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Nashville, a Budding Fashion Capital, Is Also Home to One of the Top Fashion School Programs in the South

At Belmont University's O'More School of Design, deep ties to the local fashion community set it apart.
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Student design work by Kat Yazbak. Denim collaboration with Olah, Inc. for Denim Days. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont University

Student design work by Kat Yazbak. Denim collaboration with Olah, Inc. for Denim Days. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont University

Over the past several years, it's become increasingly evident that Nashville is a fashion capital not to be underestimated. Building on its already-longstanding reputation as Music City with genres ranging from country and pop to rock, hip and everything in between, Nashville is also a growing hub for independent fashion businesses. According to a recent study, the city had the highest per capita concentration of fashion companies outside the country's two biggest industry hubs, New York and Los Angeles. Then last year the O'More School of Design, the only nationally ranked fashion school in Tennessee, joined the campus of Belmont University. The acquisition moved O’More from the suburbs into the heart of Nashville and, subsequently, forged an even closer connection between the city's design scene and future fashion entrepreneurs who'd come to fuel its growth.

Offering two degree options — a BFA in Fashion Design and BFA in Fashion Merchandising — O'More's reputation dates back nearly 50 years and stands apart for several unique reasons. The most significant of which, as Associate Dean of O'More Shari Fox points out, is the school's ties to the community and the advantages and connections this offers students beyond the classroom walls.

"All our instructors here have functioned as fashion designers or merchandisers in the industry," says Fox, whose tenure with O'More goes back 24 years. Professors here are not only preparing graduates to professionally enter the fashion industry — often in small classes that don't exceed eight students per instructor, the dean notes — but they themselves are actively a part of it. "They give up some of their time to be in the classroom," says Fox of the school's faculty who can be found running and working at a number of local businesses, such as Ona Rex, Mae & August, and Curves with Purpose, when not guiding a student though a design concept or business idea.

With state-of-the-art facilities and prioritized 1:1 access to professors, O'More's fashion programs aim to teach students to think critically and creatively about fashion, while also helping them expand their view well beyond the Southern city's limits. "All our students do a very extensive internship with a designer, retailer or entrepreneur," Fox explains, adding, "We encourage students to have a variety of experiences."

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Fashion Lecturer Jenny Kemala discussing the design process with student Ashlee Riegler. Photo: Courtesy of Ed Atlas

Fashion Lecturer Jenny Kemala discussing the design process with student Ashlee Riegler. Photo: Courtesy of Ed Atlas

In addition to the course work, internships and even the participation in O'More's annual student runway show, what's arguably most notable about these young fashion leaders is what they do upon graduation. As O'More reports, the school had a 2018 job placement rate of 90%. And while graduates are employed with fortune 500 companies that include Disney, VF Corporation, Hanesbrands, Inc., OshKosh Corp. and Dollar General, Fox says graduates today are eager to be a part of Nashville's fashion capital: "Our students and alumni fuel the fashion businesses with talent and expertise."

This said, it's no surprise locally born businesses and independent designers have become the backbone of the fashion community surrounding Belmont. Along with Nashville's mainstay style presences, such as Genesco, Inc. (whose roster of brands include Journeys, Schuh and Dockers) and iconic designer Manuel Cuevas the customer clothier to the stars, Fox looks to neighborhoods like 12 South which borders Belmont’s campus for signs of where fashion is heading.

"That's what the fashion industry looks like in Nashville right now. Smaller makers, designers, and houses," she says of the city that's home to independent brands like ABLE, Nisolo and Elizabeth Suzann. And in turn, as she adds, "There's no doubt the people of Nashville are very supportive and loyal to these sorts of businesses. They see them as being more respectful and sustainable to the environment and that they serve all people."

With this support in mind, O'More's students seem uniquely equipped to make an impact in fashion right where they live, if not anywhere else. And if that sounds a bit romanticized, then perhaps it's just in line with the city the college calls home. "Nashville has so long been a myth-making place," says Fox. "You come with your guitar on your back, and you become a legend. There's a certain hopefulness in the air, and it's very attractive to creatives of all kinds, including members of the fashion community."

Browse images from O'More's 2019 student fashion show in the gallery below.

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