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Dressing up
Downtown businesses join forces for the first annual Savannah Fashion Week.

Just because the SCAD Fashion Show is over doesn't mean that you can put away your couture just yet.

Following on the coat tails of the art college's prestigious week of events, a group of downtown business owners have banded together to create the first ever Savannah Fashion Week, which will highlight some of the city's homegrown style and shine a spotlight on local business during a week of events that culminates in a fashion show and charity benefit event this Friday.

Featuring fashion from James Gunn, BleuBelle, Mint and Custard, among others as well as jewelry from Zia, bags from Satchel and make up from See Jane, the Jepson Center will be transformed into a runway where models will showcase new looks for local fashionistas.

"We were excited for local businesses to come together," says Leah Lancaster, co-owner of the Red Clover boutique. "It's about more than just clothes."

The proceeds from the event will benefit the local non-profit organization A Working Woman In Need (AWWIN), which helps under-privileged single women and mothers trying to re-enter the job market and become self-sufficient.

"AWWIN is perfect because we wanted something that was specifically targeted toward women," Zia Sachedina explains. "We think that's the most beneficial thing we could do."

Helping a local cause was the perfect fit for an event intended to put the focus on local businesses during a time when so much of the economic news is dire.

"The whole point of Fashion Week is getting people downtown," says Shelley Smith, owner of the skin care and cosmetic store See Jane. "There are still reasons to come downtown and shop."

Although the perception of businesses is so often one of individual shops competing against each other for shoppers' attention and money, Fashion Week provides an opportunity for these shops to work together for their collective benefit.

"We're trying to promote Savannah itself, not any one business independently," says Sachedina. "We're doing everything we can to make it exciting and splashy and a really fun week of events."

While Fashion Week seems poised to become the newest in a string of annual events downtown, the experience has done a lot to strengthen the sense of community among the businesses who are taking part in it.

"It's brought a lot of the store owners together. A lot of us are already friends, but we got to know people better," says Smith. "We've been able to talk and commiserate and share helpful information."
"It's really great that we've done something collaborative, because it's not just this one event, it's about the future events we want to have for this as well," says Sachedina.

Beyond just the event itself, that sense among participants of being part of a larger cause has lead to even more ideas for the future, including ways to utilize social media for the benefit of all the merchants involved.

"I think that the goal is to have a central place - a facebook page, a twitter account - where people can go and see things that are going down at different stores," says Smith. "They can just go to our one central place and see sales, and other stuff. It's all about getting people downtown."

What better way to celebrate the diverse range of local businesses than by having a glass of wine, supporting a great local cause and finding that next great summer outfit?

What: Savannah Fashion Week's Fashion Show
When: May 21, 7pm: Cocktail reception, 8pm: Runway show
Where: The Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.
Cost: $20 (proceeds benefit AWWIN)