Reflections on the Reclamation

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I had the opportunity to attend the Reclamation the other night. This event was a co-benefit for Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee and the Nashville Fashion Alliance. Odd as it may sound, the behemoth of retail thrift stores teamed up with the vanguard of the cutting edge fashion community to create an event that incorporated much of what makes Nashville an incredible place for creativity, makers, and entrepreneurs.

That is my focus on writing about the event. Other people are going to talk about the food — dinner was the result of collaborations between six of Nashville’s finest chefs teamed and local farmers; or the art — large-scale art installations provided by four of Nashville’s visual artists decorated the space; or the fashion designs — twelve of our designers created beautiful garments and accessories entirely from materials acquired at Goodwill stores.

What struck me about the event was that it encapsulated so much of what we are trying to build here in Nashville.

There was innovation. These designers combed the aisles of a Goodwill retail location to find items that inspired them to create. Otis James found a canvas painting of a Venetian street scene and turned it into a stunning cap with trim salvaged from a leather satchel and a lining of old neckties. Ashley Balding of Ona Rex turned a large velvet dress into a shape-hugging gown that she embellished with ruffles and bows that were stripped down from men’s oxford dress shirts. Mary Mooney crafted two necklaces — one made from the large glass bead of a sconce and the other from a salvaged and savaged Justin Bieber CD. This was creativity constrained by resources. And it wasn’t easy. But creativity and innovation is never easy. Every business works within the boundaries of some set of constraints. The trick is to innovate within those constraints and find ways to create and deliver value. These designers did that and demonstrated the true power their creativity.

The merging of creative enterprise and social transformation is also a common theme that you will find in Nashville’s creative entrepreneurs. Both Goodwill and the Nashville Alliance have programs to train and develop participants in our local economy. In the case of Goodwill this is in their flagship job training programs for people who have disabilities and others who have trouble finding and keeping jobs. In the case of the NFA if is through the Sewing Academy that they created in partnership with Catholic Charities to help train Nashvillians, including a number of our immigrant and refugee population, for employment in our growing fashion industry. Our fashion brands also share a passion for the world and community in which they live and work. The mission statements of companies like Nisolo, Rosa Hermosa, or FashionABLE or reflect a desire to help people improve their lives in Nashville and beyond. Many of our brands focus on sustainable and locally produced raw materials. They see building a better world to be as important to their business as a better balance sheet.

That focus on sustainability and local production was also evident in the food that the attendees enjoyed. Some of Nashville’s best chef’s worked with local farmers and makers to produce a dinner that showcased both chef and producer. From salad through dessert we explored how local ingredients can be combined to great result, especially at the hands of a talented artist.

That is another highlight to me of that night — collaboration. Chefs, farmers, artists, designers all came together to collaborate not just in pairs but as a group to showcase what those of us who live and work as a part of this community see daily — that the sense of collaboration in Nashville is probably the single most important aspect of the creative economy.

In fact, I spent part of this morning at the Wardrobe Project — a showcase of local designers that was kicked off at the Reclamation. As I wandered around the booths I found many of the designers wandering with me. They were, like me, getting to know the other brands and designers. They were also discussing opportunities to work together — to collaborate to make things that neither could make or would have dreamed to make on their own.

The Reclamation highlighted what motivates me to work within Nashville’s creative economy. There is innovation, collaboration and a powerful drive to making the world a better place. I want every one of those designers — the ones featured at the Reclamation and the ones staffing their booths at the Wardrobe Project — to succeed in building their business and unleashing their creativity.

A couple of follow ups.

First, if you are interested in seeing all of the items created by the designers for the Reclamation, you can find them and bid on them at Everything But the House. But hurry. The auction ends on October 6th.

Second, you should definitely take a look at this short video that was screened at the Reclamation. See what Nashville is doing and meet some of the people who are making it happen: The Reclamation.

Image by Cara Jackson.

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