Growing up in England we didn’t have fashion as an option in school (in fact we didn’t have any practical skill options - it was a purely academic curriculum and I spent many hours studying Latin!). But at home, I was encouraged to be entrepreneurial with my hobbies. Both my father and grandfather owned their own businesses in the fashion industry. My first real business was a T-shirt printing company I started at the age of fifteen (we quickly branched into printed mugs and other random items!). I continued this T-shirt printing business through university at Cambridge and it paid for many wonderful trips around the world as a student. After university I went into fashion's "little sister" industry -the beauty industry - working for the Boots Company (better known the US as the developer of Sephora). For 13 years I traveled the world working on a range of projects in business development, my last role being Vice President of International Business Development which allowed me to bring the Boots brand to the US through store partnerships with Target, CVS & Walgreens. (Boots was later was purchased by Walgreens in a $19BN transaction)
In 2004 I decided to start my own import business bringing luxury beauty, fashion and accessories from Europe to the US and I found myself moving from New York to Omaha, Nebraska. This sometimes surprises people in the places I do most of my fashion business (i.e. New York, London, Paris & Milan) but Omaha has been a wonderful base for a fashion import and distribution business. It is central, the lifestyle here is low cost and very comfortable, but most importantly it has a LOT of very talented young people.
It was these talented young people that inspired me to start the creative hub and artists venue, Nomad Lounge, where one of the best projects that was incubated was Omaha Fashion Week. I quickly realized that there was this amazing talent base here in Omaha. The skills were much better than in other cities I had seen. I attribute this to the fact that fashion was still being taught in schools and the strength of programs such as 4-H, which don't exist in the main fashion capitals. The big challenge for these designers was that they didn’t have the money to stage a professional fashion show. Even more striking was that they didn’t believe they were as talented as young designers on the coasts or in “more prestigious” cities. The idea to change this was simple but revolutionary. Omaha Fashion Week became the first big Fashion Week that provided a free professional platform for designers. It was and continues to be funded by members of the public through ticket sales and the corporate community through sponsorship.
The commercial company that I'm involved with here in Omaha, Design Parliament, is focused on fashion and has very small impact on the local job market. Directly we only have 10 employees, but we are growing quickly and it’s very possible we will have many more in the future. But, through Omaha Fashion Week, many jobs have been created (and talent discovered!) across many different businesses and industries from photography to hair dressing to modeling to retail. This all started because I got to practice entrepreneurial skills in fashion in my early years.
I personally have had a very comfortable income for over 18 years in the fashion industry and a wonderful career that has taken me to almost 50 different countries around the world. I have seen hundreds of people create significant wealth and satisfaction from careers in fashion. And I have seen hundreds of young people in Omaha practice their fashion talents on the OFW runway and then take those creative entrepreneurial skills to use them in fashion or in other industries.
I hope OPS doesn’t drop fashion from its curriculum options. Fashion is an amazingly creative entrepreneurial play ground that hones skills which can be used in many other fields. It is short-sighted to assume fashion is only training people for low-income, low demand jobs! Fashion and its associated areas is a core fundamental human need and globally it is an $1BN industry. There continue to be a plethora of fantastic high income opportunities for those who are interested in fashion in the Midwest! The key to being competitive and landing those jobs is to START EARLY, which further underscores the need for fashion education in our high schools.