It Takes a Village: Fashion and Community at SpringFest 2016

“How can we make this bigger and better than last year?”

Jibran Ahmed, president of Music Matters at the University of Michigan, stands before a packed conference room. This is the first of many planning meetings that will eventually produce SpringFest's 2016 fashion show, and so far, it’s off to a powerful start.

Ahmed is no stranger to ambitious challenges. This Wednesday's concert (Music Matter’s signature event) will feature Atlanta hip hop group Migos, adding yet another name to the growing list of international star performers the organization has brought to campus. In the five years since the first concert, Music Matters has brought J. Cole, Ben Folds and 2 Chainz to the university.

Leading up to Wednesday night’s show is SpringFest, a day-long celebration of the diverse and involved Michigan student community. Hannah Tanau, communications director for Music Matters, explained their vision for growth: “We’re expanding the event each year with more student groups and performances. Last year, we realized that the fashion community on campus wasn’t well-represented, so we wanted to bring everyone together.” In 2015, the SpringFest fashion show was born. 

Brianna Kline in the Spring Fest Fashion show April 17, 2015. (Nicole Hester | The Ann Arbor News)

Brianna Kline in the Spring Fest Fashion show April 17, 2015. (Nicole Hester | The Ann Arbor News)

Despite the absence of an official fashion study program offered by the University, the Michigan campus has long supported an active fashion community by funding student-run groups. Student organizations EnspiRED, NOiR, Bronze Elegance and SHEI lead the way.

Each group has a distinct mission. While SHEI publishes print and digital fashion magazines that emphasize creative production, EnspiRED, NOiR and Bronze Elegance produce annual charity runway shows focused on artistic expression, community service, and multiculturalism, respectively. Despite the diversity of their purpose, all four groups are united by a desire to encourage creative expression, empower their members, and engage with the broader fashion community. The Music Matters team saw an opportunity to organize a collaborative project between the normally-separate organizations, and approached the leaders of each with a bold idea. The result: last year’s first-ever SpringFest Fashion Show.

Kallie O'Connor in the Spring Fest Fashion show April 17, 2015. (Nicole Hester | The Ann Arbor News) 

Kallie O'Connor in the Spring Fest Fashion show April 17, 2015. (Nicole Hester | The Ann Arbor News

As for Ahmed’s mission – safe to say, it’s been fulfilled. This year’s show is bigger and better in the number and diversity of communities it strives to bring together. The show’s theme, “It Takes a Village”,  will feature University of Michigan student models and designers, including Harry Epstein of Gracious Mfg., and showcase clothing from up-and-coming Detroit-based brands Greatness the One and Detroit is the New Black. In addition, SHEI, EnspiRED, NOiR, and Bronze Elegance will make their return to the SpringFest stage. In line with the theme of community involvement, the fashion show will also kick-start Music Matters’ latest philanthropic venture, a children’s book drive on behalf of Flint schools in need.  

After speaking with community leaders in Flint about how our campus can aid their community in the midst of the water crisis, the Music Matters team learned that in addition to donations of safe drinking water, the city needs books. The Music Matters children’s book drive aims to help Flint provide community resources for intellectual stimulation and healing. Donations of children’s books and funds to purchase more will be collected at the show. 

In the spirit of working together on behalf of Michigan youth, the fashion show will also feature young models from the Pretty Brown Girls Club of Ann Arbor, an organization that inspires self-confidence in young girls of all skin tones. “We like being involved in Spring Fest because we like being involved with our community and helping out,” said Christan Worthy, president of Bronze Elegance, “We are grateful to have a platform that allows us to express our creativity and be philanthropic simultaneously.”     

To see fashion and community united in action, stop by the “It Takes A Village” fashion show from 12-12:30pm, Wednesday, April 13th on North University Ave in front of Hill Auditorium.