scene and Nfocus magazine. She can usually be found in her uniform of a Beg and Borrow boyfriend shirt, Minxx leggings (or I+W jeans if she didn't eat too much cake that day) and her beloved Peter Nappi blue suede shoes. 

Isabel Simpson-Kirsch

Isabel Simpson-Kirsch, Head Designer/Creative Director at Isabel SK, was born in NYC but has called herself a Nashvillian since the tender age of eight months old. She attended high school at the Nashville School of the Arts, where she was able to focus on art and design on a daily basis, further igniting the creative flame in this budding young artist. In 2013, Isabel graduated from the Parsons School of Design, where her senior thesis collection Based made her an overnight sensation, selling out at VFILES in NYC and earning her a celebrity fan in one Katy Perry. Isabel moved back to Nashville after graduation and is a proud member of the Nashville Fashion Alliance.

Tell us a little bit about your background.
I graduated from Parsons School of Design in 2013 with a BFA in Fashion Design. My senior thesis collection gained overnight popularity on the internet and sold out exclusively at VFILES in NYC. Ever since then, I’ve had my brand, Isabel SK. I moved back to Nashville after college and have been growing my brand since then as well as doing event planning and styling. I am currently the Creative Director of Concept56 Nashville, a creative pop up agency project by Jagermeister. I applied, interviewed, and was selected to be on a team of five creative Nashvillians to execute the event of a lifetime, I’m really enjoying it! I’ve been doing that as well as run my brand.

How did you get involved with the Nashville Fashion Alliance?
I heard about the NFA when the Kickstarter launched! I linked up with Van shortly after and joined as a member as soon as membership was available last year!

What do you think people should know about our fashion community?
We are here! And we’re making really cool, unique work. I am a huge fan of my peers here in Nashville. I think there’s tons of creativity and talent and it’s only just beginning to be tapped.

Do you think Nashville is poised to be a player in the global fashion industry?
I think the Nashville fashion industry has some big barriers ahead of us, but we definitely have what it takes to be a major fashion city. Like I mentioned before, the amount of creative talent here is endless, and with the NFA, Nashville Fashion Week, Fashion Art Mecca and similar events and organizations, I think we will be able to succeed at putting Nashville on the map for fashion!

In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers and opportunities that the regional fashion industry faces?
I think that a major barrier that our regional industry faces is lack of recognition.

How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is very relaxed, I wear a lot of men’s T-shirts and sneakers! I’m constantly mixing thrifted items with newer pieces and I’m almost always wearing hoop earrings!

How would you describe Nashville's style?
Laid-back, vintage-inspired.

When you're not working, what are you doing?
Taking my dog Aaliyah somewhere to explore!

What's the one item in your closet you can't live without?
A vintage denim Chanel travel bag that I got from my Grandma!

 

Click here to view Isabel SK's website.

PHOTO BY ALAINA MULLLIN

Abby White

Abby White is the development director for MTSU's College of Media and Entertainment and a contributing editor to Nashville Scene and Nfocus magazine. She can usually be found in her uniform of a Beg and Borrow boyfriend shirt, Minxx leggings (or I+W jeans if she didn't eat too much cake that day) and her beloved Peter Nappi blue suede shoes. 

Heidi Ross

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Bozeman, Montana native Heidi Ross moved to Nashville 12 years ago, and since then she’s built a portfolio of photography work that you’ve likely seen on album covers, book jackets, or the walls at Third Man Records, which recently hosted Heidi’s ILK: Similars 2004-2016 exhibit. The show, which ran for four days at the end of April, featured the talents of several of Heidi’s friends and subjects: DJ sets by Butterfly Boucher and Club Macho, a visit from the Parnassus Books bookmobile, treats from a Steadfast Coffee Bar, a pop-up bakery by Lisa Donovan, and a gospel brunch with Courtney Jaye, all part of a creative and dynamic community that surrounds Heidi.

We caught up with Heidi, who makes a living in creative strategy and content creation, and learned a little more about her background, her role with the NFA, and her favorite pants. Turns out, sometimes the most interesting person is actually behind the camera.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

My background is in advertising. I started out as a copywriter working for ad agencies in New Orleans after I graduated college with an English literature degree. Eventually I began producing on the visual side as well, first in photography and then graphic design. Now I do creative strategy and content creation. I like to see a project through from concept through execution, whether I'm producing all the components myself or overseeing the process. 

