“How would you describe the fashion scene in Indiana?”
It’s my first question — I don’t start with the easy ones — and after it’s asked, the room falls silent for a second before everyone rushes to answer. The responses of the nine other people in the room are all charged with the same electric desperation to prove a stereotype wrong.
“There’s definitely fashion in Indiana.”
“It’s an industry that keeps growing.”
“Our fashion scene is underrated and unsung.”
Of course, they don’t need to tell me that. But dispelling a myth to fashion-forward people both in and outside Indiana is part of this group’s mission. They represent most of the lead team for Indiana Fashion Week, the inaugural celebration of Hoosier-based designers and industry pros happening next month that’s bringing in some big names, like Channing Hargrove (Refinery29‘s Fashion News Editor), Chris Lavish (Fashion Week Online’s Global Fashion Director) and Fern Mallis (creator of NYFW), who will be presented the Legendary Trailblazers of Fashion award by Indiana’s First Lady Janet Holcomb.
Keep reading to meet the Indiana Fashion Week team and find out what they love (or don’t) about Indiana’s style scene, what fashion means to them, and what you can expect during INDFW June 18-22.
DENISHA “DLANG” FERGUSON, CREATOR AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
I’m pretty convinced Dlang knows everyone in Indy. At least, that’s how it seems because long before we actually met in person (at the Jason Wu fundraiser for the Julian Center last month), her name came up in conversations with friends and contacts as someone I definitely needed to meet. It’s easy to see why: After months of emailing back and forth and interacting on Instagram, our first meeting started off with a hug and the type of enthusiastic, non-awkward greeting I expect from my friends since middle school, not an almost-complete stranger.
Dlang herself is a designer, and even though another city could set her up with big-name networking and a larger fashion community, she’s keeping her roots in the Midwest. “We hear all the time, ‘What’s here?’ … I want to live here in Indiana at least for the moment, so I have to create the opportunities I’m trying to find.”
And that’s how Indiana Fashion Foundation and its inaugural Indiana Fashion Week were born. Her goal is for anyone in Indiana’s fashion industry to “see that their dreams are closer than what they thought,” and to create a sense of belonging for local designers.
“It’s not about me. It’s about people getting what they’re seeking. That’s how we build legacy,” she says.
TEMARA PAYTON, EVENT DIRECTOR
Like Dlang, Temara’s a go-getter. She was the first to jump into the hot seat for a one-on-one interview with me (with everyone else watching and recording on their phones, so no pressure, right?), and when we stepped outside for her headshot, she immediately took on the role of artistic director. (It doesn’t hurt that she has awesome taste in accessories, either.)
Temara’s a true Hoosier, but even with her Indiana roots she didn’t always recognize what Indianapolis could offer to the fashion world at large until she learned of pieces with local connections being featured in New York City.
“I thought, ‘How is New York borrowing from Indy?'” she says. “That was my ‘a-ha!’ moment … Indiana fashion is underrated and unsung. We have icons right here but people just don’t know about them. There’s definitely fashion in Indiana.”
DAUSS MILLER, LEAD PHOTOGRAPHER
Unlike the other team members, Dauss and I have known each other for years, going back to six years ago when I was still modeling cocktail-length bridesmaid dresses at bridal shows around central Indiana. (This was even “BID” — before IndyDressed — so you know it’s been awhile.) Dauss not only is a fabulous photographer but also a supporter of the community, sharing his experiences with budding photographers and organizing Indy’s chapter of Help-Portrait, an event in December that provides individual and family portraits to those in need, no questions asked.
The fashion photography industry here is smaller, he admits, and still in the “trying to figure it out” stage, but the changes he’s seen in the last decade have started to put Indy on the map.
“There’s been this movement for the last 10 years, like, ‘Hey, we’re here. You don’t have to fly out your fashion editorial teams to big cities.’ It’s growing,” he says.
And there’s potential for more of that growth, too. Dauss points out that economically speaking, Indiana is full of consumers who could support hometown industries — but it’s up to them to choose where their support goes.
“The money is here, but it’s not focused on local art as much. People spend it elsewhere, on closets full of designer stuff.”
DANELLE FRENCH, LEAD MAKEUP ARTIST
I’ve followed Danelle’s work on Instagram for about a year, and some of my favorite posts are behind-the-scenes peeks from high-fashion and conceptual editorials she’s collaborated on with local photographers like William Baulkey and Julian J. Jones. (The “Celestial Bodies” series is still one of my all-time faves.) She also was honored as Pattern Magazine’s first “People of Pattern” series interview back in 2015. But her success hasn’t been easy, she says.
“There are opportunities [in Indiana] but you really have to work for them. You have to go out and find them, find your teams, be willing to not be paid as much as in other, bigger places. But doing that work will lead you to that, so you have to be patient and put the time in.”
That’s one of the reasons she’s so invested in what Indiana Fashion Week could become for the makeup industry here, and why she encourages budding professionals to attend.
“For everyone here in Indiana who complains that ‘we never get these opportunities, we never get these amazing events here in Indy,’ this is your chance, so don’t miss it, don’t sleep on it. You can’t complain about things and not participate when they come around.”
QUINTIN ROSS, VIDEOGRAPHER
Quintin, or “Q” as he invites others to call him, is the man behind the videos. In fact, for most of my two hours of interviews with the team, Quintin was methodically moving a video camera around the circle, filming a behind-the-scenes segment for a future video series Dlang’s envisioned.
Quintin and Dlang have collaborated for years, and you can tell just from their conversations that they vibe well. Technically, Q’s official role is as a floater for Indiana Fashion Week, but he’s a creative as well, and he’s excited about INDFW’s impact on everyone involved, not just the audience.
