Designed to Make a Difference: Asheville Designer Creates Ethical Art

Designed to Make a Difference: Asheville Designer Creates Ethical Art

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  • Sarah Merrell

    Sarah Merrell serves as Community Director for Asheville Fashion Week and directs fashion shows in the area. She is the Digital Media and Production Manager for Mary Beth West...
Designer Kristin Alexandra Tidwell

When designer Kristin Alexandra Tidwell connects with her clients she sees possibilities.

At Asheville Fashion Week, Tidwell showcased her collection “Be Well Couture.”  The line was jaw-dropping with stunning and unique looks like long cloaks, dramatic necklines and collars and luxurious embroidery and prints. For Tidwell, the line went beyond couture, and the name—Be Well—reflected just that. At the core of her design and creative work is the essence of being well: A human-centered philosophy that embraces the art of the senses.

Kristin Alexandra Tidwell believes in storytelling with her designs, so let’s begin with her story.

Tidwell has loved to design and create since she was a child. Her passions led her to pursue a BFA in Costume Design and Technology at the University of Illinois, with additional study in Costume and Scenic Design at the University of Wales. For the past decade, her design and creative work has spanned multiple industries including entertainment, textile, product and fashion. Her personal experience in the last decade introduced her to accessible design. Tidwell’s work is seen or used in homes around the world. An Emmy nomination as part of the design team for Another World is just one of her key accolades, and she holds numerous patents for her contribution to bringing innovative products to market.  Her other credits include notable companies: CBS, NBC, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Santa Fe Opera, Denver Center Theatre Company, multiple lifestyle brands, Broadway and feature films.

The mother of a special needs child, Tidwell went back to school to study massage therapy to better understand the art and science behind wellness. This made a huge impact on her creative work and gave her insight to produce apparel that looked fantastic and supported those with disabilities. For the past decade, Tidwell has customized a multitude of products for her daughter and others: Bags for those who lack the dexterity to use zippers, socks providing sensory input, apparel lined with a performance textile providing additional feedback. Most recently, Tidwell teamed up with Heidi McKenzie of Alter-Ur-Ego to bring fashionable jeans with performance features for those in wheel chairs. She currently is teaming up with a physical therapist based in Asheville on a patent pending product.

Tidwell's newest collection, launched at Asheville Fashion Week (AFW), draws upon her love of textiles, art in fashion, and the beauty of different people and cultures.

To Tidwell, fashion is something that everyone should be able to experience, without limitations. At Asheville Fashion Week, Tidwell appreciated the variety of sizes, ages, shapes and races of the models.

“I design for different bodies,” said Tidwell. “I have a daughter who is small for her age, so I understand producing garments for body types that aren’t your typical runway ideal. Bodies that aren’t typical sizes are beautiful, and shouldn’t be hidden. At [Asheville Fashion Week] I wanted women of all sizes and races on the runway together.”

Her design work the fashion week event incorporated another aspect of “Be Well”: The designs were a combination of 100% recycled materials, renewable, performance and heritage textiles. Tidwell works with Sustaintex, based in South Carolina, to produce textiles made from items like plastic bottles, x-ray film and ketchup bottlesmaking cradle-to-cradle styles in the Carolinas.

She celebrates and embraces locally-made. “North Carolina is so deep and rich in textiles,” said Tidwell. “So many factories that have moved overseas are now coming back.”

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Her designs each have a unique story, which she shares with the models, connecting them to the story.

Tidwell has found a home in Asheville NC, where she has designed for local fashion shows, photo shoots, videos, partnered with organizations and companies to create product lines and has even become a mentor to blossoming young designers. Through Asheville Fashion Week, Tidwell met teenage designer Brooke Ullman, who showcased her designs at the week-long event for the second year in a row. A student at T.C. Roberson High School, Ullman will be mentoring with Tidwell to gain more knowledge as a designer.

While Tidwell has made a name for herself in Asheville, she has a larger vision for the future. “I’d like to go to different places around the world and learn about culture and design.”

For Kristin Alexandra Tidwell, art and design can truly make the world a better place. 

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Photo Credits

Photographer: Sonja Weisman - Shots by Sonja

Designer: Kristin Alexandra Tidwell

Hair and Makeup: Devynn Potter

Models: Julia Gurley, Sarah Elizabeth, Saajana Bhatka

Gage Models and Talent Agency