Belk’s First Competition: The Southern Designer Showcase
Thirty-six designers with roots across the southeast came together on Friday July 20 for Belk’s Southern Designer Showcase. The competition started out with 176 submissions. When I sat down briefly, amidst the milieu of the competition, with Arlene Goldstein, the Vice President of Trend Merchandising and Fashion Direction at Belk, I asker her how the idea for the competition came about.
Arlene said her boss, President and Chief Merchandising Officer Kathryn Bufano came to her one day saying “’Oh Arlene, wouldn’t it be wonderful! We could have a design contest! Let’s have a design contest!’ and I said okay.”
The idea came at a pivotal time for Belk; next May 29th will be its 125th year in business. Arlene went on to say that the Southern Designer Showcase is the “umbrella for many many initiatives related to the modern southern aesthetic that is so much a part of Belk.” The winners of the showcase will have their designs launched next spring, right in time for the anniversary.
The campaign for the Southern Designer Showcase was launched on Belk.com and sent to universities with fashion programs. Five different students from universities like NC State and Texas Tech University made it to the semifinals.
Clothing, shoe, jewelry, and even handbag designers came from all over for the semifinals of the competition. Jackie Almeter, a student from NC State entered the competition for jewelry design after Belk passed out a flyer at her school. She started designing at the early age of 12 years old. Her designs now include necklaces, bracelets and earrings which blend carved animals made from smoked bone, turquoise and chains. The collection, JRAIZ, was inspired by “the traditions that Southern women have and the traditions they experience through childhood.”
I was able to shadow the mother-daughter team, Deedee Wilson and Courtney Tabor of Prototype Jewelry, throughout their experience at Belk. Immediately I noticed Deedee’s nails matched Courtney’s shoes and jewelry (a body-chain design Courtney made the night before). “We planned it,” Deedee said while Courtney smiled and nodded.
“We love working together as a mother-daughter team. It’s absolutely great. Especially since we’re so intense into fashion!” Deedee went on to explain. They started Prototype Jewelry almost a year ago at Courtney’s suggestion, after Deedee lost her job with CMS due to budget cuts.
Courtney and Deedee are creating designs for women similar to them who like funky things, but reserved and sometimes edgy. “Since she’s older and I’m younger we can kind of catch both sides of the [age] bracket,” Courtney explained.
Asked about the inspiration for their designs Courtney said, “Whatever I’m feeling. So if I’m mad it might look one way. If I’m feeling girly one day stuff might look completely different.”
The team is self-taught, which is amazing as the designs they were showing were intricate and elaborate. They learned to make jewelry through “trial and error” Courtney said definitively. Now Deedee wants to learn how to market their company and get themselves out to the masses.
Courtney has big plans for their designs “I want to learn how to sew, I want to design clothes too,” she said. “I actually kind of started dabbling in the clothing thing. She didn’t want to go there, but I took her there anyway,” Courtney went on to say regarding her mother. They are now repurposing clothing items such as shorts and collars, which you can find on their Etsy site.
Arlene said, “we are looking for someone who has a new take on something that, perhaps we carry now, but that looks totally special and innovative,” something that I think Prototype Jewelry definitely does, but there are other factors the judges are considering as they view the pieces. They need to see the price/value relationship, and if it fits in with the assortments that are already there. Creativity, originality, and most importantly salability are all factors that will be weighed and judged.
“It would be awesome if we could take everybody,” Arlene told me, “because … you’re so inspired by their enthusiasm and their passion.” The Belk merchants will look on the business side of things for the competition.
The competition was the epitome of southern hospitality, with an arch declaring the Southern Design Showcase as entrants walked in and a snack-box from Dean and Deluca. “You want people to leave with a good feeling whether they go onto the next level or not. You want them to say ‘that was a great experience,’” Arlene told me when recounting how they wanted the showcase to be inclusive. “They’re our customers too, hopefully, and you want them to feel good about their experience at Belk.”
To keep up with the latest from Belk, such as the all-important announcement of winners, and to find out what Arlene finds interesting; follow her on twitter: @belkfashionbuzz. “I’m always irrelevant [on twitter]” she says, but I think she’s probably largely on point about the latest trends.