Wednesday, August 22, 2007

D.C.: Mecca for Politics, Activism, and now, Fashion"

Washington D.C. is a haven of sorts for the avant-garde. In the founding fathers’ wisdom, the nation’s capitol attracts lawmakers, lobbyists, social activists, entrepreneurs, and artists, bringing a worldview shaped by color, structure, the abstract, and ambition. Their activities vary depending on interests and economic means but all hand over their credit cards or cash to a sales associate who all too eagerly carefully places their boutique bargain or department store annual sale item into a bag. Here, it is who you know and how you dress that often leads to returned calls.

This “economic union” has poured millions into the district. Last year alone, the apparel industry was the fourth largest in retail revenue. That is quite impressive when DC tends to don a timeless uniform. But that is changing. The U Street Cordozo area is quickly becoming the equivalent of an urban chicdom. Drop into Lettie Gooch and strut away in a curvy pair of jeans by Salt Works, or pick up a Kara Janx dress at Pink November a couple of blocks away, or stop by Nana on upper 15th and U Street and dress yourself in independent designers like Preloved and House of Spy. While you are at it, slip your feet into a funky pair of heels at Wild Women Wear Red or vintage at The Junction.

Granted a legislative aid may not be able to afford boutique prices but that doesn’t stop them from inspecting sale items at Urban Chic, Sugar or Valise in Georgetown. The real challenge all DC residents have is finding local designer labels grace the racks of boutiques and chain retailers.

Yet, attend any DC Fashionista meeting and you leave feeling like you have just been to a tradeshow. Local designers are all too eager to show photos of their jewelery, handbags, and clothes or you might have the pleasure of seeing such works of art up close.

Such opportunity will hopefully become more mainstream if the Washington DC Council has its way. The Council is the brainchild behind the proposed Commission on Fashion Arts and Events Establishment Act (Bill 17-0173). The Council successfully gained the support of three Council members who introduced the bill in April.

The bill’s fate is now in the hands of the Committee for Economic Development before going to the full council for vote. The Act calls for a 15-member advisory commission to oversee four primary objectives: promote DC as a destination for fashion events, develop support services for local designers and stylists, create educational opportunities for students interested in the fashion industry, and designate a fashion retail corridor.

If enacted, D.C. will be joining the ranks of other major metropolitan fashion meccas such as New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, the latter being the most recent where the city appointed a full-time member as the liaison between the fashion community and city government.

Imagine for a moment ladies going weeks without running into a peer wearing your Ann Taylor suit or H&M bold-printed jumper. Imagine saving your gas by opting to shop in DC’s version of Soho instead of trekking up to the real thing? Imagine attending a fashion show where the headliners are graduates of a DC fashion institute? These are the possibilities afforded to us if such Act was adopted.

Our fashion visionaries at the DC Fashion Council, which currently serves as an Advisory Body consisting of designers and industry leaders to promote the fashion industry in DC, is to thank. The Council is in the process of obtaining its 501c6 status which enables the group to lobby and register members. Christine Brooks Cropper and Mariessa Terrell White, founders of the Council, plan to further develop partnerships between the fashion and business communities that they believe will increase economic activity and improve quality of life.

To galvanize support for the bill, the DC Fashionistas, a consortium of fashion industry professionals, will be staging a rally Monday, September 24. Organizers of the event plan to offer demonstrations by local stylists, a fashion show, and expected speeches by council members in support of the bill. The event is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Freedom Plaza.

Fashionistas, and well just about anyone who shops!, are encouraged to write a letter to their Council member and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty expressing support of the bill.

The beauty of this bill is that everyone benefits. From the politician to the schoolteacher, from the consumer to the makeup artist, from the fashion-challenged to the fashion stylist, DC can and should lead the nation in being a fashion trendsetter.