How did you get involved with the NFA?

I got involved after meeting Van Tucker, although I already had a number of friends who were either members or on the board. It was such a strong and much-needed organization. I'm a member. 

What do you think people should know about our fashion community?

That it's not just about fashion design. It's producers, manufacturers, marketing and branding experts, photographers, programmers, retail specialists, writers, tailors, educators, bankers, attorneys, business consultants ... it's an entire ecosystem. 

Do you think Nashville is poised to be a player in the global fashion industry?

Poised, yes. Whether it becomes that or not will depend a lot on the next couple years. Both Nashville and the fashion industry at large are changing significantly and rapidly. In some ways, the traditional infrastructure and model of the fashion industry is no longer sustainable, but there are other models that are, and Nashville is in a good position to support and benefit from that shift. There are already some successful brands located here that make strong case studies — it's a relatively affordable place for designers to live; it's centrally located for manufacturing and production; and it's in the national press and media spotlight constantly now.

However, the rapid growth means that housing and cost of living prices have skyrocketed, and per capita, Nashville spends less on art than cities of comparable size. Those two factors are a big deal for small brands and designers. I hope Nashville can evolve in a way that supports and continues to attract the kind of skill that made it what it is.

What are the biggest barriers and opportunities that the regional fashion industry faces, in your opinion?

Lately, the region is its own biggest barrier. Recent legislation in the south is making it clear that only certain people are welcome and wanted. That directly affects the decisions companies, brands, and individuals make about bringing or starting their businesses here. In terms of opportunity, this could be a chance for Nashville and Tennessee to offer a counterpoint, to provide an example of the thriving, symbiotic economy that exists when art, business, and diversity coincide. 

How would you describe your personal style?

Half Georgia O'Keeffe, half Edward Scissorhands.

                                              Photo samples by heidi Ross

                                              Photo samples by heidi Ross

How would you describe Nashville’s style?

This is tough. I wouldn't describe Nashville in general as being aesthetically interesting in this regard, yet many of the individuals I consider most stylish live here. And they all look distinctly different from each other and anyone else. They're not dressing to be different or to stand out, per se; they're dressing for themselves. And I love that.

When you’re not working, what are you doing?

Reading, or wandering Parnassus finding more things to read.

What’s the one item in your closet that you can’t live without?

The honest truth is my running shoes. They save my sanity. Aside from those, an immaculately fitting pair of trousers by Sophie Simmons. So far, she refuses to make more of them, which would be a good thing if I cared about being the only person wearing them, but I don't. Every woman should own at least one pair. Sophie, I hope you're reading this. Make me more pants!

Abby White

Abby White is the development director for MTSU's College of Media and Entertainment and a contributing editor to Nashville Scene and Nfocus magazine. She can usually be found in her uniform of a Beg and Borrow boyfriend shirt, Minxx leggings (or I+W jeans if she didn't eat too much cake that day) and her beloved Peter Nappi blue suede shoes. 

Bob Antoshak

With more than 30 years of experience in the fiber and textile industries, Bob Antoshak has worked on behalf of clients in over 50 countries. He has held analyst positions with the Fiber Economics Bureau as editor of the Fiber Organon, American Fiber Manufacturers Association as Director of International Trade, American Textile Manufacturers as Associate Director of International Trade, Trade Resources, Inc., as President, Werner International as Vice President. In addition to an extensive background in textile market research, strategic planning and forecasting, Bob has strong experience in trade negotiations and worked as a FBI-cleared industry advisor to the U.S. government on numerous bilateral quota trade agreements, NAFTA, the MFA, and the WTO.

As Managing Director of global apparel leader Olah Inc.,  Bob oversees the firm’s global cotton marketing and consulting programs.

How did you get involved with the Nashville Fashion Alliance (NFA)?

After reading about the NFA, my wife, Rosemary, encouraged me to contact Van Tucker.

What is your role with the NFA?

I’m on the Board of Directors and am Co-Chair of the Infrastructure & Economic Development Committee.

What do you think people should know about the regional fashion industry?

Nashville is a terrific alternative to the design and production centers of New York and Los Angeles. Nashville offers a good local workforce, low business costs, a strong economy, central location, improving infrastructure, and a vibrant creative community.

Do you think Nashville is poised to be a player in the global fashion industry?

