Four Columbus Fashion Designers Share Bold Spring Looks, Challenge the Norm

Local designers create unique fashions.

Nicholas Youngblood
Inspired by traditional Chinese hanfu garments, this robe is made from African wax cotton, with a white cotton skirt and flowing organza sleeves. Worn by Rebecca Abau. Designed by Esther Sands.

Central Ohio has long been a hub for fashion design, but setting up business is a challenge for local, independent designers. Apparel companies such as Express, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lane Bryant and Victoria’s Secret act as a double-edged sword, bolstering the industry and offering stability for budding designers while curbing their more avant-garde inclinations.

It isn’t easy for a designer to strike out on their own under the looming specter of big-box retailers, but indie fashion creatives in the city are finding increasing success, thanks in part to the support of local organizations such as the Columbus Fashion Council and the Columbus Fashion Alliance, as well as an audience with an abundance of hometown pride.

Central Ohio’s creative class took great pride back in 2016 when the New York-based Fashion Times designated the city a fashion hub, based on labor reports that Central Ohio hosted more fashion designers than any other city outside of New York and Los Angeles.

Recent events have created significantly more space for smaller designers to thrive, and social media provides an ideal platform for smaller designers to promote themselves. Additionally, the ease of setting up online stores such as those offered by Amazon and others provides fashion designers with the tools they need to launch their brands. Increased isolation and polarization may have made consumers eager for uncompromising self-expression and the shedding of old norms.

Whether you’re seeking escapism or sheer authenticity this season, the Central Ohio fashion scene is the place to be. Read on to discover some of the boldest looks from local fashion visionaries.

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The Princess Dream

Esther Sands wears a wool suit of her own design.

Kids often daydream about stepping into the world of their favorite story, but Esther Sands says she wants her designs to give everyone the opportunity to see themselves as the hero (or villain) of their own fantastic tale.

“We all grew up thinking, ‘I want to be a prince. I want to be a princess. I want to be a warrior. I want to be the villain,’” she says. “So why are we not nurturing our inner children? I want to celebrate that.”

Throughout her childhood in Ghana, she says, she was inspired by the dramatic plots and striking visuals of soap operas and cartoons, but the characters rarely looked like her or reflected her culture. Sands’ design here comes from her collection “Borrowed: An African Fairytale,” which blends cultural elements from around the world to show that fantasy doesn’t have to fit into a Eurocentric box. By incorporating striking African patterns and East Asian garments, she says she wants to show that there are lifestyles all over the world worth fantasizing about.

Hair: Sands (the designer)

Model: Rebecca Abau

Location: Hilton Columbus walkway over High Street

Responding to Unrest

Designer Tracy Powell (center) stands with models Chyna Tene (left) and Michele Weaver who are wearing Powell's designs.

When it comes to living authentically, Tracy Powell doesn’t just talk the talk. Powell worked in real estate until 2015, when she decided to go back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design at age 43 to pursue her lifelong interest in fashion. Growing up, Powell says she was always fascinated by comic books and novels, and that fantasy-inspired flair is evident in much of her work.

The designs shown here are part of her “Blameless” collection, a line she conceptualized in response to growing civil unrest about racial inequality. The look represents a departure from the more elaborate work she has released in the past. “I just wanted to make everything this clean slate,” Powell says. “Although it looks softer, the design of it is still edgy, so I had to find that mix.”

Striking silhouettes and gold accent jewelry are a reminder that bold is the name of the game, even when presented in white. Powell says fashion should serve as a form of uncompromising self-expression, whether it’s on the runway, out on the town or just for a trip to the grocery store.

Hair: Hairchitecture Brand

Models: Michele Weaver (left) and Chyna Tene

Location: Idea Foundry, Franklinton

Gender Fluid

Designer Gerardo Encinas (center) with two models wearing his designs, Matvey Besperstov (left) and Luis Giudice.

Gerardo Encinas is certainly no stranger to pushing boundaries; he has designed multiple dresses for notable Columbus drag queen Nina West, and his self-taught fashion stylings have made him a mainstay of Fashion Week Columbus. Perhaps his most daring endeavor, however, is to create high fashion for men that is more than just an endless parade of suits.

Feminine clothing has always been a focal point for fashion design, giving women a plethora of options when they want to make a statement while leaving men with a limited selection. Although his newly opened boutique, Encinas Designs, features plenty of the eye-catching women’s looks he is known for, Encinas opted to show off his masculine side for this photo shoot. The designs, which he says are unisex, feature floral patterns and sleek materials while showcasing the distinct cultural influence of Encinas’ native Mexico.

More:Designer Gerardo Encinas’ New Downtown Boutique

Models: Matvey Besperstov (left) and Luis Giudice

Location: Columbus Commons parking garage and walkway

Body Jewelry

Designer Darsy Amaya

As a channel for self-expression, fashion can provide the armor a person needs to weather everyday life. So why not step out in glittering chain mail?

White Canvas Designs is the collective project of sisters Darsy Amaya and Heidy Amaya-Pena with their mother, Maritza Motino. From Amaya’s vision, they craft jewelry and metal garments meant to align one’s appearance with their mind and spirit. Originally an extension of Amaya’s reiki  practice, her designs incorporate crystals and color effects to fill the wearer with inner peace and positivity.

The pictured designs come from their “Body & Soul” collection of body jewelry. Amaya says the heavy metal dresses are meant to project power while leaving the wearer exposed and vulnerable. Although they may not be practical for everyday wear, she says it’s more important to create something with deep impact rather than broad appeal.

For those who are undeterred by the bold and revealing, Amaya says she is developing more manageable pieces to go alongside her larger garments.

Model: Meghan Weinle

Location: Sherrie Gallery in the Short North (White Canvas will have an exhibit at the Sherrie Gallery during the May 7 Short North Gallery Hop.)

This story is from the April 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.