Fashion At It’s Edgiest

Kelli  (in middle) with her Fashion Mob models

Kelli (in middle) with her Fashion Mob models


Energetic. Raucous. Funny. Innovative. Edgy. Outspoken. Quirky. Adorable.  Dynamic.  All of this and more describe Kelli Martin, co-founder of the Alternative Fashion Mob and owner of fashion line Anti.Label.

Kelli and I met over a year ago at fellow friend, artist and Fashion Mobster, Rachel Murdock’s Halloween party.  Needless to say, her costume was not your ordinary, off the rack type and it was obvious from the first that she was a force to be reckoned with.  And many in Columbus must agree as Columbus Alive featured her and friend Amee BellWanzo in their group of “People to Watch”.kelli people to watch Cols Alive

Since that time, we have run into each other several times; many of them during Alternative Fashion Week in May of this year.  This was the first year for this week long event and was pulled together by 6 people in less than 6 months! Quite a feat!  After attending their Colors and Bottles evening, the grand finale fashion show and the Bizarre Bazaar, I knew that I wanted to interview and get to know this young lady better.

Kelli and I met in what she calls the ‘dungeon’ of her cozy little bungalow tucked away in a little cul-de-sac in Clintonville. She shares this cottage with her boyfriend of 12 years, Michael Thompson and her two cats, Meatwad and Magpie.   Actually, what she lovingly calls the dungeon is the basement of her home and her studio.  We sat and talked about her life, her career and her goals for the future.

Kelli's bungalow

Kelli’s bungalow

Kelli alongside her many designs

Kelli alongside her many designs

This 33 year-old has  already experienced so much in the world of fashion and has no trouble expressing her thoughts and feelings about the industry.  A Westside Columbus native, she left the Midwest for LA at the tender age of 19 to attend the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and follow her dream to become a fashion designer.  Just before her final quarter she realized that she was “out of control” and needed to return to Ohio to get herself grounded…too much partying, too much of the LA lifetsyle.  She got a job at Rag-O-Rama where she met Michael and continued to sell vintage/used clothing and some of her own designs on eBay.kelli m 2

In 2004, she decided that it was time to return to LA, this time with Michael, to complete her degree and apply for the Advanced Design program at that college.  She was one of only 12 out of 1000+ applicants to be accepted to this program and received the Bob Mackie (remember Cher’s unique and outrageous gowns?) $25,000 scholarship…pretty impressive, huh?  While there, she participated in the FIDM Fashion Gala at the Santa Monica Barker Hanger (an airport hanger!) in March 2006 where she created and showed a 12 piece collection in a 3 day event.  She expresses that her edgy/punk rock design style was the reason for her being chosen as the token ‘weird’ person/designer to participate.  FIDM also paired her with Kevan Hall, an alumni and LA based designer who designed a Fender guitar, and Kelli executed his design.  These guitars were on display at LA fashion week  in 2006. Other guitars were made by Slash and  Gwen Stefani and each guitar encorporated a stencil of the designer’s logo on it’s  back.Kelli with guitar

Although this was an awesome learning experience, she wasn’t crazy about the LA scene or the fashion industry’s elitist attitude toward design.  It was time to go back to her roots.

She returned to Columbus in 2006 and opened her own boutique, Black Market, at the corner of High and Hudson, where she sold a variety of clothing, including her own designs.

kelli m 3In 2007, on a whim, she chose try out for Project Runway with the encouragement of many. She bundled her clothing (3 different looks were required) into a plastic trash bag and journeyed to Chicago with thousands of other would-be contestants.  Of course, no one else had their collection in a trash bag!!!  She laughingly told me how others had fancy bags and were so proper ~~ she figured there was no way she’d get chosen.   How wrong she was!

After being sent to CA donning shockingly deep red hair for another round of interviews, she was told that she had been chosen.  However, she had to bleach her hair blond~~they didn’t want the red look on national TV.  project-runway-kelli-martin-robbedThat was the beginning of a very stressful 3 month competition where she felt as if she were in prison.  Contestants were monitored, confined and shadowed throughout the process which was more than anxiety producing.  She won the first challenge (with a dress fashioned from vacuum-cleaner bags and coffee filters) but once she was voted off after the 5th challenge, she couldn’t come home. Instead, she had to stay confined until the entire competition was finished.  Then for about a year, she was required to travel throughout the country, appeared on E, The Dish and became quite the celebrity.  However, celebrity had its price, one that Kelli was less than thrilled about.  People recognized her on the street, wanted their pictures taken with her, her autograph, etc. but that wasn’t selling her clothing or really promoting her designs.  She’d had enough and went into a cocoon to recover.

