Kansas City is legit — and it’s full of talented creatives who national eyes should be watching, said Whitney Manney.
“I think COVID has shown us you can show up and show out from anywhere in this world,” added Manney, a local fashion designer, maker, and founder of the WHITNEYMANNEY (WM) fashion label, in announcement of a recent $5,000 grant win from JOANN Fabrics — part of the specialty craft retailer’s minority creative grant program, which drew some 2,300 Black sewists and makers to apply.
Manney claims her prize as part of the Top 20 finalists in the contest’s inaugural round which also comes with an opportunity to be interviewed for a teaching position with JOANN, which has served a major source of inspiration in Manney’s maker’s journey, she said.
“Having a boost from this grant will just amplify the work I’ve already been putting in; no excuses to slow down now,” Manney said of the prize money and its timing amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been taking it day by day, making sure I still do my absolute best every time I go to the studio. Opportunities like this may seem slim during a pandemic but I’ve just learned to pivot, stay open-minded, and keep working toward the goals that I can.”
The money comes in the form of store credit, which is expected to help Manney scale her efforts through equipment upgrades, she said.
“This will be beneficial to my craftsmanship, productivity, and imagination. I am at such a critical point in my creative practice where artistic expansion and experimenting are no longer an option but a necessity to break through to the next level that I envision for WM.”
Influenced by culture and history, Manney said she’s hopeful national visibility from the opportunity will show creative leaders that Kansas City is a place stitched with creativity and innovation.
“I want them to know that KC deserves to build the strong creative industries that we deserve and that we have global, innovative ideas,” she said of her hometown.
“I get asked a lot about why I haven’t left KC, but it really just makes sense for me to be based here. I’m able to take bigger chances with my work, have a full studio, invest my resources into more things. I’m not too sure I would be able to do that on one of the coasts,” Manney said.
“My thought process is that everyone is an email away. I ship packages all over, and if I’m in a show somewhere else or have been hired for a gig, I can always jump on a plane.”
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Hey there, Whit here! Just wanted to say hello to my new followers and welcome to the world of #WHITNEYMANNEY – I am KC Born, Worldwide Fly (with a lil’ bit of time during high school in Phoenix) – KCAI Grad, Fibers Dept. – WM officially became a biz in 2014 – Textile/Surface Design is my jam! Color, pattern, and texture are the big 3 elements you’ll find in my work – I teach with @jocomakerspace and @kcai.ce – Today’s song on repeat: Dime by @imkentheman – Currently reading: The Meaning of Mariah Carey by the Queen herself @mariahcarey – Hobbies: roller skating, chilling with my sis #YayathePup, baking, and sneakers! – Currently available at @shopwhitneymanney , @souvenear , @cocobrookside , and coming soon to @blackarchiveskc – Every garment and accessory is dreamt, designed, and constructed in the WHITNEYMANNEY studios 📸: @camerongeestudio / @katrinahutsonharris / @wilddearkc models: @nicole.a.mclaughlin / @sanayalexander / @rayethemodel
On the heels of such momentum, the sky’s the limit for Manney, she said, pondering what the future might hold — and ways she can make her dreams a reality in the metro.
“JOANN already has such a huge customer base, being able to reach all of those people can really put me center stage in front of a lot of important people in the craft world. My ultimate dream is to have a sewing and lifestyle show on PBS, so I’ll treat this opportunity as a first step.”
Click here to read about Manney’s participation in the most recent season of Make 48 — the Kansas City-created reality competition series for makes.
As the holiday shopping season begins, Manney encouraged Kansas Citians to support other local creatives as they check their christmas lists.
“Shop! And if you’re not in a position to shop with them, share their work,” she said of the importance of shopping small — especially in the COVID-era.
“Sharing links on Facebook or sharing someone’s post in your Instagram story can go a long way,” Manney said. “If you have purchased from a creative before email them a review they can use to promote their work. Word of mouth is so important to the strength of our brands.”