It's not big news that people marry younger in the South. But thanks to the influx of young people moving to Nashville — which saw its population of college graduates aged 25 to 34 grow 48 percent between 2000 and 2012 — there's another phenomenon trending in the city: married couples are working together in fashion, an emerging industry in Tennessee's capital.
"We didn’t really plan on working together — it just kind of ended up that way," said Elizabeth Pape, the designer of Elizabeth Suzann. Her husband, Chris Martucci, helped with accounting and taxes while still in law school and transitioned to working full-time for the fashion brand after he graduated. Martucci oversees operations and management, "making sure the business keeps running and keeps growing," Pape explained.
Han and Brock Starnes have a similar dynamic at the knitwear brand Josi Faye: she designs everything and has final say on the creative direction of the line, while he sets up how the business should function. "We’re both involved in using our different skill sets," said Han, adding that working together provides the couple more flexibility in terms of work-life balance.
Handbag designer Ceri Hoover's husband Craige is also an essential part of her business, even though he works as a creative consultant and has other clients as well. "He understands my creative craziness and the moments when I need some alone time to work on whatever it is that needs to be taken care of," she said. "He's my biggest champion."
Who better to invest passion and energy into an emerging business than a significant other? When it's all hands on deck to build a brand — especially in as challenging and crowded of an industry as fashion — a husband and wife team can be a strong foundation. Need proof? Check out six examples of couples teaming up in Nashville below.
The modern, minimalist brand started by designer Elizabeth Pape in 2013 produces everything made-to-order in one design space in Nashville, where a team of 14 — including husband Chris Martucci — do everything from sample-making to shipping for the only point of sale, ElizabethSuzann.com. After the fall/winter collection debuts in August, Pape is adding shoes to the mix in September, as well as a bridal collection in January. “We’re doing really simple pieces, very similar to what we currently offer, but just in bridal fabrics and really beautiful white silks," said Pape.
The knitwear brand from designer Han Starnes and husband Brock is in its 6th season, featuring handworked knits made from U.S. grown and spun wool, fully fashioned on vintage knitting machines. "I think with each collection, we’re really nailing down our aesthetic and furthering our exploration into textiles and different traditions within textiles," she said. "We’re trying to explore a nostalgic sentiment in modern silhouettes." The line is sold by independent boutiques and online at Of A Kind, Association Shop and JosiFaye.com.
When Phillip Nappi decided to design his own line of shoes, he and his wife Dana moved to Florence so that he could learn the trade firsthand from experts — much like his grandfather Peter Nappi did before immigrating to Ohio in 1904. Phillip and Dana moved to Nashville to launch the brand of leather shoes, bags and accessories in 2011 and set up a showroom in an old meatpacking warehouse that is full of vintage and leather home goods, as well as the brand's itself, which are all produced in Tuscany.
New York transplants Josh and Ivy Elrod have a colorful past: both were performers for many years, he as a Blue Man and she as a Rockette. But their talents are not limited to the stage. Together they run a highly curated design store in Nashville called Wilder that is as much a retail location for emerging and undiscovered brands as it is a meeting place for the city's creatives. Currently Elise Joseph, a stylist known for her blog Pennyweight, has taken over a corner of the store with a pop-up shop of women's clothing and accessories.
Ceri Hoover was wrapped up in the world of interior design when she realized a pillowcase would make an excellent handbag shape, and it's from that simple idea that her line of handbags was born. Flash-forward three years and her bags are sold in nearly 220 stores. Anthropologie, her biggest retailer yet, has signed on to sell them starting in August. Hoover is looking forward to introducing more pops of color for spring, thanks in part to Ashley Balding, another Nashville designer who has started assisting in addition to working on her own line, Ona Rex. "It's lot more femininity for the brand," Hoover said about the spring bags. "It will be a treat for my retailers, they’re used to the masculine touch."
Imogene + Willie
Nashville's most famous fashion couple is Matt and Carrie Eddmenson, who started their denim line Imogene + Willie in 2009 when Eddmenson's family denim company in Kentucky closed after 20 years of designing and producing denim for big-name brands. Their joint line quickly became the boldest name in the city's fashion scene and has grown from a converted gas station in Nashville to another location in Portland and over 50 retailers in the U.S., Canada and Japan.
Disclosure: Nashville paid for my travel and accommodation to visit and cover local designers.