As the lights dim in the Verizon Center, the crowd turns its attention to the runway. Excited whispers die down as soon as the curtain parts and the first model struts her way across the stage. But it’s quickly apparent that this fashion show is a little bit … different.
The outfits are spectacular, fashion forward, even gravity-defying. But even more fascinating is the materials they’re made from: shingles, aluminum, plastic, tire treads, CDs – the list of unusual materials goes on.
That’s because this is no ordinary fashion show – it’s Raw Fusion, Mankato’s biggest annual event.
Now in its eighth year, the fashion show invites local businesses to sponsor a model whose outfit is at least partly constructed out of building materials. Every year, there’s a new theme, from Dark Forest to Cirque du Freak to last year’s “Are You Ready to Rock?” And every year, there’s a new beneficiary that is aided, from Habitat for Humanity to this year’s Educare Foundation. The event pulls in hundreds of attendees and raises thousands of dollars for its beneficiaries. In 2017, 1,500 people attended, raising $28,500 for the Greater Mankato Area United Way.
For 2018, the event takes place May 11, and the theme is Candyland.
We had a chance to sit down with Mary Kaus, one of the event’s creators, to learn more about the event. Kaus also participates on the company side of things through her employer, Cambria, which sponsors the event and also sends models to participate every year. Last year, Cambria employee Melissa Ketchum designed the company’s outfit, and she shares her experience here as well.
Tell us about how you came up with the idea for such a unique event.
Kaus: The event was founded by four women — me, Jamie Sorenson, Nicole Panko and Jen Swenson. The idea originated because Nicole and I had gone to a similar event up in Minneapolis, which was put on by the International Interior Design Association, called Fusion Fashion. We just had a blast … It was so much fun, and the dresses were amazing. And we thought we needed some sort of creative outlet like this in Mankato. We don’t have a design association in Mankato, but Jamie and I sat on the Minnesota River Builders Association Board of Directors, and so we decided to pitch the idea to them — and they said to go ahead with it.
What was it like the first year?
Kaus: We started it at the Verizon Center in the ballroom, and we had about 300-400 people there the first year. And it’s just grown ever since. The first year, we had to figure out branding — what do we call it? We went with “fusion” because it was a mix of building materials and fashion.
The first year was the hardest because nobody knew what it was and what we were trying to do. We’d just cold call companies and tell them our idea and ask them if they wanted to be involved. Sponsorships were a hard sell being that it was a new event. Now, being that we’re in the eighth year, we don’t have to really do any calls for sponsorships or models. People just come to us. This year, we have 28 models and our cap is 30 (organizers confirmed they reached the 30-model cap for the year after this interview was conducted).
Your theme changes every year. How do you pick them?
Kaus: We started doing a theme the third year. That just gives the models and the companies that enter a little more direction. Our décor committee is a huge part of it, and when people walk into our event, we want them to feel it’s different every year. That’s the biggest thing for us, to make sure the event stays fresh. This year it’s Candyland – very playful and colorful and light.
Last year was the first year Cambria submitted an original outfit to the show. Can you tell me a little about the process?
Ketchum: I’ve always wanted to be a part of Raw Fusion; I just never had the opportunity. Last year, Cambria was the title sponsor, and when I heard that Cambria was going to do an entry, I was excited and had to be a part of it.
It was easy to pick a material because our countertops are 93 percent quartz, and we wanted our entry to reflect what we represent as a company. We had 30-plus pieces of quartz on the bodice of our dress, a quartz crown and quartz jewelry. The other building materials used were landscaping fabric, netting and metal chains. We were inspired by a certain Marchesa [brand] gown and wanted to replicate a very high-end look that was similar but edgy.
How long did it take to create your outfit?
Ketchum: With all of the small details in the design, it was easy to lose track of time. My co-worker Ellen Theis and I worked on the details, and I would guess that we worked on it every day for one and a half months, 1-3 hours at a time.
What was challenging about working with such unusual outfit materials?
Ketchum: I think the most challenging part was for the model — with all the quartz, it was very heavy and uncomfortable for her. But she rocked it!
Cambria was voted people’s choice last year. Why do you think your outfit resonated with the audience so much?
Ketchum: I think having fun with bold styling choices and attention to the detail made for a great combination. Let’s not forget about our secret weapon: Alana, our model. It really was her energetic personality that she exuded on the runway.
What are your hopes for this year?
Ketchum: I just hope that we produce a final product that makes our company, co-workers, and friends and family proud.
Kaus: We’re super passionate about the event. Every single year, we’re exhausted after we throw it, but every year we want to come back and do it again, because it’s a staple of our town that we don’t want to go away.
IF YOU GO
What: Raw Fusion
When: 8 p.m. on May 11 (doors open at 7 p.m.)
Where: Verizon Center in Mankato
For more information and to buy tickets: www.mnrba.com/raw-fusion
By Grace Webb