With a large local design scene, deep ties with the music industry and reasonable cost of living, Nashville has and will continue to attract textile, garment and retail firms. Nashville has strong potential to capture a significant share of the re-shoring of textiles and apparel.

What are the biggest opportunities/barriers that the regional fashion industry faces? 

The NFA has already done a good job of promoting local companies to the global industry and the design community has carved out a highly visible role in the global fashion scene. To build on that success, the local industry will increasingly look to add textile infrastructure in the form of more cut-and-sew, dyeing, finishing, and textile production. Local textile production will only strengthen the design community. It will take time, but with persistence the effort will pay off.

How would you describe your personal style?

A jeans, sport coat and collared shirt guy.

How would you describe Nashville's style?

Barista coffee, premium denim and a good pair of boots.

When you're not working, what are you usually doing?

Smoking cigars while reading and writing about history, politics and the economy.

What's the one item in your closet you can't live without? 

My washed, black selvage Imogene + Willie jeans. Looks effortless, but is timeless in its look and feel. 

Abby White

Abby White is the development director for MTSU's College of Media and Entertainment and a contributing editor to Nashville Scene and Nfocus magazine. She can usually be found in her uniform of a Beg and Borrow boyfriend shirt, Minxx leggings (or I+W jeans if she didn't eat too much cake that day) and her beloved Peter Nappi blue suede shoes. 

Cara Jackson

Louisiana native Cara Jackson came to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt University and subsequently moved to New York to attend law school. After a stint in the book and magazine publishing industry, she moved back to Nashville for a job opportunity in 2007. She worked in a law firm environment for years, but explored her love of (mostly local) fashion on her blog, and it was this love of all things sartorial that led to her next venture.

Cara left the corporate world behind when she launched her own business management company. We caught up with her between work meetings and running home to East Nashville to let her dog out.

How did you get involved with the NFA?
I feel like all roads lead to Van Tucker! I met Van a couple of years ago through a mutual friend at the Symphony Fashion Show; I asked her what she did, and she said she was a creative consultant. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I want to be you and I want to take you to coffee and find out how to make that happen.”

So, what do you do now?
I have recently -- as of four months ago -- started a business management firm for fashion designers and creative companies. I work closely with designers to help them manage everything from their finances, to their vendor and customer relationships, their calendars, social media, email marketing, website updates,, intellectual property issues—I was an IP lawyer in my past life. It varies from client to client. I think sometimes the biggest value that I can offer is that I'm a thoughtful sounding board they can bounce ideas off of.

What is your business called?
[Pause] Cara Jackson! [laughs] I want to come up with a name that will grow with me as I grow the business. I'm hoping it comes to me on my yoga mat.

Where most good ideas are found! So, how can people find you right now?
People find me through word-of-mouth and referrals. Right now, that's because I'm just getting started, and that's how I want people to find me. I'd rather have a face-to-face conversation with someone to see if we're a good fit for each other.

Speaking of good fits, what is your role with the Nashville Fashion Alliance?
I am vice chair of the Nashville Fashion Alliance and co-chair of the Education Committee. The Education Committee is putting a curriculum together for any creative company that wants to learn more about how to run a business. This includes basic business skills like accounting, legal issues, social media, marketing, branding and managing content.


What do you think people should know about the regional fashion industry?
I think one of the biggest things that people should know is that you can do it here. You can run a successful fashion brand outside of New York and L.A. We still have some ground to make up in terms of infrastructure, resources that are readily available, and skilled labor, but it is possible. Billy Reid is doing it, Natalie Chanin is doing it, Peter Nappi, Elizabeth Suzann -- so many brands who are able to make this region their home, and I think that's fantastic.

Do you feel that Nashville is poised to be a major player in the global fashion industry?
Absolutely. I think we're on our way to doing that now. I think we have a lot of brands who are very committed, brands who know who they are and what they want to do. They know where they want to take their business and they're working hard to make that happen. I don't think there's any limit to the way our region can represent ourselves on a global scale. I think it's going to take time, but it will happen.

