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Standing on E D G E

Rhonda P. Hill looks toward the future of fashion.

By Emily Dodi

Photo by T Christian Gapen

“Tell me the story …”

This is how it begins: A woman wears a fabulous skirt that catches the eye of Rhonda P. Hill. “Tell me the story of the skirt,” Hill says to her.

The floor-length skirt, with vibrant splashes of color, tells the story of Narci Lee, a local Ventura artist and designer who up-cycles fabric into one-of-a-kind clothing. Narci Lee created the stunning and unique skirt from a painted bed sheet.

It is just the kind of story that Hill loves to share with the world.

As the founder of E D G E (the acronym for Emerging Designers Get Exposed), Hill is fascinated by the stories that emerging designers and their work have to tell. After decades as a respected fashion industry insider, Hill dedicates her considerable expertise and vast experience in the business and art of fashion to helping up-and-coming designers find their voice.

But E D G E is more than an international platform for exposure and mentorship.

“It’s a cause,” Hill explains. “It’s an ongoing project to elevate the work of emerging fashion designers.”

There are several parts to what Hill calls the E D G E network, which connects designers with other fashion professionals as well as educators, artists and consumers. One focal point is EDGExpo.com, Hill’s magazine-style website. Offering “fashion intelligence,” EDGExpo.com is a valuable — and visually appealing — resource for education and news, and serves as a spotlight for exciting new designers from around the world.

Designers like Narci Lee. “Rhonda is the reason I’m out there at all,” she says, crediting Hill with “advocating for people without a voice.”

Another local designer to whom Hill has drawn attention is Elaine Unzicker, an Ojai-based artist who creates metal lace dresses, shawls and other handmade apparel. Her work is featured in boutiques and museum shops like the one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Like most of the designers in the E D G E network, Unzicker’s goal is not to operate on a large scale. “I’m not looking to have a factory,” she says. “I’m trying to do something interesting, unusual and different. I think there are plenty of women who want something different. At the mall, everything is the same. That focus is where I am, and what Rhonda is supporting.”

To become part of the E D G E network, a designer must “pass the E D G E test.” Hill judges a designer’s work based on three criteria: design excellence, cultural significance and sustainability. “If they have one of the three, that’s good,” says Hill. “If they have all three, that’s great.”

The criteria was born out of a realization that what mainstream fashion lacked in vision and quality, it made up in quantity . . . lots and lots of quantity.

“Years ago, I’d go shopping if I would need something and I was appalled,” Hill recalls. “There was just so much of the same and it was excessive. There was so much of it. It was like, I can’t find anything unique here. There’s no story. There’s nothing of meaning. There’s nothing I want to invest in and put in my closet that maybe I’d wear 20 years from now. Nothing like that. It was just, like, buy and throw away.”

The emerging designers who stand out to Hill are defying the status quo. Many work with sustainable materials and dyes. They are reimagining how we wear clothes and are pushing cultural boundaries to new places. “I find people from all over the world that are doing amazing things,” Hill says.

E D G E Africa is a section of EDGExpo.com dedicated to “the emerging market in Africa and the global diaspora influence.” Hill highlights the work of designers such as Paola Masperi, the founder of Mayamiko. Based in Malawi, Mayamiko is committed to creating high-quality, beautiful fashion with zero waste.

“We recycle every bit of material we have left,” says Masperi. “Any unsold items are up-cycled into new products or we create items for the community (i.e. fabric balls for local schools, bunting, school uniforms, etc.).”

It is this kind of fashion ethos that resonates with Hill, and it is designers like Masperi, Narci Lee, Unzicker and others that she wants the world to know about.

“That’s what excites me. That’s what makes it interesting, because there’s meaning to it. There’s value to what they’re doing. I see them as artists just like visual artists. The process is the same. When you truly are creating.”

The proof of this was on display in Blurred Boundaries: Fashion as an Art, a recent exhibit which Hill curated at GraySpace Gallery in Santa Barbara. The exhibit featured the designs of Tingyue Jiang, Alena Kalana, Susan Tancer and Hera Zhou. Hill explains that the exhibit’s goal was to “blur the distinction between art and fashion.” To bring home the point, the designers’ work was shown alongside the paintings of Ventura artist Erik ReeL.

The exhibit gave the public the opportunity to see the work of some of the most exciting emerging designers up close, and to appreciate first-hand their artistry and vision. The hope is that the exhibit and E D G E on the whole can have a positive influence on how people view and consume fashion.

“[E D G E] expounds on what we do, why we do it and how we do it,” explains Oxnard-based Alena Kalana, whose recent collection is entitled Tibetan Transplant. “I believe that this awareness allows for the general public to be more discerning consumers of fashion, which increases the overall perceived value of what we do as craftsmen. E D G E takes fashion from being a superficial, surface-level idea and transforms it into a very cerebral concept and experience.”

As Kalana said in a profile written by Hill on Edgexpo.com, “I am not interested in mass production. What I create is art.”

Hill recognizes that there is a utilitarian side to fashion — the functional leggings and t-shirts that we all wear. But there is room for more or, rather, less. And better. More thoughtful and meaningful. As Hill shows us, there is a dire need for consumers to change the way we see fashion — on the runway, in the world and in our closets.

“The market is so saturated,” Hill says before shining a light on the positive. “In a way that’s the beauty of it. It is such a challenge to really step out and do something totally different. Something that none of us has ever expected.”

It is emerging designers who are showing the world — both the consumer and the fashion industry — another way. Whether it’s the use of sustainable materials and practices, or just making quality rather than quantity.

“As an industry, [fashion] is far away from turning the ship,” Hill explains, “but there is a lot of talk. A lot of good things are happening.” And she recognizes that as consumers, we play a huge role. “We need to shift our consumption values so that the entire fashion system can shift along with it.”

That would be a story worth sharing.

E D G E
Emerging Designers Get Exposed
edgexpo.com

1. Ojai designer Elaine Unzicker. Photo by Desiree Hernandez
2. Tatiana Wilcox-Ha, Editor in Chief of Society 805. Photo courtesy of EDGExpo.com
3. Maryanne E. Mokoko, a native of Cameroon who now resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. She launched her Afro-chic brand, Koko Nanga, in 2013. Photo by Cindy Ceballos
4. Alexis Evelyn, originally from Victorville and now designing at Vivienne Westwood Couture in London. Photo courtesy of EDGExpo.com
5. Los Angeles-based designer Michael Ngo. Photo by Cindy Ceballos.
6. Participating artist at the “Now Be Here” project at Hauser & Wirth in Los Angeles.
7. Model at L.A. Fashion Week.
8. Zambian designer Kapasa Musonda, who gained fame when Black Panther star Angela Bassett wore one of her original designs at the American Black Film Festival Honors in 2018. Photo courtesy of EDGExpo.com

“It’s a cause. It’s an ongoing project to elevate the work of emerging fashion designers,” says Hill, wearing a vintage sweater purchased in New York in the 1980s.

03-01-2019

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