Every fall, the Valley’s biggest fashion event, Phoenix Fashion Week, brings notable designers from around the country and here in the Valley together, as local models strut the catwalk showing off innovative fashions for retailers to add to their collections. This year’s event takes over Scottsdale’s Talking Stick Resort Thursday, October 2 to Saturday, October 4.
The event isn’t just to display the latest trends. Phoenix Fashion Week features an Emerging Designer Challenge, where more than a dozen fledgling designers (including Phoenix People feature State Forty Eight) get to pick up business chops during a four-month apparel boot camp, before battling it out on the runway for the title of Emerging Designer of the Year.
Phoenix Fashion Week is the brainchild of Brian Hill, a designer himself with various fashion lines since he was a student at Arizona State University. As executive director for Phoenix Fashion Week, Hill puts on 10 fashion-focused events year-round throughout the Valley. He’s still working in the fashion world as a custom apparel designer and consultant for fashion lines around the country, and he’s also working on a new collection for a line he started at ASU, Femme Athletic, due next year.
Learn how the Phoenix resident started Phoenix Fashion Week in 2006 and where his passion for fashion comes from, and watch a video of him naming his favorite reasons for living in the Valley below.
What brought you to Arizona?
I was born in St. Louis and lived there until I came to ASU as a walk-on wrestler. I’ve been a fashion entrepreneur for awhile, and I graduated from ASU with a degree in real estate and marketing.
What’s your first memory of being interested in fashion?
My mom and her sister were both fashion design majors. Everything was color-coordinated for me and laid out great as a kid. I gained a really good eye.
At ASU, I started making T-shirts for beer money. The design was Arizona State Polo Club, since polo was popular. We sold them to fraternities, sororities and people around campus.
How did Phoenix Fashion Week get started?
After making T-shirts at ASU, I started making ball caps and had a company called Cap Club USA, which gave people a new hat every month.
From there, women started telling me I should make women’s apparel. Women buy way more than men, and more often than not, they control the spending in the household. Since I knew sports, I decided to target the line toward a woman who was a strong woman, a great athlete and an amazing student, and that’s how my line Femme Athletic started.
My partner and I were running it for approximately two years, and around 2000, (former nightclub) Axis/Radius was doing radio commercials with Howard Stern. There was a big ladies’ night sponsored by big-name fashion brands, and I called the nightclub when I knew they were going to be short a brand. They agreed to let me sponsor it, so I had Howard Stern saying my brand’s name on the radio every week.
Camelback Inn then started selling our apparel in the spa. The promoter of ladies’ night at the nightclub left, and I volunteered to step in. I started working with liquor brands and learning about sponsorship on different levels. I took a trip to New York Fashion Week and saw how they worked with big brands, and when I came back, I wanted to do a fashion week. About seven or eight of us got together and decided to do it, and our first year was 2006.
I became the executive director in 2008 and started focusing it on what would be good for the designer. Phoenix Fashion Week is run from the perspective of a designer, and everything we do is with the thought of what would be better for the designer.
How has Phoenix Fashion Week evolved over the years?
We have more credible designers and a bigger emerging designer boot camp. When we first started, we thought the designers would have it all figured out, but when they came to Phoenix, they didn’t. They came expecting everything to fall into place, and many wouldn’t even talk to stores outside of doing the runway show. Now, we have a four-month apparel boot camp to help emerging designers strengthen their business skills.
Why do you feature out-of-state designers instead of all Arizona designers?
We started getting requests from designers out of state to come to Phoenix Fashion Week and be a part of the program. We want to feature designers at a certain bar, and it’s exciting because this year, we have seven emerging designers from Arizona out of 13, and last year, there were only two.
There has been a monumental shift in Arizona of designers who really want to run a brand in Arizona. We had tons of hobby designers before, but we really wanted brands who wanted to get revenue, make hires, and grow.
How would you characterize the Valley’s fashion scene?
It’s very exciting. There are lots of people popping up – amazing stylists, designers and people in fashion, and a light is starting to open in retail, too. Lots of boutiques are opening back up.
How would you describe your own personal fashion sense?
My mom always told me to shop from a timeless sense, so I have things in my closet I may have gotten a long time ago, but they’re still holding up and are high-quality pieces you’ve got to have in your closet as a man.
Do you have any predictions for the fashion industry in general?
Menswear will continue to have a huge shift. I think men care way more about fashion than people realize, and it’s probably the biggest-growing market in fashion, other than plus-size.
What are your goals?
I would like to help other fashion week owners like myself get to sustainability in their cities. I know how tough it was for me, and there was tons of money lost to get to this point. I’d love to see great fashion weeks in all cities doing great things for their local designers.
For people in cities who want to start their own fashion weeks, what advice do you have for them?
It’s way tougher than you realize, so have a capitalized business strategic plan of attack. Go to all pockets of the city, whether it be politicians, designers or boutique owners, and get them behind you and on your side. If the wrong person is running the fashion week, and no one gets behind it, it becomes sketchy and un-credible.
Why do you choose to have Phoenix Fashion Week in Scottsdale and not Phoenix?
In the beginning, all my partnerships were in Scottsdale. With my business dealings and working in the nightclub scene, it was my comfort zone. I would love to have Phoenix Fashion Week in every city over the years. It just depends on the partnership we can forge with the venue and where we feel is the most happening place. If it makes sense for the brand, we’re going to say yes to it.
What advice do you have for aspiring designers?
Work for a clothing line first. You should work for a boutique so you can understand their mentality, but work for a clothing line first. You’ve really got to understand all the layers and how difficult it really is. The success rate is so low. It looks like glitz and glam, but nine out of 10 designers are going out of business over time.
To build your business, collaborating with photographers, stylists, tailors and models is key. Give them something they’re missing. If a photographer needs a model, and a model needs a portfolio, outfit that model, and work together to share in that content. Collaboration is key, and people overlook it all the time.
What do you look for in designers you’re featuring in Phoenix Fashion Week?
I’m looking for tremendous vision, people who are properly capitalized, who will put money into their brand as well as sweat equity, and people who have hustle. You need to be self-motivated to get what you need to get done. You have to have a very strong inner drive.
Why should people come to this year’s event?
We’re the leading fashion event in the Southwest. We have four couture designers from around the world, with headliner Rocky Gathercole, an avant garde designer who has designed for Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and more.
On top of that, we have nine different workshops on how to launch a business in our seminar series. You can shop ‘til you drop right from the runway, and you get to see nine amazing fashion shows a night. You can get inspired by next season’s trends, and there are afterparties and entertainment.
Learn about other Valley fashion designers and apparel owners:
Learn more about State Forty Eight designer Nicholas Polando here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about T-shirt designer Sebastien Millon here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Miles to Go owner Greg Kerr here on Phoenix People.