What are some of the barriers that could make that difficult?
Shared resources  is a big one, such as access to small batch manufacturing. Omega Apparel is doing great things in that area, but there's such a huge demand. Skilled labor is a significant need as well, we need more people who know how to sew or who want to learn. Catholic Charities' Sewing Training Academy is making great progress, but we also need to get the word out to people who would be interested in learning a skill like sewing. There are so many people who are unemployed or underemployed, and we have to get that message to them so they know about the Sewing Training Academy.
And then there's just general education. We need education that's targeted to fashion companies so they understand how to run a business. Most designers start a business because they want to create-- that's the part that excites them. But they don't necessarily know how (or want) to run the actual business side of things.

How would you describe your personal style?
Classic with an edge, maybe? I love to support local designers any chance I get. I've also committed to not buying any more fast fashion. I can't support it, after watching movies like The True Cost -- it's scary what fast fashion does to the communities where clothes are being produced. It's destroying the environment in those communities and workers aren't being paid a fair wage. I certainly do not judge anybody who buys fast fashion; it fills a need for people who need clothes at a very affordable price, I totally get that. But for me, if that means I can't shop as much, I won't shop as much. My goal is to curate a closet filled with quality pieces from Nashville designers.

How would you describe Nashville's style?
I think we're a melting pot of style—what with the college students here, the music industry, a very corporate population like the health care industry. You see everything, you see people in designer suits and people in Imogene + Willie jeans and beat-up boots.
I feel like Nashville is a town that's more casual, but when you tell people to bring it, they bring it.

When you're not working, what are you doing?
Checking out new restaurants, yoga, traveling, which I don't do nearly enough. I work a lot, I'm starting a business. I also work a lot with the NFA, and I serve on the Nashville Opera board.

What's one item in your closet you can't live without?
You know the calculus I'm doing in my head (laughs)! Only one thing? I would say, right now, my Seraphine Design bracelet.

 

Special thanks to Tabitha Tune for the photos!

Abby White

Abby White is the development director for MTSU's College of Media and Entertainment and a contributing editor to Nashville Scene and Nfocus magazine. She can usually be found in her uniform of a Beg and Borrow boyfriend shirt, Minxx leggings (or I+W jeans if she didn't eat too much cake that day) and her beloved Peter Nappi blue suede shoes. 

James Szuch

The banking industry brought James Szuch to Nashville, but he's now working in our city's largest industry — health care — while immersing himself if in the city's most exciting industry — fashion. Szuch got involved with the area fashion industry after connecting with Nashville Fashion Alliance CEO Van Tucker through mutual friends at Art Camp Nashville, and we caught him en route to O'More College of Design, where he teaches everything budding designers need to know about business models through courses Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship and Monetizing Design. Szuch is also overseeing the Nashville Fashion Alliance’s recently launched accelerator program, showing how the necessary business principles of corporate America can be applied to brands in our rapidly growing fashion industry.

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How long have you lived in Nashville?
Been in Nashville a little over a year, I moved here from Cincinnati in August of 2014. I'm originally from the Pittsburgh area; I bounced back and forth between Chicago and Pittsburgh, then from Chicago to Cincinnati, where I've been for about 13 years. I was with Fifth Third Bank there, and then they laid me off — silly people that they are — and I did some teaching and consulting while looking for full-time work, and an opportunity arose at UBS down here in Nashville.

It's funny, I'd never been to Nashville before, but my friends said 'You are going to love Nashville,' and they were right! I am now working at Cardinal Health, managing a team in their third party logistics, providing warehousing and distribution for pharmaceutical products, another industry I knew nothing about before I got involved in it.

How did you get involved with the Nashville Fashion Alliance?
Once you meet Van, you don't say no. (Laughs.) I love her death! We connected and recognized kindred spirits in the sense of living in that space between the right brain and the left brain. I had been doing a lot of consulting in Cincinnati with arts nonprofits and was kind of shifting the model to not so much consulting, but coaching with artists and creatives here, and the Nashville Fashion Alliance kind of expanded that market. I love working with creatives; I love helping people fine-tune their business ideas, to get them to understand what they want to be and what they need to do. The artists I've worked with here really love working with the fashion community. I'm learning so much about the fashion industry, which, if you saw the way I dress, that's not really where I am. (Laughs.)

Despite the name of the organization, I don't think you're alone in that! There's a lot of creative business minds in the mix.
There's definitely a strong community with the NFA, and there's an ethos of helping each other rather than competing with each other.

