A new tradition of Birmingham city style.
By Javacia Harris Bowser | Photos by Chuck St John
Imagine fashion shows that buck tradition and feature a diverse group of models of different races and body types.
Visualize pop-up shops featuring small businesses and runway walks filled with eye-catching couture by emerging designers. Envision all of these events raising money and awareness for key causes.
And imagine all of this happening right here in Birmingham.
That’s the vision Daniel Grier and Derek DeAndre sought to bring to life when they founded Magic City Fashion Week last year.
“Everybody who’s in Birmingham knows that we previously had a fashion week, but I never saw myself,” Grier says. “Who’s going to do this for people that are LGBTQ, for people of all kinds of different races and walks of life and sizes? I didn’t see that here so I guess the only way that you can see something sometimes is if you create it.”
Grier and DeAndre are also the designers behind Splashed by DKG, a luxury streetwear brand known for its unique denim apparel.
During the 2017 season of Magic City Fashion Week Grier and DeAndre played host to 20 fashion and networking events leading up to a week of four runway shows. Magic City Fashion Week also partnered with Birmingham AIDS Outreach to host educational programs on HIV prevention and get more than 100 people tested for HIV.
“This year we want to have an even bigger impact,” Grier says.
The 2018 Magic City Fashion Week is set for October 24-27, strategically scheduled for the week when thousands will converge in Birmingham for the city’s largest event—the Magic City Classic, a weekend of parties, concerts and events that culminate with a parade and football game between long-time rivals Alabama State University and Alabama A&M.
The idea for Magic City Fashion Week was born in April 2017, 200 miles away in Nashville, where Grier and DeAndre were showing some of their Splashed by DKG designs at Nashville Fashion Week.
“Daniel and I had been working together for three years at that point and had done countless runway presentations and shows in and out of Birmingham, but that was the first time that we felt like our work was put on the proper platform and showcased the correct way,” DeAndre says. “We loved that they just got us.”
DeAndre and Grier began to wonder if they could host something like Nashville Fashion Week in Birmingham.
“We spoke with the founders of Nashville Fashion Week and they let us know what we would be getting into,” Grier says. He and DeAndre were warned it would be difficult to get financing, build buzz and secure venues for their events and even harder to do so in just five months.
“They said if you’re still crazy enough to want to do this, your heart is obviously in the right place, and we’ll be here to help in any way we can,” Grier says.
Fortunately for Grier and DeAndre, plenty of other people were willing to help, too. Danny Markstein of the marketing communications agency Markstein gave the Magic City Fashion Week team tips on how to promote their events. Keicia Shanta of FashionCrushWeekly.com volunteered to be their public relations coordinator. The owners of venues like the Canary Gallery in downtown Birmingham and TRES Fine Dressing at Cotton’s in Ensley welcomed the Magic City Fashion Week team to host events at their locations.
Tamara Ray-Eugene, special events manager for Macy’s south region, helped Grier and DeAndre land a show at the Macy’s in Brookwood Village featuring brands such as Free People, INC International Concepts, and Guess.
“It was really easy to buy into their vision because of their professionalism and creativity,” Ray-Eugene says.
Popular lifestyle blogger Victoria Sanders, better known as Vic Styles, lives in Los Angeles but has family in the Birmingham area, and she signed on to emcee Magic City Fashion Week’s “Everyday Woman” show at Belk.
“I wanted to work with Magic City Fashion Week because I believed and still believe in the vision,” Sanders says. “I think that Birmingham has a creative community that needs to be cultivated. I may have the left city to pursue my dreams, but there is still so much opportunity there.”
It takes a village to build a fashion week.
“Our goal was and still is to build community,” DeAndre says. “We want to build unity and show Birmingham that we don’t have to go outside of our own city to be celebrated for fashion and art.”
During the summer of 2017 DeAndre and Grier began hosting networking events and workshops for bloggers, photographers, models, and designers to help get the word out about Magic City Fashion Week and build a team.
Freddie Guy of the blog TheFreddieDiaries.com signed on to blog about Magic City Fashion Week events.
“I could feel the change they were bringing to Birmingham,” Guy says. “Because of the creative minds involved, I knew it would be nothing short of amazing.”
Tony Gaston volunteered to be a photographer for Magic City Fashion Week because he saw doing so as a way to help the city’s creative community.
“I knew I had to have a hand in the growth of this city and give what I knew about fashion, production, and presentation,” Gaston says, adding that being a part of the Magic City Fashion Week team pushed him to a new level of professionalism. “I’ve never been a part of something so organized, intimidating, and loving all at the same time.”
Grier and DeAndre quickly learned that there’s nothing glamorous about planning a fashion week.
“We worked around the clock planning events, attending events, coordinating venues and volunteers, maintaining our web presence and social media,” DeAndre says.
Organizing four runway shows and all the events held throughout the summer and early fall to promote the shows also meant making dozens of phone calls, sending countless emails, having bi-weekly meetings with volunteers and sometimes even pulling all-nighters.
“When it got closer to time (for the runway shows) it really was Team No Sleep,” Grier says.
The highlight of last year’s Magic City Fashion Week was the Emerging Designer Competition.
Kenya Buchanan, the winner of last year’s competition, says Magic City Fashion Week gave her career the boost it needed.
“After winning I have gone on to be featured in iPush magazine as well as shoot a spread with one of the hottest photographers in Birmingham,” Buchanan says. “The outpouring of support from the community has landed me more opportunities to show my work at fashion shows across Alabama and I am currently being noticed on a national level as well. I recently met with the producers of Project Runway to share my design aesthetic with them in hopes of joining Season 16.”
Magic City Fashion Week 2018 is set to include a panel discussion on making the fashion industry more size-inclusive and a “Shop Local” day meant to highlight local businesses, including Splashed by DKG, which will host a pop-up shop that day. Magic City Fashion Week’s emerging designer competition will also feature a showcase of fashions by Splashed by DKG to celebrate the brand’s fifth anniversary. And the week will close with BirminGLAM, an evening of fashion and art meant to celebrate and raise support for those living with HIV and those working in HIV patient care and prevention.
With the slogan “Stigma Is So Last Season” as their rallying cry, Grier and DeAndre are determined that Magic City Fashion Week will always be a party with a purpose.
“I’m an HIV educator so I’m doing this every day,” said Grier, who works for Birmingham AIDS Outreach. “I see that, young African Americans specifically, we’re not as aware as some other communities are about the rates, how we can protect ourselves, and how we can prevent against infection.”
For DeAndre, using fashion to increase HIV awareness and reduce the stigma associated with it just makes sense because he doesn’t see fashion simply as a form of creative expression. He sees it as a calling.
“God doesn’t bless us with talents only for ourselves,” he says. “He gives us gifts so that we can in turn give the world gifts. Our gift is fashion, and we’re using that.”
Learn more about upcoming Magic City Fashion Week events at MagicCityFashionWeek.com.