What: An art and fashion event giving local designers an opportunity to showcase their talents
When: Aug. 15-18
Where: Ruth's Chris Steak House at 950 Volunteer Landing, The Lighthouse at 6800 Baum Drive and in the former Circuit City at 151 N. Peters Road
Cost: $45 daily general admission, $75 VIP daily admission, $175 four-day general admission pass, $250 four-day VIP all-access pass and free admission 10 a.m.-6 p.m. for Saturday access to local pop-up shops
Marcus Hall grew up in Knoxville watching members of his family work good-paying jobs at the local Levi's factory.
By the time, he was old enough to join them, the plant had closed.
Two years ago, the self-taught fashion designer launched his own upscale clothing line, Marc Nelson Denim, with the hope of one day bringing jean production and jobs back to his community.
"I felt like the time was right," said Hall, whose "Made in America" men's jeans are in 12 boutiques throughout the United States and available for sale online. A women's apparel line is in the works. "Definitely being in Knoxville is a huge handicap, but we're working through it."
Despite the obvious challenges of launching a high-fashion career in a smaller city, aspiring designers are forgoing the big-city glitz and glamour and embracing a quality of life that's equally important.
East Tennessee has launched the successful careers of notable local designers Donovan Swick and Patricia Nash, as well as others like Carolyn Long and Diana Warner, who left and found success in such markets as Atlanta and New York.
The presence of an emerging design community hasn't gotten as much attention in the past, said Jaime Hatcher Hemsley, director of Knoxville Fashion Week and owner of Gage Talent.
For the inaugural Fashion Week that kicked off in February, she said she was pleasantly shocked to see how many designers the area had.
"It has been a steppingstone to other things," Hemsley said of the fashion event, which will be held again Aug. 15-18. "There was no other platform to let people know they're here."
After the first Fashion Week, Hemsley said some designers were picked up at local boutiques while others were invited to participate in Atlanta's apparel mart. She's launching a similar fashion event in Chattanooga at Warehouse Row at the end of the month.
"The community has been real supportive. Being in a small town is great because word-of-mouth works," said Julianne Applegate of JulieApple, a line of sustainable bags. "I think people are becoming more aware. I think people want things that are local,"
Applegate, whose family is relocating to North Carolina, is closing her Gay Street retail shop but maintaining her e-commerce site. She said what Knoxville needs to help emerging designers is some sort of a manufacturing cooperative.
"There are a lot of people here with good ideas. When you're a designer, you're not a manufacturer," she said. "There needs to be a place where people can produce samples or make small production runs."
Knoxville-based retailer Altar'd State has gotten into the fashion business with the recent launch of its own namesake brand. A portion of sales will go to help feed, clothe and educate children in orphanages around the world.
"The whole essence of our brand is founded on Christian principles. Like, we want to run a great business, we want to be great at giving," Chairman and CEO Aaron Walters said.
There is limited selection available now, but the line will eventually include jewelry, accessories, apparel and handbags. By years' end, 75 to 85 percent of the store's merchandise will be its namesake brand.
The retailer, which plans to have 18 to 20 stores by December and will launch an e-commerce site in a couple of weeks, is currently partnering with suppliers, but Walters said it will eventually launch a design team in Knoxville and an office in Los Angeles.
"There are a lot of people who live in Knoxville who love the fashion business and they're asking themselves, 'Is there a niche where I can support my family? Can I be here and be successful?' " he said. "Our spirit is strong in Knoxville. We're innovative."
Jenna Colina, a 28-year-old swimsuit designer who studied at the Miami International Art and Design School, launched her collection when she moved back home to Tennessee.
"Everything I do is via the Internet, so people can have a business anywhere," she said.
Colina hopes to have her swimsuits in several boutiques in Florida after Christmas.
"Knoxville is a challenge. People are really trendy, but they pick names they know. But if it will work in Knoxville, it will work anywhere. People are going to catch on here."