What is the difference between consulting and, as you said before, coaching?
To me, consulting is kind of project driven, where I come in and help you do something, but coaching is more education, like mentoring or tutoring. As a consultant, I would go into an arts nonprofit and work with them to build a strategic plan. Now, part of my approach was always the, sort of, 'teach them to fish' approach. Showing them how to do strategic planning, how to think about your organization, your goals, and what you're trying to achieve. Shifting to coaching, that's more of a shift to working one-on-one with people, and mentoring them, and helping use the specifics of their business to pull in knowledge or tools or good practices and helping them apply them over the long term. It's a longer relationship.

You are leading the accelerator workshop that launched last week. What else are you doing with the NFA?
I'm on the education committee, so the accelerator has kind of become my baby, but I'm also working in a committee/advisory/’go do stuff’ capacity for some of the other educational programs. There's a huge, busy calendar planned for 2016, because education is a key component of the NFA. We're going to do some accounting, some legal training, marketing training.

The long-term vision is a variety of different kinds of educational opportunities, both large, small, classrooms, workshops, getting people together with mentors. We recognize that there are a lot of different ways that people want to learn, and a lot of different topics that they need to learn about. Some of these topics are foundational, like the accelerator, and some are more specific. As we get closer to the holiday shopping season, we're able to get people together and say, 'how do you prepare for that?' How do you market that? How do you do social media for that? So we want both the broad-based elements of helping your business get better, and very specific-themed topics.

What do you think people should know about our regional fashion industry?
That's a good question, because I'm still learning so much about our regional fashion industry! And maybe that's it; I think the thing that people need to learn is the breadth and depth of that industry; so, all of the different brands and the different products they're making. There's a huge variety. Also, to see where the holes are. There are things that we want help on. Some of the work that we're doing, working with sewing students, like with Omega Apparel, understanding where the opportunities are, not just with the fashion business, but for other businesses to participate.
I think the other thing is — and I hear this about Nashville all the time, I hear it about music, the healthcare industry, fashion — is that we're very collaborative. People in Nashville work together as a community, so that's another thing people need to understand about the Nashville fashion industry, that there really is a fashion community, and that everybody is working hard together to make this a better place.

Do you think that's unique to Nashville?
I really do. I like collaboration, I like when different groups get together to explore where strengths and weaknesses mesh, and how they can help one another, and it's definitely part of the soul of Nashville. I'd heard about it from the music industry and I've seen a little of it in the arts in general — it's definitely part of what's happening with the fashion industry. I've also seen it a little bit on the tech side. I think it's part of what makes Nashville special, and I've heard a lot of people say that.

What potential do you see in the Nashville fashion industry? Do you think Nashville is poised to be a player in the global fashion industry?
Recognizing that I'm no expert on the global fashion industry, but Nashville has not only collaboration, but it's also a one-day drive from like, 60 to 80 percent of the U.S. population, which is why all the distribution centers are here. So that's not just from a fashion standpoint, but I think we have some things going for us and we need to take our place on that stage, if you will.

We have some work to do to get the recognition from the brand and the style standpoint. ... When I first moved here, one of my friends said to me was, 'It's not all country music.' Yeah, it's not all country music, I get that, and to the same token, we need to get people to understand that Nashville isn't all cowboy boots. As we begin to push the brands that are here, we need the rest of the world to see that. It's important for our industry to maintain that diversity.
When we start establishing a presence in New York or LA, right now the distribution is very Nashville-centric. We're selling here. Selling in other places will make our presence felt in other distribution centers will be very important.

What is the biggest challenge we're facing right now?
Local manufacturing is a very big deal. I get the sense of it we need more local manufacturing to meet the needs of the designers. I think the governmental support is key, we need to get the government — state and local — to recognize that this is a part of the economy here. Also, getting those distribution elements outside of Nashville. I tell my friends in New York, Chicago, and other places, that they should be looking at what's going on in Nashville. Fortunately enough, they don't follow me for fashion advice, but it is something I'm always talking up to people.

With the brands, they need to see where the non-local demand is. And that's one of the great things with being online. We can develop brand awareness and demand outside of our region, and get a better sense of where the demand is based on online orders. We're getting write-ups in fashion magazines, there are fashion bloggers talking about us, but we need to get it beyond the buzz stage to the purchase stage.

You've made a couple of jokes about it, so now I'm curious. How would you describe your personal style?
Boring corporate America with a significant other that keeps trying. I'm wearing a pair of khakis and a button-down plaid shirt.

