Resilient, transformative, diverse, inclusive, that’s Detroit to many. This year, these descriptors are taken even more to a new level as Design Core Detroit readies the city for the 10th annual, Month of Design. We look to the seven winners of the Design in the City competition, supported by the Gucci Changemakers Impact Fund, to lead the way through the city-wide, month-long creative experience.
During the month of September, each of the seven chosen designer’s work will be scattered throughout the city among workshops, talks, exhibitions, and virtual experiences. The designers are paired with locations, which they will transform into their personally designed installations. As a part of the Gucci Changemakers Impact Fund, the chosen seven are offered mentorship, distribution opportunities, business and marketing support, and technical assistance. This cutting-edge program provides local artists with the opportunity and impact to gain recognition and across the city, around the country, and internationally.
In 2015, Detroit was designated the first, and currently only, UNESCO design city in America and through this naming, Design Core Detroit has pushed local designers and artists toward what makes this city unique. Resilience, a transformative and adaptive spirit, diversity, and inclusivity are key takeaways for those hungry for creative inspiration. According to Design Core’s Director of Culture and Community, Kiana Wenzell, these traits are what truly brought about UNESCO’s decision.
Wenzell goes on to speak of the importance of inclusivity in design, “There is a difference between design, and inclusive design,” she says. Wenzell continues by saying Design Core Detroit, along with local designers, know this difference because they choose to work with and represent those considered to be outliers. As a diverse and culture-rich community, Detroit has the distinct ability to immerse local designers in a society of inclusion.
“Every time we fall down as a city,” says Wenzell, “we are able to bounce back because we won’t conform, we transform.”
Nabeela Najjar, one of the Design in the City competition winners and a Detroit native, speaks of her excitement to be a part of this noteworthy Month of Design, “This is something I have always wanted to do,” she says. “With this installation, I finally have this moment where I can create a world where I can see my garments existing.” Najjar takes inspiration from nature and oftentimes morphs living flowers and plants into her designs. She chooses to work with fabrics like silk organza and silk chiffon to not only portray her personal, fluid, and dream-like style but to also cut down on the usage of synthetic fabrics.
To Najjar, designing is more than just fashion. She comments on the Black Lives Matter movement and the heaviness of the Covid-19 pandemic, “I am very much aware of everything that is going on, but I still try to find a light. With everything that is going on, everyone is feeling anxious or scared or sad. I am creating this scene, though it is nature-inspired and it is dreamy, I want for the people who are affected by it [Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter] to be able to go into this space and feel safe, even if it is for just a brief moment.”
One of the unique locations to host a winning designer is Coup D’etat, a recently opened, high-end retail store in the New Center area of the city. The shop’s owner, Angela Wisniewski, describes Detroit’s design scene as effortless and true—something people from other areas strive to recreate but never quite can. Wisniewski expresses her excitement to collaborate with another designer, “I am really excited to see [our] two different personalities and backgrounds collaborate on this. I am excited to present that in my shop, it’s an honor.”
“Every single person [chosen for the competition] has the wow factor. It’s going to show the world that there is talent in this city and that people should come and invest and make us the Paris of the Midwest again,” Choklat shared.
Aki Choklat, is a judge for the Design in the City competition, as well as the Chair and Associate Professor of Fashion Accessories Design at College for Creative Studies, speaks of the designers.
When Choklat moved to Detroit from Florence, Italy, he was surprised by the stunning underground design and fashion scene in the city. “We don’t have a commercial fashion system in Detroit,” he says, but because of this event, and the funding through Gucci Changemakers, Detroit may change, as Choklat says, “From the best-kept secret, to the best-known city.”