How Memphis Fashion Week champions the next generation of Memphis fashion designers

When Abby Phillips saw a gap in fashion opportunities for local designers in 2011, it was game on. This led her to create Memphis Fashion Week which, in turn, led to the founding of Arrow Creative.

Arrow Creative is a non-profit organization that makes art accessible to inspire the creative spirit in all Memphians. They are a premier source of creative entrepreneur enrichment, arts education, and art immersion for the entire community. One of their goals is to bring creative entrepreneurs and consumers together.

The Emerging Memphis Designer Project helps prepare Memphis' budding fashion designers for the runway. Designers have until Tuesday, Jan. 31, to apply for the program, which will put them on the path to presenting their work at this year's Memphis Fashion Week in May.

Visit Memphis Fashion Week online to apply for the Emerging Memphis Designer Project.

I recently had a chance to speak with Arrow Creative co-founder Abby Phillips about Memphis Fashion Week, the Emerging Memphis Designer Project, and more.  

High Ground News: Can you tell me about the Emerging Memphis Designer Project? 
Abby Phillips, co-founder of Arrow Creative and Memphis Fashion Week.
Abby Phillips: This program has been around since year two of Memphis Fashion Week, in 2013. We knew there was a need both on the designer side but also on the industry side of things. We saw that we had a lot of local designers wanting to be involved so we created this program to give local designers the opportunity to show on the runway. 

HGN: Can you tell me about that first year? 

Abby: After the first year, we saw the creative prowess in these designers and decided to launch a fashion design program at Memphis College of Art. There was no pathway for emerging designers so we created a yearlong, intensive program focused on everything from sowing to sketching to planning. 30 designers went through the program over three years. The money and donations we raised through Memphis Fashion Week went to machines and resources for this program. While MCA is now closed, we are excited to take on this program at Arrow Creative. 

HGN: What opportunities does it present to emerging fashion designers? 

Abby: This is for designers who want to show at Memphis Fashion Week in May. They get to work with one of our professional designers and get to attend mandatory meetings, fittings, photo shoots, and more. It involves the whole process. 

HGN: How many people get accepted? 

Abby: Everyone gets accepted because some artists are better sketchers than others. Once accepted, everyone goes through a five-month process to get them ready to show. Then there’s a judging period based on structure, professionalism, cohesion, and more. Judging is based on both the creative and production side. 

HGN: What do they get if they win? 

Abby: If you get picked by the judges you get to show on the runway. In fact, there are four prizes broken down into team designers, singles design, mini-collection, and an audience choice award. Winners earn a free membership to Arrow Creative and cash prizes.

[Related: Read "Entrepreneurship residency program gives Memphis youth a leg up on path to starting a business" on High Ground News.]

HGN: What’s the best way to apply? 

Abby: The best way to apply is online at So far, 15 people have applied. It’s a mix of race, gender, style, etc. We love seeing pieces for all different sizes, menswear, kids – you name it. 

HGN: How has the program helped past participants? Any specific names/designers you can tell me about? 
Saratou Kane, founder of the Hanan Pretties children's clothing line and Memphis Fashion Week participant.
Abby: A lot of our designers stay local, which is great. Saratou Kane first went through the MCA program and then participated in Memphis Fashion Week. Then she started a studio at Arrow Creative and is applying again this year. She sells online and via Etsy and makes great children’s clothing. 

Jorja Hatcher is another success story. She started as a team designer and then went off to college. She recently was at our holiday bazaar, selling her pieces.

And Kathryn Heard started as a model and a teen designer for MFW. She then went to Auburn for fashion design and now works in Atlanta for Anne Barge bridal, who happened to also be a headlining designer for Memphis Fashion Week.

HGN: Can you tell me about the Fashion Week event itself and what folks can expect this year? 

Abby: We are mixing it up this year – it’s going to be at Arrow Creative again but it will be more of a cocktail party. There will be some unconventional modeling and runway, shopping, mingling with designers, and we’ll have more of a festival vibe. It’s about access and one-on-one opportunities with designers. We hope to open up doors for creatives and consumers.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Visit Memphis Fashion Week online to apply for the Emerging Memphis Designer Project and learn about this year's festivities.
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Read more articles by Jeff Hulett.

Originally from Chicago, Jeff moved to Memphis in 1990 not really knowing much about the south. In fact, the first week he lived here he was suspended from school for not saying, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am." Jeff has since developed a passion for Memphis and especially Memphis music. A member of several bands including Snowglobe and Me & Leah, Jeff works as a communications consultant with many non-profits including Playback Memphis, Church Health, Room in the Inn-Memphis and BLDG Memphis. Jeff lives in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood with his wife and two daughters.