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!