FashionSpeak Recap & Interview with Kevan Hall

A recap of this year’s FashionSpeak conference in Detroit and an exclusive interview with fashion designer Kevan Hall.

In a modern red and white room on the second floor of the One Woodward building in Detroit, stylish attendees gathered yesterday for a one-day fashion conference: FashionSpeak. Men and women in their trendiest garb enjoyed views of the city and the riverfront through ceiling-high windows while listening to speakers teach them all about the business of fashion.

As a part of their mission to “Keep Michigan Talent in Michigan,” Detroit Garment Group’s third annual FashionSpeak brought together industry experts to hold 70-minute workshops and Q&As centered around the imperative knowledge needed to succeed in the fashion industry. Nationally recognized professionals included: Taubman property management company staff; Roslyn Karamoko, Detroit Is the New Black store owner and expert buyer; Kim Banat, vice president of the Commercial Banking division at FirstMerit Bank; Kristen Deryck, Detroit Sewn production manager; and keynote speaker and fashion designer Kevan Hall.

“For the third year in a row, all of our speakers are Michigan people — they’re either living here now or they’re originally from here,” Karen Buscemi, president and founder of DGG, says. “I really want to be able to showcase Detroit talent.”

The workshops educated about 250 attendees including designers, stylists, retailers, entrepreneurs, and students. FashionSpeak also included a continental breakfast, lunch by Buddy’s Pizza — with three stylists touching up guests’ makeup, hair, and nails during the break — and a post-conference cocktail reception.

“Our fashion community, they know how to design, they know how to style wardrobes, they know how to do photography, but most of them actually have no idea how to run a business,” Buscemi says. “So if we want them to be successful and for them to actually be able to provide jobs to others, we’ve got to give them that training.”

Hour Detroit sat down with keynote speaker Kevan Hall for a Q&A:

HD: How do you feel about the resurgence of the city and its fashion industry?

KH: I think it’s awesome. Everybody knows that Detroit’s had its issues, but people are really excited to know that from the river to Midtown and now creeping even farther, that there’s a lot of activity and money being invested, and that it’s coming back. I’m excited to see that fashion is really taking on a hold here and hoping to see more designers come out of here, a real community, like a real garment center, and just seeing people network and see it happen.

What is your opinion on brands like Shinola and Carhartt that are making a big imprint in town?

KH: I think it’s exciting what’s happening with those companies. It’s great that they’re based here, that they’re really an important part of the community here, and that they’re really international. People know about them all over the world, and certainly they can get their product.

Have you been to the John Varvatos Detroit store yet?

KH: No, I haven’t, but I was in Washington with John. Mrs. Obama did a big party for the designers that have dressed her and also just to say “thank you” to the design community for how we help drive the economy. I hadn’t met him, but we spent a lot of time talking about Detroit and our fondness for Detroit.

Do you ever consider expanding your business to Detroit?

KH: I would love to open something here. Everybody’s excited about the resurgence, and we’re just kind of watching to see when the timing is right. That would be amazing.

What trends are currently grabbing your eye or what types of fabrics are you really excited to work with this year?

KH: We’re using a lot of printed neoprenes because they tailor really great. I like being able to cut them and not have to turn the edges and finish it. It gives it a little bit of deconstruction in a way. Always within my collections you’ll find a beautiful use of color; I try to find colors that are slightly rare that you wouldn’t see commonly mixed together.

You’ve designed pieces for celebrities. Do you have any favorite people you’ve worked with or any favorite designs?

KH: I’ve worked directly with Vanessa Williams, Katherine Heigl, Sharon Stone. It’s fun to work with them; the ones who have the great taste and sense of self are more enjoyable. I enjoy working with a lot of the celebrities, but I always like to cite Vanessa Williams as being one of my favorites because being in film and television and a singer, she moves fluidly through different kinds of clothing. She feels comfortable knowing it could be caftan, it could be a tunic; she doesn’t feel like it has to be tight and body conscious. She’s a star and she doesn’t have to show it all.