Once upon a time, if you were an up-and-coming fashion or accessories designer in Texas, all roads led to New York City.
While the Big Apple is still considered the nation’s fashion capital, more and more hometown talents are choosing to stay put to build their businesses.
Like Elaine Turner of Houston, whose vibrant handbags, shoes, accessories and more can be found in boutiques across the country.
“I built a brand based on the Texas woman and her glamorous spirit — after all, that’s who I am,” she says. “Texas has an entrepreneurial spirit and a ‘can do’ attitude that is contagious, and as a Texas-based designer and entrepreneur, I have benefited from this.”
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Retailers definitely have the state on their radar.
“Texas has long been a hotbed for fashion talent,” says Ken Downing, fashion director of Neiman Marcus, citing fashion designers Tom Ford and Lela Rose, along with jewelry designers Kendra Scott, Emily Armenta and Ashley Pittman. “Texas has a reputation for fashion-savvy women who pride themselves on always looking amazing. This, and the many dapper men in this state, keeps the fashion world’s eye focused on the region to look for new and emerging talent.”
In Fort Worth, Leslie Harding Distler makes sure Leddy’s Ranch always carries a wide range of Texas designers.
“We go from the barn to the opera with Texas elegance, and who better to help them achieve that look than local talent,” says Distler, the store’s buyer/manager. “Designers like Tres Chicas and Beth’s Addiction jewelry and Bobby Woodward leather goods embrace their heritage, yet build their lines with national appeal.”
Many designers credit the state’s strong economy and lower business costs as important reasons to maintain a Texas HQ. And with an e-commerce-enabled website, designers like Austin-based Ross Bennett can sell an elegant dress to anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Some designers, like Fort Worth’s Sheridan French, complement their sites with blogs, building priceless brand awareness.
Reality TV and design competitions also have helped Texas designers, such as Lucy Dang, Hip Chixs and Chloe Dao, gain national traction.
This summer, Belk department store chose Dallas-based Dang as one of its 13 winners of the 2013 Belk Southern Designer Showcase, and next spring, the Lady by Lucy Dang line will debut in select Belk flagship stores and online — an amazing opportunity for a young designer.
Belk vice president Arlene Goldstein, who oversees trend merchandising and fashion direction, calls Dang a “Southern Vera Wang,” and says that “her spectacular eye for special occasion elegance with an Old Hollywood twist originates in Dallas but resonates across the USA.”
Designers Megan Jackson and Aimee Miller, the Dallas duo behind the premium denim line Hip Chixs, have appeared on the reality TV show Shark Tank, and Dao, of Houston, won Project Runway in 2006.
Dao’s signature collection is hotter than ever, and she just co-executive-produced (and helped judge) Project Runway Vietnam. But she says she has no plans to relocate.
“Texans love fashion, and they are very sophisticated and well traveled, so they understand my line,” she says.
Plus, she adds, “Houston is booming, and I need to dress everyone for all the ongoing events happening every night of the week here!”