But in Nashville, it feels like anything goes, don’t you think?
If Nashville has a signature style, it's individuality. I think the music industry helps to give that to us, but when you have artists who are successful — there are working musicians here and they're not all stars, there are studio musicians who make their living doing that. That level of personal, professional and artistic success brings a level of, 'I do what I want, I like that and I'm comfortable in it.' We have industries here that accept that.

I got a lot of grief when I started working at Cardinal; they have 'jeans Friday.' Now, it's not that I don't have jeans, it's just for me, jeans are usually what I wear on the weekends when I'm tromping around the woods — they're not something I wear to work! So yes, we have this comfort with people expressing their individuality through fashion and style. We are comfortable being who we are.

What do you do when you're not working?
Photography is a hobby; I love being outdoors whenever I can. I love the area music scene, the theater scene, the opera, the symphony ... I'm still exploring Nashville.

Since this is for the NFA, we want to know: Is there an item in your closet that you just can't live without? Even if it's khakis?
Even if it's khakis? Hmmm ... my hiking shoes. 

 

Special thanks to Heidi Ross for the beautiful photos!

Abby White

Abby White is the development director for MTSU's College of Media and Entertainment and a contributing editor to Nashville Scene and Nfocus magazine. She can usually be found in her uniform of a Beg and Borrow boyfriend shirt, Minxx leggings (or I+W jeans if she didn't eat too much cake that day) and her beloved Peter Nappi blue suede shoes. 

Van Tucker

What is the Nashville Fashion Alliance? How did it start? Why do we need it? Who is part of it? What are they trying to do? What is Nashville fashion?

These are among the many questions circulating the Nashville Fashion Alliance. So, who better to explain than the founder, Van Tucker? But first, you should get to know her. Van, an entertainment and banking industry veteran, was looking for a place to channel her energy and expertise. After meeting a few of our regional industry’s key movers — Libby Callaway, Amanda Valentine and Sophie Simmons — she put the ball in motion for the formation for the Alliance three years ago, officially launching the Alliance in April of 2015.

In fact, after you read this, invite her to coffee. You’ll both learn something — promise!

Name: Van Tucker

Hometown: Nashville, Tenn. I'm a lifer!

Current residence: Most of my time is spent in the car, or at The Skillery. My husband and I have a farm a little north of town with two dogs and two cats, and lots of deer and turkey and squirrels.

Occupation: I sometimes feel like I'm the Google of the fashion industry, but my official title is Chief Executive Officer of the Nashville Fashion Alliance.

Background: Most of my career has been in banking — 20 years at Bank of America, where I started and ran their national entertainment industry group, and that led to an opportunity to be one of the original founders of Avenue Bank. I left Avenue in 2008 to start a consulting company that worked with creative businesses to help build a business infrastructure around their product or their idea.

What do you think people should know about our regional fashion industry?
That it is diverse, and that there's no shortage of creative talent. In fact, the creative talent deserves an infrastructure that will allow it to grow and thrive, and it has become the NFA's work to make that happen.

Why do you think Nashville is poised to be a major player in the global fashion industry?
Again, no shortage of creative talent. There's all of the Chamber of Commerce reasons — we're centrally located, 75 percent of the United States' population is located within a day's drive, the wonderful quality of life, music and fashion go hand in hand. There are all these great reasons, but I'll tell you what I think the real reason is: We are a collaborative, creative community. We have a history of that, and I believe we have the organization and the resources to make it happen.

What do you feel are the biggest opportunities on the horizon?
I think the biggest opportunity probably lies in the area of awareness. Many of our brands have a strong following, but they may not be in Nashville. I think there are different areas in Nashville: people like me, the "old Nashville" — that have been here and know a lot of the brands — and the "new Nashville.” I'm not sure they know a lot of the brands. But then again, we grow. We have seven new brands in the last six months, since we started the fashion alliance. So I think there's an opportunity for awareness, for us to keep up with who's here and what they're doing.
It wasn't too many years ago when — and I was as guilty of this as anybody — we would say, "I have to go to Atlanta to find clothes," or "I have to go to Chicago," or "I can't wait to go to New York, where there's some place to shop." Trust me, you do NOT have to go anywhere to get the quality, the coolness, the caliber of fashion and style that you can get in Atlanta or Chicago, or even New York. I think the biggest issue we face is just awareness. I think most people are not aware of the world-class style we have in our town.


