Guest blogger Jamie Baker is an attorney with Thompson Coe and a past board member of Texas Next Top Designer.
The Search for Texas’ Next Top Designer 2011
Judging: Day One
Texas Next Top Designer is a non-profit organization that supports the apparel industry at a local level, one designer at a time. Knowing how difficult it is for a young Texas designer to gain entry to the fashion scene in a big way, TNTD exists only to hold an annual competition where the award gives hope to a local designer’s dream of making it in the world of fashion.
The Next Top Designer title was first awarded to Dallas’ Abi Ferrin. Abi’s designs are now on the catwalk and in mainstream stores. Last year, Austin’s Megan Summerville won the competition after the judges saw her sensuous and sellable lingerie designs. Megan has her own boutique in downtown Austin and is the beneficiary of several local community business grants in addition to receiving artistic recognition.
So now the search begins again. The prize package is not so much about money, although a small reimbursement stipend is awarded to the winner. The prize is about connections. The winner receives hands-on mentoring for a year from fashion insiders about such things as branding, merchandising and marketing. In addition, the prize package includes a trip to either New York or L.A. Fashion Week, with a chance to present a line if the winner is ready.
I was excited to begin the judging process recently at Dallas’ Infomart on Stemmons Freeway. For months prior to the first judging day, applicants having been going through the process of preparing their designs (as well as their business plans) for consideration. Starting at 8 a.m. and continuing until 5 p.m., nearly 20 volunteer judges saw everything from the terrific to the tragic in clothing and accessories.
Everything shown is a product of Texas. The designers came from all over the state. There are young and old, men and women, some with years of considerable experience and some with nearly no experience at all. Taste levels varied considerably as did inspirations, product lines, and presentations. There were manufacturing issues (TNTD is grateful to those designers who have been able to hire locally), as well as serious fit problems. There were some moments of WTF. There were also some standouts worthy of further consideration.
As each contestant made his or her case in the limited time allowed, we judges scrupulously filled out our scoring sheets. Sometimes business and practical questions were asked and sometimes we just wanted to feel the fabric or try on a necklace. In some cases, designers wore their own wares to the presentation, which was appreciated. By the end of day one, we saw well over 30 applicants.
Evaluating the Scores
A few nights following the first round of judging, we met at the Deep Ellum offices of Global Fashion News to review the score sheets and discuss the sample goods left for consideration. The scoring criteria is broken down into 10 categories: innovation, construction, quality of material, unified design concept, marketability, written presentation, clear manufacturing plan, financial plan and projections, oral presentation, and overall assessment. Our job now was to identify the top 20 designers for the next round of judging.
At the Infomart, judging had taken place in two separate rooms. As judges, we had only seen those contestants assigned to our room. Tonight we were able to see for the first time the samples from the other room – the hits and the misses. We saw swimwear, handbags, jewelry, dresses, sportswear, pajamas, and menswear. We struggled to reconcile the scoring with the creative efforts. By the end of the evening we had determined who would go on to the next round of judging.
An affordable fund-raising Gala event is held each year at the end of the judging process to announce the winner and gather seed-money for the sole benefit of the winning designer. The TNTD Board is still working on logistics for the Gala to be held in late May or early June – including a lively discussion about sponsors and venues. Gala tickets will be made available for purchase through Eventbrite through the Texas Next Top Designer website.
Coming Soon: Judging the Top 20