How Hendersonville could be a key link in the Southeastern fashion scene
By: Margaret Butler
When it comes to events, Hendersonville’s biggest claim to fame is its annual apple festival. But can high fashion find a name in a mountain town? Local media producer and fashion designer Caleb Owolabi thinks so.
A native of the region, Owolabi attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham and went on to Wingate University, where he played rugby. As a student athlete, he developed an interest in fashion during dress-up game days. After college, Owolabi debuted his first fashion line in Asheville’s 2016 fashion week.
But Owolabi’s drive didn’t stop at designing. He became keenly interested in producing fashion shows after cutting his teeth doing that with Charlotte Seen and the Amax Agency out of Nashville. “I love putting all of the pieces together to put on a show,” Owolabi says. On May 20, he will combine these skills, designing and producing a fashion show at new venue Continuum Art Collective in downtown Hendersonville.
The show will open with Owolabi’s glamorous but practical resort-wear line, which he describes as “on the go, sharp, and high-flying fashion that is lightweight, packable, breathable, and wrinkle-free.” The line’s colorful and geometrically patterned Nigerian wax fabric brings a tropical pop to spring or summer occasions.
As a producer, Owolabi also wants to give emerging artists a chance to showcase their work, noting, “Hendersonville is a good launching pad for designers who aren’t quite ready to step into the spotlight of larger markets.”
When he first started, he remembers, “I was operating out of my basement and had to rely on connections for studios. Now, I can give back.”
Today he works out of his studio in Canton as a jack of many trades, doing everything from organizing and producing shows to helping brands with their press and promotion.
He especially has a soft spot for rising designers.
Among those expected for the May show is Jasmine Rhodes of Greensboro — brand name Kitty & Rhodes — who’s in her early twenties. “She’s a prodigy,” says Owolabi. “Her business savvy, sewing skills, haute couture, and modeling ability make her a force to be reckoned with.” Local Hendersonville line Luna’s Link will also be showcased at the event.
“The mountains breed makers,” Owolabi says. “This region is rich with craftsmanship and designers.”
While the Southeastern fashion industry might have a hot spot in the hills, big cities down the mountain — Charlotte, Greenville, Atlanta — benefit from having more people and more venues.
Geographically, then, Hendersonville is an important link between Asheville and points south. But until recently, the town “was missing a key detail: place,” says Owolabi.
When Continuum— a multi-use venue housing an art gallery, working tattoo artists, and studio and event spaces — opened late last year, a world of potential for the scene was unlocked. Located in an old warehouse on 1st Avenue, the building, with its lofty logistics, naturally lends itself to a fashion venue: Owolabi lists amenities including “a clear natural runway, open press box, DJ sound system, upstairs loft, and ample space for VIP seating.”
Michael Sundburg, the co-producer and director of press and promotions for the show, helped scout the location. “Continuum looks like it would be in a big city,” he explains. Exposed brick, large industrial windows, and high ceilings create an edgy lifestyle ambiance. Neighboring Oklawaha Brewing helps complete the big-city vibe and gives guests a chance to socialize and talk to designers after the show.
“Hendersonville is new to the scene,” Owolabi says. “But now that there is a space like Continuum, I imagine more producers will choose this area to showcase up-and-coming designers.”
And yet, Owolabi claims he isn’t contributing anything brand new to the area’s style scene — he’s just establishing a bigger stage for the area’s existing talent. “If anything, I’m showing a greater representation of people in Western North Carolina, period.”
Hendersonville Fashion Show is scheduled for 7pm on Friday, May 20, at Continuum Art Collective, 147C 1st Ave. East, downtown Hendersonville, continuumartnc.com. (No admission charge. The first 60 people who enter will have front-row seats. Festive attire encouraged.) @caleb_owolabi.