What do you feel is the largest barrier?
The biggest barrier is access to resources, which is important when you're trying to grow your company or grow your brand. I think anyone who is trying to start or grow a fashion company here knows that you have to be really savvy about sourcing fabrics, leather, workers, or whatever resource you need. It's time-consuming, it's complicated, and it looks a lot like a Jackson Pollock painting to a lot of people. Frankly, I think that's one of the places where we can be a resource. We can help people navigate that better.

How would you describe your personal style?
Comfortable, accessible … a tomboy. I’ve always have been a tomboy! I take great pride in wearing our local designers; I think that their brands mesh perfectly with my personal brand. Comfortable and accessible is who I am as a person; I don't like to seem intimidating or arrogant or inaccessible, so I dress to the image that I want to project. And I want people to feel comfortable talking with me, or sharing things with me.

How would you describe Nashville's style?
It's a lot more than cowboy boots and hats. Not that I don't appreciate boots and hats — I do — but the truth is, we're more than that. I love Nashville style. It's eclectic. Again, just as I'd describe my personal brands, I think one of the wonderful things about the city of Nashville is that people are accessible, people are comfortable, people are collaborative. I think people dress in a way that they feel most comfortable. If that is a $10,000 Chanel suit, it looks just as good next to jeans and cowboy boots. We go to a lot of events where that happens — I have gone with my husband to many black-tie events where he had on jeans, a tux jacket, and a shirt with no tie, and I had on a very expensive designer outfit, and I felt just as comfortable next to him as he did next to me.

When you're not working, what are you doing?
I garden, I play golf, I play tennis, although not recently. I work. I sleep. And I eat.

What are you most excited about this year for the NFA?
I'm very excited about our accelerator project (launched January 19). I'm very excited for these 10 companies. This is a pilot program, and we're trying to understand what needs companies have, and how we can meet those needs and help them learn and grow their businesses, and how all of our resources come together to help people. We took the first 10 that signed up; in future rounds, we'll take applications like other accelerators, and we'll make choices from there based on what we learned from doing this one. We knew this was going to be a learning experience for us too.
I'm also excited about the markets we're planning. We're hoping to plan upscale markets in partnership with Porter Flea to make different factions of Nashville more familiar with member brands, and to help those brands find new customers.
I know this sounds geeky — and I'm perfectly OK with that — but I'm really excited about an economic impact study, a cluster analysis. We've talked about this for three years; I want a professional one, a really good one — one that not only measures what we have here, but also gives us some ideas about where our opportunities lie so we know where our resources are best deployed. I know it will make a big difference in what we're able to accomplish.
When I say to people — people from the creative world, the business world, government, it doesn't matter — I get the same reaction from this statement: We have the largest concentration per capita of independent fashion designers outside of Los Angeles and New York. That is a data-based statement that I can back up with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And when I tell people that, when I give people that one little tidbit of information, I watch a physical reaction happen. Their shoulders square, they lean forward they always have the same reaction: Really, tell me more. Where did that come from? What are we doing about that? Data engages people; it gives them an anchor for how they can frame what the impact could be, what the possibilities can be.

When you say to people that the music industry has a $10 billion economic impact, nobody knows what that means, except that it makes the music business sounds really important and everybody wants to get behind it. Because, you're giving them facts. People like facts. But specifically, most people that have the ability to fund us, or provide us with resources or government or program funding, make those decisions based on data, based on fact. And that's how we're going to make our case. I have all the anecdotal information in the world; I can give them solid proof of what a tremendous creative talent pool we have, but until they see the numbers behind that, it's going to be difficult for us to be able to gain those resources from a variety of sources. It will be much easier for us to gather that with data than with anecdotes.

What is the one item in your closet you cannot live without?
My Jamie and the Jones silk scarf. It's marbled and color-blocked with mustard and hunter green, grey and yellow. I wear it all the time.

 

Special thanks to Heidi Ross for the beautiful photos!

Abby White

Abby White is the development director for MTSU's College of Media and Entertainment and a contributing editor to Nashville Scene and Nfocus magazine. She can usually be found in her uniform of a Beg and Borrow boyfriend shirt, Minxx leggings (or I+W jeans if she didn't eat too much cake that day) and her beloved Peter Nappi blue suede shoes.