TJ Dunn has run his own style-consulting business in Wilmington for a year now. Working one-on-one to outfit clients in their best for every occasion, he immediately dreamt of one day seeing his love for fashion get deserving local attention on a larger scale. Little did he know a few short months after launching his business, a dear friend and church comrade, Khalilah Olokunola, would encourage him to push forward on making his goal a reality—and much sooner than he anticipated.
The outcome is Wilmington Fashion Weekend (WFW), which takes place April 3th through 6th. Dunn and his co-founder, Olokunola, have worked tirelessly with a small staff, a handful of volunteers, and local shops, designers, hair and makeup crew, and models. They’ll pack in numerous runway shows, an Emerging Designers Competition, curated by Edge of Urge, a trunk show, opening- and closing-night parties, along with mixing, mingling, and networking opportunities for industry folk. The focus remains centered on Wilmington, too, so small shops feel the boost first and foremost.
“I wanted to create events that would showcase local talent in a way that involves the community,” Dunn says. “All of our shows are jammed-packed with local boutiques, models, hair and makeup artists, and designers from Wilmington and surrounding areas. What makes this event stand out is that it’s a community effort. Everyone plays a valuable role in WFW, even the sound guys.”
A Saturday trunk show drives home this spirit. Taking place at The River Room, a host of local vendors will sell their accessories, including Half United. Plus, downtown participating businesses will be offering discounts and deals throughout the entire day for folks who flash their “Love Local” cards.
Perhaps, one of the best parts of WFW is its partnership with the nonprofit DREAMS of Wilmington, which helps channel creativity within students who wish to pursue free-of-charge programming in the literary, visual, multimedia and performing arts. DREAMS students also will sell jewelry at the trunk show on Saturday, plus the nonprofit will benefit from proceeds of the day’s sales.
Olokunola, who owns an eco-chic event and floral design company, A Boxed Event, thrives off of helping procure such impacting and fun soirees. “It’s a great opportunity to be a part of not only events but movements in Wilmington attached to a cause,” she says. “I have this passion for not only pulling off the best parties but helping nonprofits, and WFW combines those passions.”
Kicking off on Thursday, the event planner is most excited about the opening-night party, which comes with a Cirque du Soleil-style theme. Not only will an official proclamation be made by Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes, but DJ Brian Hood will spin tunes, a few circus acts will circulate the event space, Bakery 105 (Front and Orange), and bites and sips will be passed around for enjoyment.
“Folks will have the opportunity to meet with local artists, retail-store owners, and designers before we see their fashion voices speak on the runway,” Olokunola states. “It’ll be like a day of creative fellowship where the community comes together to kick off this initiative for such an amazing charitable partner.”
Friday’s Emerging Designers Competition at the Wilmington Convention Center will put the spotlight on the craftsmen and women behind clothing design. Edge of Urge (EOU) owner Jessie Williams knows firsthand the struggles of getting noticed in a city which doesn’t necessarily have a heavy stamp on the style industry. It wasn’t until the last five years have we seen its growth.
“When I opened EOU in 2002, there was not a very big fashion scene here in Wilmington,” Williams notes. “In fact, I opened EOU to fill that void. As an emerging designer myself, I was well aware of the missing stepping stones between emerging and developing a strong footing as a designer. I wanted EOU to be a welcoming and encouraging place for emerging designers to sell their work and get real-time feedback on their designs.”
Once Williams heard about WFW, she jumped at the opportunity to be involved. The shop’s juried competition has narrowed down the inclusion to six NC designers: Lesley Tamaev of Just Like Honey, Barton Strewn of Lumina Clothing Co., Laura Venters of OuiSi, Caroline Castles of Castles Couture, Amanda Caughn-Redmon of Formation Design Studio, and Casey Crespo.
“This is an opportunity for these designers to be in front of an audience who is genuinely interested and wants to see them succeed,” Williams states.
The emerging designer winner will be decided upon by EOU staff, and celebrity and guest judges, including WWAY’s Randy Aldridge and Ashley Jacobs, Lindsey Zimecki of Gravity Records, Robbi McKeithan, costume designer on “Under the Dome,” and Salon Beyond Basics’ hair stylist Krystina Ortiz. Williams says the designs run the gamut, from menswear and swimwear, to hand-sewn couture gowns, along with modern and unexpected shapes, plus garments meticulously made with recycled materials.
“The evening will start with a performance by a very talented DREAMS student,” she continues. “We have created individual interview shorts that will play before each designers’ collection to give the audience a chance to meet the person behind the designs they are about to see on the runway.”
Otherwise, designers and local boutiques receive carte blanche on styling the looks and pairing pieces folks will see during the Swimsuit and Resort Runway Show, held Saturday at the Wilmington Convention Center at 3 p.m., and at 7 p.m. for the Night Life Couture Show. Also on Saturday, Tickled Pink will host a free block party at Lumina Station. Duplin Winery will offer tastings, along with light appetizers, cigar pairings, and more chances to mix and mingle.
On Sunday, the grand finale, Spring/Summer 2014 Runway Show, will be held at Wilmington Convention Center with guest DJ Mike and Bigg B of Coast 97.3. Featured boutiques include The Wonder Shop, Bloke, Sweetwater Surf Shop, Sidearm Surf and Skate, Southern Frock, Wymona Road, Lilies and Lace, Tickled Pink, Aqua Fedora, Lula Balou, Gentlemen’s Corner, Island Passaage, Lure, and Hallelu. After the show will be the awards ceremony, wherein folks are recognized for their efforts.
“We wanted everyone to be awarded for the achievement of showing but wanted to give opportunities that they can use as part of their track record,” Olokunola explains. “Everyone is a winner but someone will be named best, and get bragging rights from the inaugural WFW that they can use as they move forward in their careers.”
All the folks behind Wilmington’s first grandiose celebration of style hope to see it become an annual event. Not only will WFW celebrate the hard work of designers and boutique owners throughout the year, but it gives the community a chance to meet them first hand.
“To me this is not just an event,” Dunn iterates, “it’s a dream. Along with this dream, I want to create an opportunity for others in our community to achieve their dreams as well. With that being said, there’s a lot of pressure to see that WFW is done with excellence—seeing the community come together and team members taking ownership and reaching their full potential.”
Wilmington Fashion Weekend
(All events at Wilmington Convention Center unless otherwise noted)
April 3rd: Cirque du Soleil Social, 7 p.m., $25; Bakery 105, 105 Orange St.
April 4th: Emerging Designers, Competition and Show, 7 p.m., $15
April 5th: WFW Trunk Show, 2 p.m., FREE; The River Room, 18 S Water St.
Tickled Pink’s Block Party, 2 p.m., FREE; Lumina Station, 1900 Eastwood Rd.
Swimsuit and Resort Runway Show, 3 p.m., $15
Night Life Couture Show, 7 p.m., $15
April 6th: Grand Finale Spring Look Book Show and Awards, 3 p.m., $15
VIP tickets: $65 • All Access: $50 • www.wilmingtonfashionweekend.com