When Lynn Dixon-Speller taught at the University of Delaware, she took a group of 30 young women went to New York, where they visited a fashion industry association. He said one of the students asked someone in the group where he got his inspiration.
“Literally, these women said, ‘We get in a car, drive to Spanish Harlem and look around,'” Dixon-Speller said. “It was exciting, but it was humiliating at the same time. Luckily, I didn’t have any students of color with me on that trip. It didn’t hit them the way it hit me personally.
“And I decided at that point,” she continued, “that it needed to be worked on.”
The trip inspired him to create a new course about ethnic influences on American fashion. And yet, she wanted to think big, Dixon-Speller said recently on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show.”
“He’s not on a course,” she said. “It’s covered throughout the course.”
Later, Dixon-Speler ended up at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee and then the Art Institute of Wisconsin, Milwaukee magazine reported last year, When the latter school closed in 2017, she was contemplating how to put her bigger idea into action.
so began the process of years to help make Edessa School of Fashion, the state’s first four-year fashion school that opened in January. The school is named after the woman who taught Dixon-Speler to sew—her grandmother Edessa Meek-Dixon, a trailblazer who, more than a century ago, taught Booker T. He graduated from the Tuskegee Institute, a historically black school in Alabama founded by Washington. now called Tuskegee University,
It didn’t take long for the Edessa School of Fashion to find its way into the industry.
“We opened in January, and we were at New York Fashion Week in September,” Dixon-Speller said. “It’s unheard of.”
During the week that ran from September 7 to 14, Dixon-Speler said her students participated in New York Fashion Week Black, a peripheral event, and Indie Fashion, a national platform for emerging designers, who worked at Edessa in Milwaukee. Worked with students.
As the school’s dean of academics, Dixon-Speler said she wants students to take to the field while running. She wants the fashion industry to see her students and know that they went to a school focused on fashion from the start. He said that students starting to study fashion as freshmen should give more money for their money.
“I want it to be a national name, a global name,” she said. “So that when employers see the name, they know they’ve got the best.”
Dixon-Speller said the New York Fashion Week experience is going to leave her students with a vision they can carry for the rest of their careers. The energy there was different, she said. Speed, too. It gave a taste of real life – a taste she said a lot of apparel design and marketing students don’t get until after graduation.
He said the fashion industry needs to change and be more inclusive. She said that black and brown people are looking at all kinds of industries and asking: “How many of us are working there? How many of us are affected by it? How many of us are part of it? ?”
Black-owned brands comprised more than 25 percent of New York Fashion Week’s official event, According to Vanity Fair,
“When you see leadership as representing the segment of the population you come from, you feel more comfortable that you don’t have to explain who you are,” Dixon-Speller said. “That you be who you are and let it shine through in your work and people will appreciate it – and don’t criticize it because it’s not marketable.”
How can Wisconsin and the Midwest dominate the fashion map with big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Paris?
Dixon-Speler said those cities clearly don’t have influence in Wisconsin, but the state is increasingly dominated.
She said she met two or three other designers in New York who were from Wisconsin. One show she attended was “metallurgy in Wisconsin and fashion, tattered textiles and a very muted color palette.”
While Dixon-Speler said that students who want to “really shake the earth” in fashion may need to leave Wisconsin, there are well and good jobs in the state and territory, too. He said it takes about 40 people to design, develop, execute and build a pair of pants and then bring it to market. There are more jobs in fashion across the country than people realize.
Although Edessa’s first graduation is years away, Dixon-Speler has overcome obstacles in building the school. Fundraising is a big part of what’s next. He and others are also building on the influence of Edessa. She said she had already been invited back to New York.
Meek-Dixon, the grandmother, received higher education at a time when it was rare for both black people and women. Dixon-Speller’s grandfather also graduated from Tuskegee. He said that traveling from Texas to Alabama around 1916 meant risking his life.
It wasn’t until Dixon-Speler was about 35 years old to fully appreciate how inspiring he was. He assumed that everyone went to college. But he learned that once the door is open, success is for the taking.