Yohannan Terrell uses one word often when talking about Columbus—opportunity.
He sees our city as the perfect environment to grow fashion-based businesses and wants to make sure anyone who has the desire has the support needed to make their dream a reality.
Yohannan Terrell, Columbus Fashion Alliance Founder
After participating in an exercise a few years back about how to reimagine our city, Terrell thought, “What do we authentically offer the rest of the world?” His mind immediately went to fashion, and the abundance of resources and talent that exists in central Ohio, thanks in part to Columbus-based businesses, such as Express, Abercrombie, Victoria’s Secret, UpWest, and others whose staff supply the city with creative design skills. The more he thought about it, the more he realized creating a hub for current and future designers and makers to connect and create could help Columbus thrive in that market—and the nonprofit Columbus Fashion Alliance (CFA) was born.
A marketer by trade (he founded Warhol & WALL ST., a consumer engagement agency, in 2011), Terrell recognized it would take a collaborative effort to get CFA off the ground. He spent 2019 researching and talking to students, retailers, and designers, confirming the idea that we should be leaning in on fashion as part of our city’s culture and brand.
“Our goal is to help make Columbus the best place to start and grow a fashion-based business, and make our city a resource for the global fashion market.”
YOHANNAN TERRELL, FOUNDER OF COLUMBUS FASHION ALLIANCE
“I feel we are uniquely positioned to create a whole new economy in the city, which, in turn, creates jobs, opportunity, creativity, happiness, and innovation,” said Terrell. “We are one of the few cities constructed and uniquely positioned to do that.”
CFA’s mission is to “build a community and ecosystem that supports the launch and growth of fashion-based businesses.” It revolves around four pillars: learn, make, innovate, experience.
Originally scheduled to open its space at Columbus’ Idea Foundry in 2020, CFA’s plans were derailed by COVID-19. But the organization stayed hard at work, collaborating first with the City of Columbus and then with Franklin County to get masks into the hands of at-risk residents.
In late 2020, CFA teamed up with Franklin County and Welcoming City, an organization that helps New Americans find employment in central Ohio, to design, construct, and distribute masks to underserved communities through its SLAY SAFE campaign. The effort’s agenda was twofold: to offer free masks to the community and provide income for local entrepreneurs. CFA contracted with six local minority fashion designers who each created a unique mask design. A $13,500 grant from The Columbus Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund provided funds to help with the campaign.
“We partnered with the designers and told them masks are fashion statements—let’s put some soul into them, make them creative, make them represent the original mission of CFA which is to use fashion to create opportunity,” Terrell said.
CFA Founder Yohannon Terrell describing the SLAY SAFE project.
Terrell found a vendor out of North Carolina that could print multiple designs of fabric and located resources for elastic and thread. Once the custom printed fabric arrived, it, along with each designer’s mask pattern, was sent to a group of minority vendors to produce the masks. Some just did a few, while others made hundreds. Welcoming City assisted with finding the vendors.
“We knew there were barriers for solopreneurs and other small business vendors,” Terrell said. “They may not have the workforce, supplies, or dollars to buy things in advance—but they do have the skills. We focused on how to reduce those barriers.”
In total, 15,000 masks were created, with 12,000 distributed free to the community and the additional 3,000 offered for sale on CFA’s website to help support future programming.
The CFA space is now open and plans to offer both in-person and virtual classes in 2021. A large production area is equipped with sewing machines and other state-of-the-art equipment to help bring a designer’s idea to life, and a design lab features computers with the most up-to-date software to help young and experienced designers learn and create. CFA offers membership plans for students, makers, and designers, with a free digital membership that allows people to connect online.
“I’ve always been an advocate for the city,” Terrell explained. “As a strategist, I’m looking to solve problems. This is a really big opportunity to create something that can impact many lives beyond my time. I can see the potential. I’m passionate because I can see it helping so many people.”