Nonprofit with pulse on local fashion names new leader

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September 18, 2013
By: Laura Marrinan // Murphy News Service
Laura Marrinan // Murphy News Service

Retail industry veteran Tara Murphy is the new executive director of MNfashion — a nonprofit devoted to supporting local fashion designers.

Murphy has taken over the top job with the organization formerly held by executive director Amy Overman.

“With the pulse she has on both the local and national fashion communities, MNfashion will certainly benefit from her leadership moving forward,” Overman said in a statement.

Since Murphy was the managing director for the past year, she has a feel for the events MNfashion organizes. The transition to executive director has given her more responsibility, but most of her daily tasks have stayed the same.

“There’s more of a sense of pride, but there’s also more of a sense of nervousness,” Murphy said.

For Murphy, one of the most important aspects to being a part of MNfashion is “walking the walk,” she said. Instead of just putting on events for the local designers, it means buying designs from local designers as well.

To lead by example, Murphy will be wearing a dress created by local designer Lindsey Hopkins to Avant Garden at the Walker Art Center on Saturday. It’s one of the events during Minneapolis-St. Paul Fashion Week, which kicks off Friday.

Murphy said what really sets Minneapolis-St. Paul Fashion Week apart from fashion weeks around the world is the level of talent that is executed with significantly fewer resources than other places.

“The talent you see here, when it’s good you know it’s really good,” Murphy said. “Not to say people in New York aren’t, but it’s a lot easier to design when you have a ton of resources behind you. And these people really don’t.”

The design and manufacturing process varies compared to places such as New York, but Murphy said the ability to play by similar rules as the major fashion cities makes Minneapolis a real contender in the fashion industry.

“Our heart and our goal and our mission is to get these people to have sustainable businesses,” Murphy said. “And the only way to do that is to start playing by the same rules.”

MNfashion is one of the few organizations in Minnesota that puts on shows on the same rotation as the major fashion cities. Hosting two fashion weeks a year, each showing collections six months in advance, gives buyers the opportunity to place their orders for each season ahead of time.

Many of the designers featured in “The Shows,” MNfashion’s two-night event during fashion week, sew their garments by hand and don’t have manufacturers to mass produce their lines, Murphy added.

Oftentimes the designers are not fully supported by their design businesses, but this year was one of the first where many of the designers have a fully sustainable label that sells throughout the area.

“That’s our goal, to get people to that level so they don’t have to work two jobs,” Murphy said. “And, of course, also to nurture new talent.”

The Emerging Designer’s Showcase, previously scheduled for Sept. 24, was canceled this season. The showcase typically features up-and-coming designers who the industry is keeping an eye on. MNfashion decided to host the showcase once a year to ensure it had all the best emerging talent in one show. It is typically little to no cost to the public and allows the new designers to show six looks on the runway.  

Murphy said people don’t typically realize MNfashion is a nonprofit organization and that finding sponsors and funding to support the organization’s mission is a fairly difficult task.

“Let’s face it, if people do have money to give to a charity they’re probably not going to give it to one for fashion designers,” she said.

After this September’s fashion week comes to a close, Murphy said MNfashion will be reassessing how to operate to best serve local designers and continue to be a sustainable organization.

Murphy worked in retail buying merchandising planning and allocating across the country before moving to Minnesota. She said the work in the corporate industry was intense and that it made her feel disconnected from the real world.

Murphy decided to change gears and returned to school to study intellectual property law at William Mitchell College of Law. Her emphasis on copyright, trademark and patents has allowed her to help new designers protect their designs and their lines.

Her time in intellectual property law lead her to seek out opportunities to work with local designers and eventually helped her hook her volunteer position with MNfashion.

“It’s really easy to get caught up in stuff in fashion,” Murphy said. “You’ll start to feel like the world is yours and you are the world.”

Laura Marrinan is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota. Learn more about the Murphy News Service at www.murphynewsservice.org.

If you go …

Fashion Week kicks off Friday, Sept. 20, 10 p.m., with “Envision,” a fashion show at the Graves Hotel, 601 1st Ave. N. For information about more events, go to mnfashion.org.