Fashion for a Better World: Creating Change in the Triangle Area

Fashion can tell the stories of who we are and who we want to be. When you wear a bold dress or a piece of jewelry handed down to you by a grandmother, you are not simply trying on meaningless objects. The pieces transform when you wear them—that skin-to-fabric contact creates a bond—a fantasy, a reality. On a less personal note, fashion can tell us about the cultural and social norms of a time. Yves Saint Laurent’s 1966 tuxedo suit, Le Smoking, made a strong statement about female power, as it was the first popular tuxedo suit for women. Similarly, in 2001, Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer show, Voss, questioned the modeling industry’s obsession with creating a standard formula for female beauty. Thus, fashion has an impact on the way we feel, think, and see.

However, popular cultural and a majority of the world seem to have one view of the fashion industry, a view filtered through the lens of such phenomenon as The Devil Wears Prada. This image of the fashion industry consists of a cold, snobby, and cutthroat consumerist realm based in New York and inaccessible to the rest of the world. But if the fabulous designers from Friday night’s Fashion for a Better World show have anything to say about it, that perception of the fashion industry will be shattered. A part of UNC’s larger Global Entrepreneurship Week, Fashion for a Better World emphasized the power of rising female entrepreneurs and the growing market of sustainable fashion in the Research Triangle. Hosted by Symbology, a label that uses fashion to empower female artisans, the event showcased works by six different female designers. Additionally, Brooks Bell, founder of an enterprise-level testing and optimization firm, spoke about her experience as a female entrepreneur and the necessity of taking small risks to build confidence. Mor Aframian, from Redress Raleigh, also celebrated the modern female entrepreneur in her speech about the emergence of a sustainable fashion industry in North Carolina.

But it was the surprise celebrity guest speaker of the night, five-time Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon who so eloquently captured the spirit of the entire night: “It’s not just about looking cute, it’s about spreading the love and the wealth and the beauty…So we can all feel good on multiple levels.” Nnenna also spoke to the notion of creating this sustainable fashion industry right here in North Carolina when she succinctly stated, “Bloom where you are planted.” You don’t have to go to New York, Milan, or Paris to interact with fashion. There’s an entire fashion industry blooming in the Research Triangle, and during Fashion for a Better World, the audience was finally able to witness it. And what I saw was not just any fashion but fashion with heart. Fashion grounded in social and environmental consciousness.

The first designer to send her looks down the runway was Oami Powers, founder of the contemporary clothing line, Judah Ross. Powers noted the importance of personal history in her edgy and eclectic designs. On her decision to go green as a designer, Oami said, “You want to feel good about the clothes you are wearing, you don’t want to feel like you’re having a really detrimental effect on the planet…” A true believer in the Slow Fashion movement, Oami emphasized the need for quality over quantity in her designs. This quality was evident in all her pieces from the night. One particular stunner was this hand-dyed watercolor skirt, no doubt influenced by Powers’ background as a painter. Oami’s attention to fabric and color can also be seen in her other dresses.

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

Following Powers’ Judah Ross was Kim Kirchstein of Leopold Designs. Motivated by a love for shape, pattern, and texture, Kirchstein has created gorgeous scarves for Leopold Designs in the past but notes that she is now making more of a transition to wearable garments. Her collection vibrated with color and intricate patterns.

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

This skirt with its blue swirling pattern was beautiful, and Kirchstein’s final look, a fiery dress, was a showstopper. Kirchstein’s clothes had an easy, flowing feel to them, but the colors and patterns kept the designs sharp. On her desire to pursue sustainable fashion, Kirchstein said, “The health of the entire planet is affecting people more on an individual basis [now]…”

Next up on the runway was Mamafrica, founded by Ashley Nemiro, a current PhD student who splits her time between school in Chapel Hill and Mamafrica in the Democratic Republic Congo. This non-profit organization takes a holistic approach to changing the lives of internally displaced women in the DRC who are often victims of sexual violence. Nemiro emphasizes that fashion “is one component, but it’s not the biggest.” Nemiro’s team also teaches health literacy and offers counseling for the Mamas of Mamafrica. The actual creation of clothing is part of the organization’s efforts to create economic opportunities for these women. Of the clothing, Nemiro comments, “All of our stuff is very unique. Everything is one-of-a-kind.” Set against Alicia Keys’ “Girl is on Fire,” the colorful and patterned garments that came down the runway showcased this spirit of individuality. But Nemiro emphasizes that the program not only celebrates individuality but also the creation of community: “It’s important that I know every single woman’s name who comes through the program…Once a woman has come through Mamafrica, she’s always a Mama.”

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

After Mamafrica’s vividly colorful designs came the softer, earthy hues of Organicality, an eco-lifestyle company dedicated to selling products that contain only organic and sustainable fibers certified under Fair Trade conditions. Carrie Huitt Rueben, the founder of Organicality, has become a leader in sustainable fashion, and her chic collection of laid-back knits was perfect for fall and perfect for the environmentally conscious. Bags and wallets from Callie Brauel’s non-profit, A Ban Against Neglect, completed Organicality’s outfits. A Ban Against Neglect is a non-profit organization based in Accra, Ghana that helps girls off the street in Accra and recycles the plastic bags that litter Accra’s roads. By teaching girls how to sew bags made out of these plastic bags and other materials, ABAN provides a financial boost and an environmental boost to the community of Accra, Ghana.

