Lansing fashion industry is growing despite challenges

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By Krista Wilson
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter

Michigan is home to the original car capital of the world and the classic Motown sound, but Michigan is slowly but surely developing an industry in the fashion world.

Fashion Instructor at Lansing Community College Sarah Hegge said, “Michigan is in a tough spot, it definitely doesn’t get the recognition for fashion that it could, but the industry here is definitely growing.”

The establishment of places like the Runway in downtown Lansing and the Michigan Fashion Proto in Lansing help fashion designers build their brand in a state where establishing a fashion line may have its challenges.

“The Fashion Proto puts the (fashion) industry in Lansing,” said Rebecca Clark, owner of Michigan Fashion Proto. “When I opened, this was the only resource for designers.”

Michigan Fashion Proto employee works on an upcoming project.

Michigan Fashion Proto employee works on an upcoming project.

The MFP, located on 735 E. Hazel St. in Lansing and founded in 2010, specializes in helping start-up fashion lines grow.

“This is a place for someone to go from an idea to reality. We help designers get on the right track and be more independent. It’s one thing for a designer to figure out a pattern for clothing, but we help them get it to industry standards,” said Clark.

Located at 1000 S. Washington Ave. in Lansing, the Runway also gives designers a place to start since it opened in 2014.

Located at 1000 S Washington Ave., the Runway is Lansing's own fashion incubator.

Located at 1000 S Washington Ave., the Runway is Lansing’s own fashion incubator.

Iian Mull, owner of Beau Hawk, a men’s tie and bow collection, run out the of the Runway, said, “The Runway makes it more fluid for designers to get started because they provide the space and resources needed.”

Mull said the Runway is also an opportunity for designers to collaborate and work together.

Claire and Shawn Buitendorp, identical twins who created their women’s clothing line, Shock and Awww, a brand that combines their love of edgy and dramatic fashion with sparkly and romantic styles, got their start right in Lansing.

The duo got their associates degrees from Lansing Community College in 2011 then left for New York City, where they currently live, for an internship with popular designer Betsey Johnson.

“Michigan does offer the facilities, the machines and the labor that a budding designer would require for a clothing business,” said Claire Buitendorp, but “Michigan lacks the fabric and mills that would make it a full operation,” which most people in the industry agree on.

A look inside the MFP's work studio.

A look inside the MFP’s work studio.

Mull said he takes trips to New York at least once a year to get the proper fabric he needs because there are certain fabrics that Michigan just doesn’t offer.

Clark said, “Bigger cities like L.A. or New York have more access to fabrics because they have whole districts for that purpose, though it took them years to get there. Michigan is still in an infancy stage and all we need is time, we just started.”

New York City has a whole district dedicated to the fashion design process from manufacturing to wholesale.

New York City has a whole district dedicated to the fashion design process from manufacturing to wholesale.

Michigan needs students to start here and stay here, said Clark.

Hegge said LCC offers a program for budding designers and in the fall they signed a lease with the Runway to get students more hands-on experience.

“The schooling we received from Lansing Community College made us aware that clothing needs to be functional and wearable, as well as stylish and visually appealing, “ said Shawn Buitendorp .

“As the Fashion Technology Program is first and foremost a technical degree, the main objective is to prepare students for technical design. Thus, we consciously try to blend technical and aesthetic design into Shock and Awww’s pieces.”

Mull earned his master’s in fashion merchandising from Central Michigan University and he said to keep Michigan developing in the fashion industry designers should try to keep manufacturing local and domestic.

“We have the space and infrastructure,” said Mull, “and that’s what these other places like L.A. or New York lack.”

Hegge said that in the Lansing area there are many different things to go in with fashion schooling such as theater costumes, bridal designs, textile exhibits, and being a seamstress.

Cody Sehl, project coordinator for the MFP, said, “I went to Michigan State University and completed the apparels and textiles program and I know students who were in the program who use it for things other than clothing, like textiles in automobiles.”

Clark, who attended Pratt Institute in New York, said “The schools here all have fashion programs, my only concern is schools are only preparing students for the creative, and not the technical area so that they can
design intelligently.”

Hegge said one thing people should know about the Michigan fashion industry is that it exists and it is definitely still growing.

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