The Shoals is no stranger to the world of fashion. Not with Billy Reid’s flagship store and other clothing retailers and fashion designers scattered throughout the area.
Now, two Florence High School students are making their own first steps into the world of fashion.
Rachel Carter, a junior, and Drew Rutland, a senior, have been selected as finalists in the Rising Design Star competition, part of Birmingham Fashion Week.
“My art teacher found this project for us in art class and had us work on it, and then submit it,” Rutland said.
Rutland said after he graduates from Florence, he plans on majoring in fashion design at the Savannah College of Art in Design in Savannah, Ga.
Carter, who won’t apply for colleges for another year, said she is interested in following a similar path, to study fashion in Savannah.
“They’re definitely at the top of my list right now,” Carter said about the design college.
The Rising Design Star exhibit runs today through Sunday, Feb. 10, at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Heidi Elenora, co-founder of Birmingham Fashion Week, said they had more than 200 high school and middle school students apply for this year’s Rising Design Star.
Forty finalists were chosen to be included in the exhibit. From those 40, 30 finalists will have their designs shown on the runway during Birmingham Fashion Week, which will be Feb. 23 through March 2.
“I’m excited but nervous because me and Drew are both in the top 40 and we both want to get into the top 30,” Carter said. “And then of course we both want to get to the very top.”
Elenora said many of the participants in competition are pursuing a career in fashion.
To participate in Rising Design Star, students submit an illustration of a piece they want to create. Elenora said the only rule this year is it cannot be sewn — it can be glued, stapled or taped or any other method except sewing.
“They can use whatever they want to, they can use fireworks, wrapping paper, forks — whatever they have,” Elenora said. “It doesn’t have to be a purchased item, it can be found, and it can be mixed media. They create a garment.”
Rutland and Carter spent the past week creating their outfit for the exhibition, and they said they’ve been enjoying working on it so far.
“It’s going really well; I just finished it today, actually,” Carter said on Wednesday. “I made a dress out of Dorito bags, Skittle bags and Starburst wrappers.”
Carter said she was inspired by seeing the chip bags they have at lunch at Florence and thought it would make an interesting texture for her dress.
“It’s a high-low style, so it’s high in the front and it’s got a long train in the back,” Carter said.
The Dorito bags ruffle down the side of the dress and it has a one-strap sweetheart neckline, Carter said.
Rutland’s outfit includes pants being made out of old comic books and the top is being made out of vintage film strips.
“I just have to really think about it because you can’t mess it up,” Rutland said. “I knew I didn’t want to do a dress because everyone is going to do a dress. I wanted to do something different so I tackled the pants.”
There is also a scholarship opportunity, with the top winner getting a $500 scholarship that can be used toward tuition or art supplies or whatever they need to pursue their careers. Second place gets $300, and third place gets $200.
“To give a platform for kids to aspire to be a fashion designer, it’s a great opportunity for me to be able to mentor and promote and encourage people to pursue their dreams,” said Elenora, who was a contestant on the second season of Bravo’s fashion reality competition “Project Runway.”
Rutland said he mainly taught himself about fashion, watching a lot of design shows.
“I’ve always been into theater, and I just started looking at the costumes,” Rutland said, noting Billy Reid as an influence. “And thought, ‘well what if I did costume design?’ and I thought about going into costume design for a while. Then I started thinking about fashion. I just decided that I would major in it and see what it would do for me.”
Magazines and television are what Carter — who said she’s been interested in fashion since ninth grade — used to learn about fashion.
Jeana Lee Fleming, a Birmingham Fashion Week co-founder, said they didn’t do a Rising Design Star competition in the first year of Birmingham Fashion Week — now in its third year.
But the reaction they received from the 2012 competition was overwhelming, Fleming said.
“The number of applicants we had just last year before the show just really blew us away,” Fleming said. “So we knew this was something we needed to focus on and expand on. We really love the fact that it incorporates high school kids throughout the state.”
Fleming said her own career might have been altered had an opportunity like this been available to her. Growing up in Alabama, Fleming attended the University of Alabama.
“I was in advertising and political science, and it just fell back into a hobby and not something that could be a career being from Alabama,” Fleming said. “And that’s something we want to change. Encouraging and inspiring these kids to tap into their own creative talent. ... They need to know that you can still do what you love and live in Alabama. And be successful at it.”
The exhibit will be on display today through Feb. 10 at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Bobby Bozeman can be reached at 256-740-5722 or bobby.bozeman@TimesDaily.com.