"I participated in the [fundraising] of $75 million for starting a bank, and it was much easier than raising $100,000 on Kickstarter," laughs Van Tucker, CEO of the Nashville Fashion Alliance, a trade organization for the local fashion industry that met its funding goal this past May. The former banking exec - she cofounded Avenue Bank - is simply doing what she says Nashvillians do best: building a community.
"There was no infrastructure [for the fashion industry] here," Tucker explains. "We have the Health Care Council, the Technology Council, the Metro Arts [Alliance]....We're really good at bringing all those interests together on the same page and focusing on the issues that are going to have a positive economic impact."
The NFA comprises well-known local brands like Emil Erwin, Elizabeth Suzann, Valentine Valentine, and Reese Witherspoon's newly launched Draper James, and its board members include Matt Eddmenson of Imogene + Willie, Libby Callaway of Billy Reid, purveyor Kayce Hughes, model and community activist Karen Elson, and Omega Apparel CEO Dean Wegner. That's a lot of fashion star power for a brand-new nonprofit, whose main goals are to advocate for change and policy, develop shared supply chain resources, and stimulate economic development, with a huge focus on job creation.
"Certainly the direct economic impact is the big reason you should consider buying local," Tucker says. "Plus, I'd stack any of our fabulous local brands up against international brands any day-the quality is amazing, and the design aesthetic is world class."
Nashville is fifth in the country in apparel manufacturing and ninth in textile mills, according to Tucker, but lacks a central force to help develop what she refers to as the "farm-to-apparel movement"-so growth has been slow-going. In conjunction with the Tennessee Grown initiative, Tucker is hoping to refine the supply chain.
"We want to work with farmers to grow better cotton, flax for linen, to have it spun locally, to have it woven and designed and produced locally," she says.
Fashion Focused local Charities
The NFA also aims to do their part for job growth in Middle Tennessee through establishing a skilled talent pool, which Tucker admits is a major challenge. The solution? Partnering with Catholic Charities of Tennessee to create the Sewing Training Academy, which provides commercial training for under-served populations to sew in a commercial environment. Leatherwork and couture-style work will also be taught, and a Master Tailor title will be given to those who complete the most rigorous of training. What this all means for fashion brands here is strength in numbers.
"The connection between the creative element and the production element requires a need for proximity," Tucker says. "We've certainly learned that in the music industry, and the same is true for fashion. This alliance is really about doing things as a community that one company can't afford to do on their own."