Women's History Month: Fashions by Fowler Uplifts Local Community for 34 Years

Brown on Cleveland

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Renay and Tracy Fowler of Fashions by FowlerCourtesy of Fashions by Fowler

Cuyahoga County, OH. - Historically speaking, many women have become involved in the fashion industry. Fashion is often considered an expression of one's true personality, character, and creativity. People make tough decisions about what to wear and where to shop every day. Parties, work, church, recreational dinner dances, and other activities will determine fashionable ideas about what to wear and how to wear it.

In the early1920 women were found wearing dresses while men wore three-piece suits. As time unraveled, Americans began a paradigm shift. Hollywood first began to emerge. During this period, actors and actresses began to define fashion by films and the stars of the movie world. There is men's fashion and grace, lace, and elegant styles. While styling men was subpar, women's fashion grew to popularity. According to America's Fashion Trends, during the 1950s, New York City became the center of the fashion world. During the 1950s, many of the big designer brands began to emerge. Women opened boutiques and clothing stores developed crossed the country. The fashion industry began to soar.

Cuyahoga County, OHIO, is not a New York marketplace for fashion. Still, we have several boutiques and clothing stores owned by creative men and women who have garnered the reputation of styling local public figures to successful entertainers. The community may ignore them because some may consider them the silent partners of a team. However, their role is most vital to the success of many occupations. At 16 years old, a teenage girl from East Cleveland, OHIO named Renay Fowler, sat under her mom, a local designer, Charlotte Fowler - made a career decision to be part of the fashion world and never looked back. Renay's younger sister, Tracy, joined her two years after opening her first store Fowler Fashions later known as Fashions by Fowler. On March 15, 2022, we recognize Renay and Tracy Fowler of Fashions by Fowler.

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Young Renay FowlerCourtesy of Renay Fowler

Thirty-Four years ago, Renay Fowler knew what she wanted. She liked clothes, music, and entertainment at a tender young age. As Renay attended Shaw High School, she got a job with a local businessman, Kermit Henderson, who owned Doll's Rapid Creation, a record store in East Cleveland. The record store was popular in the '80s. "Mr. Henderson gave me a job at the record store. He was a mentor and overprotective. I learned the business and became the store manager. I had the opportunity to meet lots of local and national entertainers," says Renay Fowler. Kermit Henderson, known as "Kermit," was the go-to person for local and national entertainers in the community. People who came to our city to promote records and new artists almost had to go through Kermit to get noticed. Kermit was well-known. He was the industry guy. Our clothing boutique was next to his store. He would send people to our store to purchase products. We have made custom designs for national artists Barry White, Freddie Jackson, and Gerald Levert. He promoted our brand to help us, and it worked. We are blessed to have him as a supporter. He taught us a lot about the business, and he showed us why giving back to others is rewarding. We help people just as he helped us," says Tracy Fowler.

Although the Fowler sisters learned how to build and manage a business, both were interested in the entertainment business. Renay was a model and part of a dance group called "Satin Souls," and Tracey rapped under "Tra Lov." Both endeavors were short-lived. Renay's dancing career led her to work with national recording artist Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Full Force, Gerald Levert, and others. During Tracy's short-lived rap career, she discovered that she is an introvert. She could rap, but not in front of an audience. "My sister, Renay, was my manager. Gerald Levert was a promoter and my producer. I had a contract, and I changed my mind. I did not want to perform in front of a large gathering as she burst into laughter. At this point, I knew that I only wanted to work behind the scenes," giggled Tracy.

As Renay and Tracy moved on, their focus became consumed with fashion and business: sharpening their accounting skills became a priority. "One of my biggest obstacles was accounting. This process would be my primary focus if I could do it again. Yes, we have been in business for a long time. We have obstacles like anyone. I advise others to take business management courses. This skill is essential to their survival as a business owner," stated Renay. "Also, it is important to support your local community. We will partner with non-profit organizations to raise awareness about important community issues. Before Covid, we partnered with Lady Gilmore and helped bring thousands of toys to our community for families. We will do our part, and we will continue to help. At times we give our time and our space. Renay and I work very well together. She is my best friend. Yes, my older sister is my best friend and business, partner. It works for us," stressed Tracy.

"The Fowler sisters carry weight in the community. They have mentored many people wanting to open boutiques and clothing stores. Unfortunately, some people overlook their contributions to this region. The sisters are quiet, but they are knowledgeable. Thirty-four years in business is admirable," commented Lady Gilmore.

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Fashions by Fowler Store Front BannerCourtesy of Fashions by Fowler

Over the thirty-four years, Fashions by Fowler has had three locations, East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, and Cleveland on Shaker Square, which is the current location. Recently in the news, there has been discussion and community outcry about the conditions of Shaker Square. Merchants and several city officials want help from Cleveland City Council. Shaker Square is financially crumbling.

According to an article written by The Land, "the former landlord, the Coral Company, tried to refinance Shaker Square and the lender pulled the financing during the pandemic because of the risk of losing tenants. Shaker Square's new owner is the Wilmington Trust Bank. To protect Shaker Square, the City of Cleveland wants to buy it from the bank turn it over for repairs to non-profit owners Burten Bell Carr Inc and the Cleveland Neighborhood Progress. Afterward, the organizations would sell Shaker Square to a new owner." As a long-term tenant, we wanted to know Renay's understanding of this issue. "I attend the merchant meetings when I can. My biggest issue is the safety, parking, and redevelopment of this area. It's a good area. Business is great. I am not looking to move Fashions by Fowler. We have the seasonal marketplace, and we have great business neighbors. The community supports our business. We will continue to stay here; no, we are not moving," said Renay.

The Fowler sisters are not activists. They don't engage in politics, but they entertain "Keeping Your Pretty." KYP is another name for beauty, health, and wellness. "As we age or get older, we have to feel pretty and look pretty - inside and outside. Fashions by Fowler will be launching something new to share with women and men. We are excited about this new venture. This is coming very soon," stated Renay. According to familybusinesscenter.com, the average life span of a family-owned business is 24 years. The Fowler sisters have beat the odds. "Thirty-four years is a long time. We are blessed. We have a very close family. Our parents taught us how to support one another. We have a brother who is involved in the business at times. We will continue to mentor new business owners and young people in the community. This community can continue to count on Fashions by Fowler to be part of its growth," says Tracy.

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Tracy Fowler of Fashions by FowlerCourtesy of Renay Fowler

The Fowler sisters, Renay and Tracy.

Fashions by Fowler's address is 11319 Shaker Square Cleveland, Ohio 44120.

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"Brown On Cleveland" features podcast host, licensed social worker, and social justice activist Kimberly F. Brown. Former talk show host with WOVU.95fm. Brown is the Chief Administrator of The Brown Report Newspaper. Brown experience is with investigative reporting.

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