Sunday, March 2, 2014

Meet Designer and AFM Co-Founder, Kelli Martin

Energetic. Raucous. Funny. Innovative. Edgy. Outspoken. Quirky. Adorable. Dynamic. All of this and more describes Kelli Martin, co-founder of the Alternative Fashion Mob and owner of fashion line Anti.Label.

Kelli and I met over a year ago at fellow friend, artist, and Fashion Mobster, Rachel Murdock's Halloween party. Needless to say, Kelli's costume was not your ordinary, off-the-rack type and it was obvious from the beginning that she was a force to be reckoned with. And many in Columbus must agree as Columbus Alive featured her and fellow Mobster Amee BellWanzo in their 2013 class of "People to Watch."
This 33 year-old has already experienced so much in the world of fashion and has no trouble expressing her thoughts and feelings about the industry. A Westside Columbus native, she left the Midwest for LA at the tender age of 19 to attend the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and follow her dream to become a fashion designer. 

kelli people to watch Cols Alive

In 2004, she was one of only 12 out of 1000+ applicants to be accepted to this program and received the Bob Mackie (remember Cher's unique and outrageous gowns?) $25,000 scholarship... pretty impressive, huh? While there, she participated in the FIDM Fashion Gala at the Santa Monica Barker Hangar in March 2006 where she created and showed a 12-piece collection in a 3-day event. FIDM also had a Fender guitar exhibit where famous people "designed" (in other words, came up with ideas for) guitars and then worked with designers who executed their ideas. Kelli was paired with Kevan Hall, an alumni and LA-based designer, and she executed his design. These guitars were on display at LA fashion week  in 2006. Guitars were envisioned by stars like Slash and Gwen Stefani in collaboration with other designers but Kelli's was the only one that incorporated a stencil of her logo on its back (and was actually strung with guitar strings!).

Kelli's Debut Collection at FIDM
Although this was an awesome learning experience, she wasn't crazy about the LA scene or the fashion industry's elitist attitude toward design. It was time to go back to her roots.
She returned to Columbus in 2006 and opened her own boutique, Black Market, at the corner of High and Hudson, where she sold a variety of clothing, including her own designs.

In 2007, on a whim, she chose try out for Project Runway. She bundled her original clothing (3 different looks were required) into a plastic trash bag and journeyed to Chicago with thousands of other would-be contestants. She figured there was no way she'd get chosen. How wrong she was! She was chosen and did win one round of the competition. Despite lessons learned there, she continued to not be overly impressed with the LA or NYC fashion scene so, once again, returned to her hometown to work in her boutique.

However, in 2009, she felt burned out, needed a break, and closed the shop. As she began to get back to her roots over the next few years, she participated local fashion and runway events, including High Ball, DRAUMA, and Trauma. She also participated in Columbus Rocks the Cure, which is how she became acquainted with Fashion Mobster Amee. During conversations with the people she had met in these events, Kelli started formulating an idea. Her dream was to create the ultimate community fashion event, promoting up-and-coming designers, offering them resources, and making it feasible to keep their talent in Columbus. Thus, the idea for The Alternative Fashion Week was born!

The core Fashion Mobsters...Ashley, Kelli, Jeff, Amee, and Rachel 
Photography by Matt Reece

In a mere 6 months, she and fellow Mobsters, Rachel Murdock, Amee BellWanzo, Jeffrey Steele, and Ashley Arend -- along with the help of a handful of other collaborators and a ton of designers, models, and volunteers -- pulled together a week-long event in May/June 2013 that culminated in the Alternative Fashion Week Runway Grand Finale Show. The show featured fashion from 10 local designers (including Kelli), music, libations, and glamour, all in a big warehouse party in Columbus' Franklinton Arts District. It was amazing with such a variety of styles, interpretations, and lots of glitz. Label Yourself's Crys Darling created hats that resembled desserts, Project Runway's Suede hosted the event, and almost 100 models strutted their stuff. I thought I was in NYC or Paris...WOW!  How does Kelli see them topping last year?
Kelli's AFW Collection
Photography by Nick Fancher
One dream she has for the group is to open an incubator store that will serve to encourage local designers through workshops, other events, and a retail space where she and other designers can sell their wares. As Kelli states:
As far as the future, the Incubator IS the future. We really want to give a platform to all of the local talent in Columbus. We want to give the independent designer, stylist, photographer, aspiring model, etc. the means so that they CAN do what they love, right here in Columbus, Ohio. I realize that saying this to a 17-year-old might seem "out of touch", but if AFM was around when I was a young aspiring designer, I would have thought twice about moving to LA. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that I did, but I am even more pleased that I came back. Paraphrasing local journalist, Jackie Mantey, "We CHOOSE to be in Columbus, and aren't in NY/LA for a REASON." 
Another goal of the AFM is to trigger more community involvement in the sometimes-intimidating field of fashion. Realizing that not everyone wants to be "the next big thing" and that some people are actually just creative souls who want to express themselves, she wants to foster the local talent, showcase those talents, and give them a reason to stay local. In other words, promote local, foster local, shop local, and buy local! Raise community awareness so that those who would like to learn more about the fashion industry in our capital have an avenue to do just that.
Prior to my involvement in the Mob events and their grand finale last year, I was NOT aware of all that Columbus had to offer in the realm of fashion. And I certainly have become one of their advocates! I am sure that I am one of many people who were thrilled to see this come to our fair city and cannot wait to see how this event blossoms in 2014 and future years because I believe that the AFM can help Columbus become a fashion mecca!
 Models: Ashley Arend, Amanda, Holly Story, Julie Macala, Jessie Hubbard
Photography by Taryn Cook
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Written by Vicki Oster

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