M E E T Arkansas Arts & Fashion Forum

NWA Girl Gang


Meet THE ARKANSAS ARTS & FASHION FORUM Local Non-Profit Organization

Robin Atkinson CEO of the Arkansas Arts & Fashion Forum, CEO + Creative Director of NWA Fashion Week, Art Curator + Consultant, tells us more about the AAFF FORUM.

Tell us, what is the Arkansas Arts and Fashion Forum all about?

Robin | AAFF is all about building a vibrant and inspired creative community here in Arkansas. We are here to support, educate and recognize aspiring fashion designers, textile artists, artists, photographers, hair and makeup artists, and those interested in learning more about the opportunities that exist within apparel. Fashion isn't something that is typically thought of on a local scale, given that the industry has moved toward basically total globalization over the past few decades. We want to start thinking through that in our own small way. Creating opportunities for local micro-batch apparel projects that put people to work and give creatives an outlet. The way we think about it...Why can't clothing be local?

From Left to Right: Robin Atkinson (AAFF CEO) Sindhu Varagani (Fashion Designer + AAFF Board Member) Rachel Woody-Pumford (AAFF Educational Program Director) Rachel Fox (AAFF Marketing Director) Basana Chhetri (Fashion Designer + AAFF Educator) MISSING - Meagan Zavala (AAFF Director of Development).

What details can you share about AAFF's Educational Programming?

Robin | AAFF’s Educational Program includes three main areas of programming:
Student Designer Showcases, Educational and Professional Development Workshops, a Public Speaker Series. Those are pretty broad categories that give us a lot of room to maneuver. We create workshops that fit the needs that we see in the community. So for instance, one thing we found through our work with NWA Fashion Week was that a lot of makeup artists had little to no experience tone matching skin for women of color. That's a problem if you are putting on a runway show that focuses on diversity. So we built programming directly to help address that problem. We are also developing workshops to teach entry level and intermediate sewing skills, business development, marketing, you name it. We are here to foster all sides of growth related to apparel and fashion. But we work in the broader arts too. We are developing curatorial workshops and gallery projects that can complement our work that is being done in apparel.

Tell us more about the Sewing Courses?

Robin | Our new programming with include a beginners sewing course pioneered by designer Basana Chhetri, the founder of Nepal’s first fashion institute, who is building a course specifically for a cohort of Marshallese women interested in growing skills in sewing and design. Courses are also
being designed for the general public by designer Sindhu Varagani for introductory and intermediate sewing for adults, teens, and pre-teens. We want to meet our students where they are. Which often times is the absolute beginning! We hope to grow our programming with our participants, so as we grow a cohort of sewing students to the intermediate and advanced levels, we'll develop programs alongside them.

Sindhu Varagani + Basana Chhetri are Arkansas Fashion Designers that have participated in NWA FASHION WEEK.  They will be sharing their knowledge and talents as AAFF Educators, teaching classes and workshops relating to sewing and design.

How do you hope AAFF can affect our Community?

Robin | We really hope to grow the fashion community here in Arkansas with our new educational opportunities and also, be able to provide jobs within the organization. I've thought a lot about what the craft brewing movement has brought to the area. There are so many people put to work brewing local beer, and SO many people that get together to enjoy it. The same can be said for farm to table restaurants, or locally roasted coffee. I'm interested in what it would look like to try something similar with apparel. What if you were able to find a local designer that you love and start to fill your closet with well made apparel that was created by working women here in the area. I just love that idea. So we are thinking about how you build it. Currently we are pioneering some projects with the Marshallese and Latinx communities based in Springdale teaching sewing courses and business development skills. I'd love to see a group of women able to spend a few hours a week at our sewing labs to earn a little extra money. There are a lot parts to think through on this, but we are jumping in with both feet. The term we are leaning into is micro-batch. Maybe I don't need 100 of any given garment made, but what if I wanted like, five. I think we can handle that.

Also, along with all that, AAFF has  been selected to participate in the Social Innovation Challenge pioneered by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Arkansas. Working with faculty and students, AAFF will help develop a customer facing retail experience for designers and creative producers to build their experience selling their products to the community. They will also develop programming to provide designers with educational opportunities related to developing and managing an LLC business venture through which to sell and produce their designs. So we are coming at apparel and fashion from both a production and retail angle.

Local Springdale Artist Abril Guerraa tours the new location.

We recently heard that you have a new locations in Downtown Springdale. Can you tell us anymore about this new space?

Robin | The new location will house space for offices, workshops, artist collaborative spaces, alongside a sewing lab and classroom. We also hope to create a space where working parents ( mother's ) will be able to bring their children to work or take advantage of the professional support and educational programs. I've been working in collaborative artist spaces for over 17 years now. And this moment is really exciting, because while I've put a lot of collaborative projects into a lot of buildings, this is the first one that really looks to embody everything I've gotten into arts and community organization for. I truly hope it becomes a forum. A place for people to gather to support each other, get motivation and inspiration from each other, and to foster growing ideas.

What is the relationship between NWAFW and AAFF?  How do they work together?

Robin | NWA Fashion Week and the Arkansas Arts and Fashion Forum are two different organizations, but we compliment each other!  At AAFF we closely work with our local Designers throughout the year, providing them with the tools, resources and support so that they may have the opportunity to showcase their work during our NWA Fashion Weeks. You can think of NWA Fashion Week as the marketing arm of the development work we do with Arkansas Arts & Fashion Forum. And we are growing, so lots of changes will be coming to NWA Fashion Week as well, in some really great ways. We are going to enhance the experience of consumers and retailers, all while growing an understanding that shop local is pretty much the most progressive community minded thing you can do!

AAFF Upcoming Events:

Join the Arkansas Arts & Fashion Forum for the "FUTURE OF FASHION" Fundraising event on October 3rd. 7 local designers showcase their collections and compete on the runway for the chance to be micro-manufactured.Gabrielle Korn- @gabriellekorn (former Editor + Chief of Nylon Magazine) will join the event as guest speaker and panel judge.
Proceeds from ticket sales will go directly to funding educational programming, professional support, and creating opportunities for local micro-batch apparel projects that provide jobs and creative outlets here in Arkansas.


For more information on the ARKANSAS ARTS & FASHION FORUM, visit their website Arkansasfashion.org or FOLLOW them on Instagram @arkansasartsfashionforum.

If you are an Artist, Fashion Designer or Aspiring Designer, Textile Artist, Seamstress, Fashion Designer, Photographer, or Model, the Arkansas Arts & Fashion Forum wants to know! Email Rachelfox@arkansasfashion.org

Q+A Photography by Rachel Fox. NWA Girl Gang Founder + Creative Director