“My hope is that everyone can take something and run with it, as far as their uniqueness, as far as their dreams, as far as their passion,” he says. “It’s a part of everybody, and everybody is a part of it as well. If you don’t attend, you know how the saying goes: You missed it. And that’s kind of cliche, so you don’t want to be part of that crowd.”
AMANDA WOOD, FRONT OF HOUSE MANAGER
Amanda’s job is to keep everything running smoothly during Indiana Fashion Week’s events, and her experience as owner of her own events company and as an events specialist with Indy’s A Classic Party Rental should help. It also doesn’t hurt that she has a degree in fashion merchandising from Ball State University — a fact that came up during our interview and surprised even some of the other team leaders listening in.
“I come from a different space,” she says. “I’m not a designer. I’m not a makeup artist. I just love fashion. I had a fashion degree a few years ago, and I’ve kept up with it. I know designers. I know the models. I’ve been fascinated with it my whole life but it’s the first time I’m stepping into it myself.”
Managing multiple design competitions, press event, a half-day educational fashion industry conference and a fashion show — all happening within a five-day period — is one way to do that. There’s a lot to prepare, but Amanda says she’s most looking forward to being surrounded by creatives.
“For me, the most exciting part is seeing the designs from people locally, of the initiatives we have that week with Goodwill and the teens who will be designing some things [in the youth design competition], as well as the featured and emerging designers [in Saturday night’s fashion show]. Seeing that progression from the beginnings all the way to people who are doing it professionally.”
REGINA WARREN, MODEL COORDINATOR
Regina’s background in modeling and acting makes the model coordinator role for Indiana Fashion Week a no-brainer. But just as Regina herself is a balance of two worlds not normally associated with each other — model/actress and U.S. Army officer — she wants to help aspiring models find the balance between the artistic and the financial.
“I want to teach models about it being a business, not just being ‘cute,'” she says. “The model casting was a little crazy, but it’s the crazy that I like. Just seeing the models come in with their quirkiness and their nervousness … They got to fellowship with each other as they waited, got to practice, got to speak to some of the professional models on the team to shake off that nervousness.”
So, what does fashion mean to Regina?
“Fashion is really a personal journey,” she says. “Being in the military, and being a talent with an agency, even a talent that is freelance, I think I’ve seen all genres of fashion. It’s more about bringing out that personal creativity, whatever that is. Fashion is more than just glamour.”
TORI EDWARDS, FRONT OF HOUSE COORDINATOR
Tori’s no stranger to Indy’s fashion industry: In addition to being a fellow blogger, she also serves as a stylist and owns an online boutique.
“To me, fashion is a statement,” she says. “It’s a statement in time about your experiences, what’s going on in your environment, who you are as a person.”
Ready for a new fashion vibe? That’s what she’s promising from INDFW, from the pedestal models to the ever-growing list of fashion industry leaders the team is bringing in.
“I know a lot of people talk about how there’s nothing to do in Indiana,” she says. “This is bringing something different to the city that we all venture out to Atlanta, to New York, to California to do. We’re bringing it here.”
KEVINA WHITE, REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
To put Kevina’s role all in one simplified package, she’s the connector: between the media and the designers, between the team and the audience, between what you see and what’s behind the scenes.
Being a writer, poet and recording artist helps some, too. Words are Kevina’s creative talent, so it’s no surprise that her description of fashion is lofty and aspirational.
“Fashion is art,” she says. “You get to be a creator. It’s what you’re feeling within, from the time you wake up to what you wear to bed. Fashion is an expression of soul, and as an artist, I see fashion as a state of being.”
MICH WESTON, BRAND MANAGER
If you’ve been counting, you’ll notice that Mich is actually the 10th team member on this list. He resides in New York and wasn’t in town during my panel interviews with the other team members, so here’s more from my one-on-one interview with him.
Mich and I met over a white chocolate zombie (him) and a pumpkin-chocolate muffin (me) at Monon Coffee Company in Broad Ripple. Besides our obvious shared sugar cravings, Mich and I have a lot in common: stories of being raised in Indy, careers in marketing, even mutual friends.
It’s fascinating to listen to Mich, a dynamic speaker and conversationalist, talk about his life-changing transition from being a pastor at Christ Church Apostolic to moving to New York City in 2017 for a job in fashion branding with no job prospects and virtually no contacts. (Major respect for that leap.) Soon his friend Elliot Carlyle, a consultant and speaker, connected him with clients like Rinat Brodach and legends like NYFW founder Fern Mallis.
What struck me most about Mich’s story is that he’s the first to admit he’s not the biggest fashion junkie. In fact, after Elliot invited him to sit second row at a Jeremy Scott show, he recognized that his seat could be of better use to an entrepreneur or blogger who could benefit from the networking. (Let’s be honest, if I were sitting near the front of a top-tier NYFW show, I’d be shamelessly hyperventilating and starstruck, so maybe it’s a good thing I haven’t yet had the chance. 😉 ) Instead, Mich’s chosen to use his marketing and branding skills to help fashion entrepreneurs break into the scene — and to eventually make them self-sufficient.
“I love setting up things to do better than it was when I was there. Period,” he says. “It’s a passion project for me.”
As is Indiana Fashion Week, where he can bring his influential friends and contacts back to his hometown and share a piece of the NYC fashion hustle with designers and professionals here.
“It’s not about producing a fashion show, or else we would just do a full week of shows,” he says. “Instead, we’re doing design challenges and an industry conference. That’s what I love about it … We want that ecosystem to exist, where you don’t need a full-time job in order to blog about fashion. We can represent on a global scale.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT INDIANA FASHION WEEK’S EVENTS AND TICKET PRICES AT INDIANAFASHIONWEEK.COM.