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Columbus: America's Fourth Fashion Capital?

Fashion Week Columbus
Models present at Fashion Week Columbus in 2016.

New York City and Los Angeles have the largest concentration of fashion designers and industry in the country. As the home of Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria's Secret and Express, Columbus often touts itself for third in line for America's fashion crown.

But Columbus has severe competition in Nashville, Tenn., which boasts its own burgeoning market for designers. In a recent New York Times article, reporter Steven Kurutz visited both cities to settle the dispute.

"I should say, it was a bit tongue in cheek, the piece was and the mock competition was," Kurutz hedges. 

In looking at the vibrancy of the local fashion scenes, though, Kurutz could break down the factors into several categories: the availability of fashion jobs, shopping, the design scene, historic fashion icons, and related perks. 

"You know, the boutique hotel and cold press juice spot, and all those sorts of amenities that the fashion tribe loves so much," Kurutz says.

Nashville won in terms of the perks, but Columbus came away with a better fashion week (and alternative fashion week) and with more jobs.

"Columbus is more like Milan and Nashville is more like Paris in the approach and the space that they occupy within the industry," Kurutz says. "Columbus, far and away, has the jobs, and I don't think we at the Times and certainly myself didn't even realize the extent of it until I started reporting this story."

Credit Broad & High
Celeste Malvar-Stewart, a Columbus couture fashion designer, was cited by The Times as an example of the city's vibrant indie talent.

Despite what Kurutz calls the city's "bustling, vibrant" apparel industry, Columbus is seeing a bit of a downturn there: The Limited closed all its brick-and-mortar stores in January after laying off employeesat its New Albany headquarters. Though Abercrombie & Fitch still employs thousands at its headquarters, it eliminated nearly 150 positions in January after months of falling profits.

Though Kurutz doesn't mention those layoffs in his reporting, he says the "retail apocalypse" does factor into Columbus' standing.

"That definitely is a concern, and probably should be a concern, for anybody working in fashion in Columbus or thinking about moving there," Kurutz says. "How are these brands going to reinvent themselves in this new landscape of online shopping and local shopping, and people wanting a real story behind the clothes they're wearing?"

Ultimately, The New York Times brought down the verdict: Nashville topped Columbus for the spot of America's third fashion capital. 

"What Nashville does have, and this is where the Paris [comparison] comes in, is Nashville has this kind of cool factor," Kurutz says.

Kurutz says he ultimately liked visiting Columbus more, seeing it as more down-to-earth and easier to navigate.

"Columbus has high culture in a way Nashville really doesn't," Kurutz says. "I felt in my short time there it didn't quite have those sexy things that fashion people need - at least not yet."

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.