Central Ohio has long been a fashion design hub, but starting a business is a challenge for local independent designers. Apparel companies such as Express, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lane Bryant and Victoria’s Secret act like a double-edged sword, bolstering the industry and providing stability to budding designers while curbing their more fashion-forward inclinations.
It’s not easy for a designer to break out on his own under the looming specter of big-box retailers, but the city’s independent fashion designers are enjoying growing success, thanks in part to the support of local organizations such as the Fashion Council of Columbus and the Columbus Fashion Allianceas well as an audience very proud of his hometown.
Central Ohio’s creative class was very proud in 2016 when the New York-based company Fashion Times named the city a fashion centerbased on work reports that central Ohio was home to more fashion designers than any other city outside of New York and Los Angeles.
Recent events have created a lot more space for small designers to thrive, and social media provides an ideal platform for small designers to promote themselves. Additionally, the ease of creating online stores such as those offered by Amazon and others provides fashion designers with the tools they need to launch their brands. Increased isolation and polarization may have made consumers hungry for uncompromising self-expression and letting go of old norms.
Whether you’re looking for escapism or pure authenticity this season, Central Ohio’s fashion scene is the place to be. Read on to discover some of the boldest looks from local fashion visionaries.
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Children often dream of entering the world of their favorite story, but Esther Sands says she wants her designs to give everyone the opportunity to see themselves as the hero (or villain) of their own fantasy tale.
“We all grew up thinking, ‘I want to be a prince. I want to be a princess. I want to be a warrior. I want to be the bad guy,” she said. “So why don’t we nurture our inner children?” I want to celebrate that.
Throughout her childhood in Ghana, she says, she was inspired by the dramatic plots and striking visuals of soap operas and cartoons, but the characters rarely resembled her or reflected her culture. Sands’ design here comes from her “Borrowed: An African Fairytale” collection, which blends cultural elements from around the world to show that fantasy doesn’t have to fit in a Eurocentric box. By incorporating striking African motifs and East Asian clothing, she says she wants to show that there are lifestyles all over the world worth fantasizing about.
Hair: Sands (the creator)
Model: Rebecca Abau
Location: Hilton Columbus walkway on High Street
Respond to troubles
When it comes to living authentically, Tracy Powell don’t just talk. Powell worked in real estate until 2015, when she decided to go back to school at Columbus College of Art & Design at age 43 to pursue her lifelong interest in fashion. Growing up, Powell says she was always fascinated by comics and novels, and that fantasy-inspired flair is evident in much of her work.
The designs featured here are part of her “Blameless” collection, a line she conceptualized in response to growing civil unrest over racial inequality. The look represents a departure from the more elaborate work she has released in the past. “I just wanted everything to be clean,” says Powell. “Although it looks softer, its design is still bold, so I had to find that mix.”
Striking silhouettes and gold-accented jewelry remind that boldness is the name of the game, even when presented in white. Powell says fashion should serve as an uncompromising form of self-expression, whether on the runway, around town or just for a trip to the grocery store.
Hair: hair brand
Models: Michele Weaver (left) and Chyna Tene
Location: Idea Foundry, Franklinton
Gerard Encinas is certainly no stranger to pushing the boundaries; he designed several dresses for famous Columbus drag queen, Nina West, and his self-taught fashion styles made him a mainstay of Columbus Fashion Week. Perhaps his most daring endeavor, however, is to create high fashion for men that is more than an endless parade of suits.
Women’s clothing has always been at the center of fashion design, giving women a plethora of options when they want to make a statement while leaving men with a limited selection. Although his newly opened boutique, Encinas Designs, has many of the eye-catching feminine looks he’s known for, Encinas chose to show off his masculine side for this shoot. The designs, which he says are unisex, feature floral designs and elegant materials while showcasing the distinct cultural influence of Encinas’ native Mexico.
Models: Matvey Besperstov (left) and Luis Giudice
Location: Columbus Commons parking lot and walkway
As a channel for self-expression, fashion can provide the armor a person needs to face everyday life. So why not step out in a shimmering chainmail?
Blank Canvas Drawings is the collective project of sisters Darsy Amaya and Heidy Amaya-Pena with their mother, Maritza Motino. From Amaya’s vision, they craft metal jewelry and clothing meant to align her appearance with her mind and spirit. Originally an extension of Amaya’s reiki practice, her designs incorporate crystals and color effects to fill the wearer with inner peace and positivity.
The designs pictured are from their “Body & Soul” body jewelry collection. Amaya says heavy metal robes are meant to project power while leaving the wearer exposed and vulnerable. While they’re impractical for everyday use, she says it’s more important to create something with deep impact rather than mainstream appeal.
For those undeterred by the bold and revealing, Amaya says she’s developing more manageable pieces to go along with her larger garments.
Model: Meghan Weinle
Location: Sherrie Gallery in the Short North (White Canvas will have an exhibit at the Sherrie Gallery during the Short North Gallery Hop on May 7.)
This story is from the April 2022 issue of Monthly Columbus.