Austin Fashion Week promotes growth, development of local style, culture

Kendall Tietz

Austin already offers an eclectic music, food and entertainment scene, but one event brings the city’s emerging fashion scene to the forefront.

Austin Fashion Week began in 2009, when there were only a handful of designers trying to make it in the business. The annual event started as a series of designer showcases inside retail stores, but designers now create more drama with runway shows.

Event founder Matt Swinney attributes Austin’s growing fashion week to the city’s individual sense of style and support of local artisans, as well as its roots in music that easily translate to fashion.

“It’s a great several nights of entertainment, mixed with really emotional, social (and) feel-good messages,” Swinney said. “It definitely keeps people engaged and wanting to come back for more.”

Swinney said Austin’s fashion industry is no different from other hubs. He said massive growth within the city creates a more culturally experienced demographic, which allows the fashion industry to flourish. Fashion week also has a major impact on many Austin designers because it provides the opportunity to pursue fashion design as a career.

“Supporting that endeavor is my greatest career achievement,” Swinney said. “It really does have a major impact on so many designers.”

This year, Jennifer Millspaugh, founder of the Austin Fashion Initiative, traveled to Adelaide, Australia. Millspaugh founded the initiative in 2017 around the same time as SXSW. She wanted to get locals in the fashion industry together in one room. The initiative’s first event was a success, and they have coordinated an event almost every month since.

“At the heart of it, (the Austin Fashion Initiative is) a community to build the fashion industry,” Millspaugh said. “What sets (the initiative) apart is that we’re focused on business development.”

Because of her work with the initiative, Millspaugh was asked to speak at Melbourne Fashion Week, where she was introduced to designers in Adelaide. They proposed initiating a designer exchange with designers from Austin Fashion Week and the Adelaide Fashion Festival. Millspaugh then connected festival coordinators with Swinney in hopes of a collaboration.

“Now we’re hoping that will expand into a larger project and a larger program of a continuous exchange of designers during Fashion Week,” Millspaugh said.

Austin Fashion Week also supports SUAVS, an Austin-based shoe brand that the event included in its gallery. SUAVS founder Monxi Garza said this outlet has given her business a way to network and meet designers and professionals in the fashion community.

“No matter how small we were, ever since the beginning, they were willing to work with us and they were willing to include us in their events,” Garza said.

Millspaugh said Austin Fashion Week is accessible to anyone who wants to buy a ticket. She said the atmosphere at fashion week is celebratory, with people clapping and cheering for the designers and models. She said Swinney makes sure everybody can participate, which speaks to the culture of Austin.

“What I love about our fashion week is it kind of flips what we think of as ‘Fashion Week’ on its head and turns it into a direct to consumer model for fashion,” Millspaugh said. “Fashion is just the next step in what we have to offer on a cultural platform.”