At that point, she came back home, shaved her head into a Mohawk and slowly began to do what SHE wanted to do rather than being dictated to by those in the fashion world.  She was really turned off by the politics and popularity contest that she saw in fashion and chose to be true to herself; to be genuine.  It has taken her till just recently to truly appreciate the opportunity that was presented through Project…she’s glad she did it because it has helped her realize what she doesn’t want…notoriety as a person but for her designs; not be in the spotlight but behind the scenes creating.

Her studio

Her studio

After closing her store in 2009, she took a well-deserved break, took time to play, rejuvenate and figure out what SHE wanted to do with her life.  As she began to get back to her roots, she participated in High Ball and does both that and Trauma events several times.  Then last year, she was offered the opportunity to try out for the Columbus Fashion Week.  That led to an evening out at Surly Girl Saloon with friend Amee  BellWanzo and hair sytlist, Jeffrey Steele and a discussion about providing Columbus with an alternative to  fashion week. Her dream was to to create the ultimate community fashion event, promoting up and coming designers, offering them the resources needed, and keeping their talent in Columbus.   Of course, being the rebel that she is, Kelli wanted to name the event the ‘Anti-Fashion Week’ but her friends talked her down.  Thus, the idea an for The Alternative Fashion Week was born!

One of Kelli's designs for Alternative Fashion Week

One of Kelli’s designs for Alternative Fashion Week

In a mere 6 months, she and fellow mobsters: Rachel Murdock, Amee BellWanzo, Jeffrey Steele, Annette Klaus and  Ashley Arend pulled together a week long event that was held in May/June and culminated at the Alternate Fashion Mob Runway Grand Finale in June.  This featured 10 local designers, including Kelli, music, libations and glamour at a warehouse in Franklinton.  The show was amazing with such a variety of styles, interpretations and lots of glitz.  Via Vecchia’s Paolo Rossi created hats that resembled desserts, Project Runway’s Suede was MC along with Amee and models strutted their stuff.  I was one of many people who were thrilled to see this come to our fair city and cannot wait to see how this event blossoms in the future!  I even hope they will let me get more involved by at least being their blog mistress but that is another story!!

Back to Kelli…

When asked to categorize her style she said:

Psychotic. ADD. No, seriously, my designs range from wearable, vintage inspired pieces to avant garde costumes. I like to call my aesthetic: “PRETTY UGLY”, because it more or less defines the contradiction that my designs have.  I am the Charles Bukowski of the sewing world. I like to be alone and “holed up” when I start my descent into the fashion dungeon. 

She also said that music, street style, people watching and horror movies all provide inspiration for her designs.  There is no middle ground for her…things are black and white, she’s in one mood or another.  As we talked about her future plans, I was in awe of all that she has in the works.  She sells online at: and continues to sell on e-Bay.  Hopefully, before too long the AFM will have an incubator storefront where she can sell her designs.

Cindi Lauper Inspires her

Cindi Lauper Inspires her

In the meantime, here is a listing of what’s coming up:

1. Independents’ Day Festival: On September 21st; downtown; 5:30 group designer fashion show and she will be selling her clothing at the AFM booth along with 10 minute makeovers and T-shirt deconstruction

2. October 16:  7-9 pm; Camelot Cellars will host a Threads and Reds event to feature a mini-group fashion show, meet & greet and a some local design booths.

3. High Ball Halloween-Oct 25th: Designing 4 “ready to wear” looks to pair with a costume designer.  This will be her third time doing this event (2007 and 2012 were previous times)

4. TRAUMA-Oct 31st-Fetish Halloween Party; 4 of Kelli’s original Halloween looks will be showcased for the first time
A piece of Kelli's art

A piece of Kelli’s art

5. November: Black Friday/Small Biz Sat-Large designer trunk show, fashion show (both days) more info to be announced as we get closer to Thanksgiving!
6. Every Monday during the school year, she will be teaching a sewing class at Indianola Informal School from 3-5 with the hopes of encouraging young designers and perhaps featuring them in the 2014 Alternative Fashion Week.
7. Working for OSU as an actress helping train medical students on how to intereact with patients and also working for a market research company.
And, all the while she will be designing a new line of kids’clothes called “Pretty Little Maniacs” and working on Fashion week events for next year and I’m sure a zillion other things!
Now you see what I mean about being high-energy!!!
Contact info for readers:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s