Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wright House of Fashion lets aspiring designers, artists of color learn their craft for free

The Wright House of Fashion serves as both a fashion house and a business incubator. It was founded by designer Andre Wright to provide unique, free learning opportunities.
Caitlin Troutman
/
IPR News
The Wright House of Fashion serves as both a fashion house and a business incubator. It was founded by designer Andre Wright to provide unique, free learning opportunities.

The fashion industry is overwhelmingly white. Only 3% of designers across disciplines are Black according to the 2019 Design Census, and it’s a notoriously difficult industry to break into.

But the Wright House of Fashion in Iowa City exists to remove that barrier for aspiring designers of color. The working fashion house and business incubator founded by fashion designer and activist Andre Wright provides unique learning opportunities for young people.

Wright is one of the founders of Humanize my Hoodie, a brand that connects fashion with social justice. The entrepreneur originally from Waterloo has made his life in Iowa as a Black fashion designer, which, according to IPR host Charity Nebbe on Talk of Iowa, is "not exactly at the heart of the fashion world."

Wright said he’d be lying if he didn’t admit that he’s thought about leaving Iowa for more fashion-centric cities, but says his situation sets him apart.

“I was trying to be a little different than the people that I’ve met in the industry,” he said onTalk of Iowa. “What was interesting to me is when I would tell people where I was from, they would have that same analogy, like, ‘Why would you do that there?’ And yes, it is difficult, because we don't have all the resources bigger cities do, but what I'm showing you is that it's possible.”

The fashion house opened nine months ago in what used to be Varsity Cleaning, a century-old dry cleaning business that operated in a building south of downtown and closed in 2022.

Since moving into the space, the outside of Wright has been given a fresh coat of paint, and the nearly 6,000-square-foot industrial interior has been transformed into a creative playground, complete with an event space for holding fashion shows, a classroom, a station for sewing machines, a green room for models, a showroom that doubles as a coworking space, a screenprinting facility with a mobile workshop station and a recording studio. The interior walls are decorated with artwork and murals.

A look inside the Wright House of Fashion

Wright calls the fashion house “a creative ecosystem.”

“My vision is to create an educational facility for advanced learning,” he said. “You could call it a school, you can call it whatever you want, but it's a place where people come and they learn about the creative arts, from graphic design, to fashion design, to branding, marketing, entrepreneurship — all those different things that you might hear in the community, or might hear from business owners. Those are things that we specialize in here.”

At the same time, Wright says his space serves to “decolonize fashion and graphic design” and Eurocentric industries by introducing more Black designers and documenting their history.

Nine students came in on Wednesdays this summer for two-hour sessions in graphic design, branding and marketing as part of a partnership with the University of Iowa’s School of Art and Art History.

While many learning opportunities at the fashion house are geared toward youth, Wright says he doesn’t have an age limit on who can come in and learn.

“I don't want to put an age on education,” he said. “I feel like, you got a brain, you can learn, right? And it doesn't matter what grade you're in, because they don't know graphic design in the first place. So it's easy for me to teach the principles of that when everybody's at the same level.”

Wright House of Fashion founder Andre Wright speaks with IPR Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe.
Caitlin Troutman
/
IPR News
Wright House of Fashion founder Andre Wright speaks with IPR Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe.

Andre got his own start in fashion by drawing. His illustrations as a child led him to an interest in graphic design and eventually textile work.

“Now I’m creating spaces for people to actually be and do those exact same things,” he said.

Wright is self-taught, but says design has been in his blood since before he realized it. His grandmother designed and sewed clothing of all sorts for her nine children. After learning about her and her work, he dedicated an alleyway fashion show to her on Aug. 19 that featured patchwork designs.

“It’s already part of my heritage of who I am, and I didn’t even know,” he said. “I'm just carrying on tradition, apparently.”

Wright says there’s still lots to do to make the fashion house what he wants it to be. But after just nine months in the space, the house has already put on several fashion shows.

“Once you get the energy, you just keep it going, right?”

Josie Fischels is IPR's Arts & Culture Reporter, with expertise in performance art, visual art and Iowa Life. She's covered local and statewide arts, news and lifestyle features for The Daily Iowan, The Denver Post, NPR and currently for IPR. Fischels is a University of Iowa graduate.
Caitlin Troutman is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa