As the Twin Cities area’s version of Fashion Week comes to a close, one show is promising a New York-style finale. At the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park, MN4MN Fashion will have red carpets, giant white tents and plenty of new looks.
“It’s more than just a fashion show, it’s a movement,” said the event’s creative director, Ini Iyamba.
Iyamba is no stranger to the local fashion scene. He owned two former Minneapolis boutiques (Ivy and Ivy Men’s + Design) and most recently was a district merchant for Macy’s.
We caught up with Iyamba to find out what we can expect from MN4MN.
Q: How did MN4MN Fashion come about?
A: About a year ago, I was at Fashion Week in Montreal. I walked into a small store and there were four Minnesota brands — one was Faribault Woolen Mill. I took notice of that. I thought to myself, “We have so many brands here that I don’t even know about. And if I don’t know about them, there are a lot of other people who don’t know about them. How can we change the game by focusing on Minnesota companies, boutiques and designers?”
Coupled with the fact that when I’d go to New York, I’d walk into a showroom and they looked me up and down like they couldn’t believe [I lived] in Minnesota. The rest of country doesn’t see us as fashionable. I tell them, “Listen, we have more Fortune 500 companies than Texas.” What that does for Minnesota is it becomes a breeding ground for creativity. When you put all those things together, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be getting the respect we deserve in the fashion community.
Q: What is the mission of MN4MN?
A: We’re built on four key pillars. One is to showcase Minnesota companies, boutiques and designers. Second, we want to cultivate an environment that’s going to be supportive of emerging designers. A lot of designers come out of schools and internships, but there isn’t a viable opportunity for them to survive. So they leave. How can we keep that talent here? We are doing collaborations with Handsome Cycles, Faribault Woolen Mill, Oh Dier. Proceeds from sales will go to the MN4MN Fashion fund to benefit one of the universities’ fashion/design departments.
Third, we want to earn a place at the table in the fashion and design community as leaders to then work on making the community an inclusive entity. The fourth pillar is to bring these efforts full circle by creating a viable MN4MN marketplace giving the designers the opportunity to present their collections for wholesale purchase by local and regional boutiques.
Q: With brands such as Faribault and Duluth Pack, it sounds a lot like Northern Grade mixed with high fashion. How do you blend such drastically different aesthetics?
A: Main Street America is what drives the economy; middle America drives [the gross domestic product]. During the recession, we started to see this whole movement of restaurants taking the farm-to-table approach. It signified the pride that Minnesotans have in supporting their businesses. If you look at the restaurant landscape, no [out-of-state] celebrity chef has really survived in Minnesota, because Minnesotans want to support their own. We believe the same is true in fashion, and we have some quality brands here that we want to support. We teamed up with [designer] Caroline Hayden and Faribault Woolen Mill to create a cape from one of their wool blankets. Caroline took an everyday product they have and made it fashionable.
Q: How is Target involved?
A: They will be showcasing their brands [Merona, Mossimo]. On Saturday, Target’s in-house designers are showcasing their personal one-off designs. Target’s interior designers will put a collection together to showcase as well. I don’t remember Target doing anything publicly in this town when it comes to fashion until now. They have a great opportunity: They’re a Minnesota company; they’re fashionable; the collaborations they do are great. What better way than to do something in their own back yard that supports the city they’re based in?
Q: In the past, most fashion shows have been in downtown Minneapolis. Why St. Louis Park?
A: I don’t really consider 394 and Xenia Parkway the suburbs. We’re five minutes from downtown, and the West End has become a burgeoning meeting place at restaurants. During the summer, patios are packed. A lot of people who live in the suburbs are very fashionable and have longed for an event like this to happen. It truly is for everyone, whether you’re the common fashion individual or a fashionista. You can be as glamorous, as rock ’n’ roll or as casual as you want. We just want Minnesotans to enjoy fashion.