“You probably don’t think fashion would ever come from here,” says 21-year-old Destini Duran. The Santa Fe Community College student designs “edgy, sophisticated” ready-to-wear and high-fashion evening looks for her clothing line, Destinista Fashions, in her hometown of Española, N.M.
Duran opened New Mexico Fashion Week’s first-ever runway show last May as a student designer with the collection that earned her a degree from SFCC fashion school. Though the exposure was the most she’d ever received, she didn’t meet any buyers, in part because she didn’t yet have a manufacturer.
“You have to find a manufacturer who’s willing to do small amounts. ... To sell in little boutiques, you know, you only put six to seven pieces in a store.”
A Tower of Blue, the collection Duran will debut this weekend at the second annual NMFW, consists of 24 separate items from size 4 to 16. Most manufacturers require a minimum of 150 pieces for one garment.
In February she found herself in the crush of the largest apparel trade show on the planet, the MAGIC fashion market in Las Vegas, Nev., hunting for just one company that could produce her clothing designs.
“It’s like LA on crack,” says Dara Ambriz, co-owner of Runway Apparel in northeast Albuquerque, who regularly attends semiannual fashion events from LA to New York as a clothing buyer for the boutique.
Navigating MAGIC for the first time by herself was “super intense.”
“When you’re in LA, typically if you have a scheduled appointment, it’s just you and that showroom manager. In Vegas, you’re in this tiny cubicle, and there might be five other buyers in there at the same time,” she explains, pantomiming a frantic shopper flipping through hundreds of items on a rack in a cramped space.
A designer herself who just last week submitted her application to compete on the hit Lifetime television series “Project Runway,” Ambriz runs into the same small-manufacturing barrier as Duran. To hurdle it, she’s developing a fashion accelerator that would give emerging designers access to in-house production on a smaller scale.
In the meantime Duran has found a producer in LA capable of turning out limited runs, and she says she’s now ready to snag the big kahuna, the all-elusive buyer.
She hopes to get her chance along with 11 other designers from New Mexico and elsewhere this weekend when NMFW takes the stage in the remodeled Albuquerque Convention Center.
Scouts from Dillard’s, Target and Macy’s will be in the house along with purchasers from smaller boutiques, says Melissa Lea Beasley, executive director and founder of NMFW and Albuquerque Apparel Center. National retailers didn’t show last year, but Beasley says it was because they weren’t invited in time.
Hoping to double last year’s 700 attendees, she attributes problems she encountered her first time around to the learning process. The trade-show market, in response to last year’s lower-than-expected turnout, has been rebranded an “expo” to make clear that it’s open to the public, not just retailers. She’s hired lighting and decorating companies to ensure the catwalk gets proper illumination and the “pipe and drape” she wanted last year.
Part of the challenge is that New Mexico’s apparel industry, which doesn’t fetch more than $1.5 billion of the global market’s $1.1 trillion in revenue, is in a perpetual growing phase. And there’s still the perception problem around New Mexico fashion.
“I was talking to a fashion accelerator in New York, and she was like, Really? There’s fashion in New Mexico? It’s all Southwestern,” Ambriz reports. “I was like, It’s not. And we need to change that mindset.”
Nor is it exclusively Native. A returning Albuquerque designer specializing in jewelry, Sharidynn Denetchiley, is a member of the Navajo Nation, and Debi Lynn from Houston, Texas, cites her Cajun and Muscogee Creek heritage as inspiration. This modest Native showing might cause viewers to reconsider their perceptions about the industry here. Some feel Native culture is still a largely untapped resource for fashion designers, including Patty Boldridge (Cherokee/Sac/Fox), co-producer of the Fashion as Art exhibit and competition preceding Saturday’s runway, in which she’ll display her sculpture based on a myth about Bluebird and Coyote.
The convention features galas, expos, conferences and workshops Friday through Sunday. On Friday from 4:30 to 6:30pm, celebrity designer Indashio hosts an open casting call for 20 women and five men to strut his new collection down Saturday’s catwalk. The crowd is encouraged to stay after the runway to view the filming of his new cable TV series airing this summer, “Catwalk Across America.”
“Any exposure to get the product out there would be the biggest goal,” Destini Duran says. “I feel that if people would see what we can do coming from a small town, they might be surprised.”