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

Marissa Heyl of Symbology closed the fashion show with her Fall 2012 collection. Titled Peacocks and Paisleys, this collection’s crisp patterns, modern silhouettes, and interesting cutout designs created a dynamic set of looks. For example, the flair of this dress and the bright color made for a stunning opening piece. Another favorite of mine was this patterned dress that could easily translate from day to night.

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

Finally, this modern red dress with an interesting cutout stole the show for me. To round out the collection, performers danced to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls),” creating an atmosphere of high energy and female strength.

Heyl founded Symbology with the intention of empowering women and creating a source of income for artisans in developing countries. Named because of Heyl’s interest in how symbols are imbued with cultural meaning, Heyl explains the thinking behind Symbology: “[Symbology is] not only a thread that connects us as humans but is interested in the symbolic nature of our dresses, our pieces…Every dress tells a story, something that connects women, empowering women, celebrating art forms that are dying, providing customers with works of art.”

Heyl uses textiles made by artisans in India and provides these artisans with a steady demand and fair income. Her innovative approach to fashion has changed the way in which we view sustainable fashion. In this case, Heyl has created sustainable relationships with artisans in India. She noted how larger companies like Anthropologie sometimes partner with poorer artisans, but after using these artisans, the companies leave. So no permanent solution to their lack of income has been established. Symbology, on the other hand, thrives on these close relationships. Heyl explained that being on the ground and talking to people in these developing countries has served as the basis of her professional relationships with the artisans.

Marissa Heyl’s commitment to creating communities focused on bettering the world through fashion has resulted in not only Symbology but also Friday’s Fashion for a Better World. Heyl brought together a group of women in North Carolina to show how amazing female collaboration can be. The night also solidified the importance of creating fashion to sustain the world and the people who live in it. Most of all, the night allowed me a glimpse of an alternate fashion universe, one where fashion tells the stories of who we are and who we will be. One where snobby exclusivity is replaced by heart and a desire to see change in the world.

Fendi Spring 2013

Fendi’s collection for Spring 2013, led by Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi, features pieces that are luxurious, modern and impeccably crafted. With the mix of geometric shapes and delicate blouses, it is clear that the designers wanted the collection to focus on bringing different elements together. The variety of multi-level skirts also highlight how duality is easily wearable and can be achieved by the everyday woman. Spring fashion is shaping up to be all about graphic and architectural pieces.





The geometric structures are enhanced by the use of color blocking, a trend that is obviously here to stay. However, the bold mix of white, black, teal, peach and yellow add a refreshing new angle. Leather, fur and ruffles in combination with this fresh color palette create elegant, sophisticated pieces with an athletic sensibility.





In an interview featured on the Fendi website, Lagerfeld said his inspiration for this collection was more abstract than in pervious shows. Instead of pulling ideas from nature, this concept arose from modern art and 3-diemensional effects. This is clearly evident the accessories. From the high block heels that feature metallic-cube embellishments to the redesigned Baguette and Peekaboo totes, Lagerfeld, as always, keeps the 87-year-old brand relevant and trend setting.




Fendi effortlessly creates futuristic pieces while still retaining the luxurious feel that we have come to expect. Any woman who prefers sportier dresses, modern silhouettes and 3-D accessories will flock to this collection.





All photos courtesy of

Friday Fashion Shorts

Runway’s Top Runners

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After 6 episodes, the top contenders for the prize of an editorial feature in Marie Claire magazine, the opportunity to sell their line on, a $50,000 technology suite by HP and Intel, and a cash prize of $100,000 from L’Oreal Paris are beginning to emerge. While some designers enter each challenge with the sole purpose of avoiding the infamous words “You’re Out,” others are more focused on the finish line.

Seth Aaron Henderson emerged as a strong contender in the first week when his punk rock style earned him a spot in season seven’s first top three. Since then he has slipped through under the radar until this week when his rocker chick mother/daughter outfits won best design.

Mila Hermanovski’s color-blocking has made it’s way to the top three looks twice and earned her a win in the third episode when designers were paired up and given the task of creating a high-end signature look and a look-for-less inspired by another pair’s high-end design.

My favorite? That’s easy, and not just because he’s the cutest thing ever and because I love the fact that he wears short shorts in almost every episode. Never having been in the bottom three, making his way to top three and even winning once, Jay Nicolas Sario’s sophisticated, yet still fashion-forward looks are the closest they come to something I would want to wear.

As far as predicting the top three designers, I would guess Jay Nicolas and Seth Aaron, but the third spot is still up in the air.

If anyone thinks the designers on Project Runway are getting an easy break, you haven’t been hearing the judge’s critiques. Although most times dead on, the judge’s harsh criticisms are never sugarcoated to protect anyone’s feelings. I may sound evil, but to hear Heidi Klum calling outfits “hideous”and  “a mess” in her sweet accent with a big smile on her face is sometimes my favorite part of the night!

Keep tuning in to see if the top runners I named can avoid the judge’s wrath and make it all the way!