By  on August 2, 2012

Belk is providing some Southern hospitality for 15 designers with roots in the region.

The designers are the winners of a Belk fashion contest and the prize is that the retailer will sell their merchandise for the first time next spring, as part of the department store chain’s 125th anniversary celebration. The designers’ creations will also be sold on belk.com, and featured on Belk’s Facebook page as well as in advertising related to the anniversary.

Belk will set up Southern Designer Showcases in 44 stores, each 500- to 1,000-square-feet in size, and in stores that focus on contemporary fashion, according to Belk president and chief merchandising officer Kathryn Bufano. The showcases will display women’s apparel, while shoes, jewelry and kids’ clothes from the designers will be displayed in separate areas.

“Some are small vendors just starting out. Some have lines and are shipping to stores, and some of the winners are in school but Belk is going to produce their merchandise,” Bufano said. “One of the vendors is in Brooklyn, but she grew up in the South and has a Southern point of view.”

The designers, revealed at a ceremony at Belk headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. on Thursday, are: Andrea Brown, Miriam Oehrlein, Amy Baxter, Molly Stevens, Aakofii, Megan Masters, Faith Thornburg, Blake Vaigneur, Emily Newnam, Caitlin Michele Moore, Kathleen Murphy, Hannah Goff, Rosalie Morris, Jay Reynolds, Jazsalyn McNeil.

The contest is one of several new tactics at Belk that are part of a rebranding strategy launched last year to update its image and merchandising as a store for modern Southern style. “Last year, we really started to ferret out Southern designers,” Bufano said, particularly through trade venues such as Magic in Las Vegas, as well as Charleston Fashion Week and regional markets.

Belk’s contest drew 175 submissions from established and up-and-coming designers as well as some fashion students. They all provided samples, photos of their merchandise, and write ups as to why their looks are right for Belk and participated in interviews with Belk’s merchandising executives who determined the winners.

“With some of the designers, we can see right away the potential to move forward beyond the three months,” that the showcases are up and running. However, Bufano also said that Belk is considering Southern showcases as annual installations each spring season.

Asked about the key trends that will stand out in the Southern showcase, Bufano replied, “Being from the South, dresses is a huge classification. So is femininity, classic preppie seersuckers, color, cotton and prints — lots of florals, abstract florals and photo prints.”

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