Complaining about rent and house prices has become Denver’s unofficial pastime, if you haven’t noticed. With housing prices continuing to rise, and the cost of renting being some of the highest rates in the country, just about everyone in Denver is feeling the pinch. But there are some in Denver who truly have it worse than others. On any given night in Denver there are over 1,000 homeless youths (aged 13-24) who spend their nights sleeping on the street.
For young people the causes of homelessness are varied and diverse. Many come from broken homes where abuse, addiction, and mental illness leads to an unstable environment. In other cases a string of bad luck can lead to a domino effect and the next thing you know, you can’t afford rent. But Urban Peak, a local non-profit, seeks to help those who struggle to get this basic need met.
To help solve this systemic issue, members of Denver society gathered under Colfax in a symbolic move to raise money for homeless youth in an event organized by Urban Peak and sponsored by Joseph Family Foundation and Infiniti of Denver among others. For many of these teens, the overpass represents the closest thing they have to having a roof over their head at night.
The annual event, called Urban Nights, featured a silent and live auction, and a fashion show featuring Denver designers and boutiques. Fashion Designer Stephanie Ohnmacht spent 3 years as a volunteer for Urban Peak, coming face to face with the issue of homelessness as she served sloppy Joe’s and lasagna to homeless youths downtown.
She was just one of the twelve designers who participated in the show which raised money for Urban Peak and the youths they serve.
Ohnmacht, a graduate of the University of Colorado, studied business and has had a successful career working as a telecom specialist at Comcast. But clothing has been a passion of hers since a young age. She started designing simple pajama sets, and entered her designs in 4H competitions as she was growing up in Burlington, CO. “I am self taught,” says Ohnmacht, “I would practice things on my own, and if there was something I couldn’t figure out, my mom would find a woman in town who could help me out.”
Ohnmacht describes her style as contemporary classic and designs items with a tailored and feminine touch for women in the workplace. Like many designers, she says she designs for herself in mind. But even Ohnmacht says she can be tempted by the cheap items from fast fashion stores like H&M and Forever 21 that typically pay slave labor, or something close for their designs. But Ohnmacht hopes that people can see the value of a locally designed item, and she manufactures all of her items in the USA.
A couple of years ago Ohnmacht decided to enter a design competition in Denver, although it had been years since she had done anything formally with her fashions. She ended up winning 2nd place in the The Fashion Project at Tamarac Square which featured Denver designers like Mondo Guerra and Mona Lucero.
The show also offered an opportunity for the designers to sell their items in a boutique at Tamarac Square. Still a bourgeoning scene at the time, Ohnmacht says the group of the designers have remained connected ever since. Although the Denver fashion community is stronger than it has ever been, Ohnmacht believes it will continue to be a cottage industry for Colorado. “I don’t know that we have the infrastructure to support anything more,” says Ohnmacht.
Ohnmacht doesn’t know for sure whether fashion will ever be something that will support her entirely. For now she is comfortable at her 9-5 job, but she would like to continue pursuing her dreams and contributing her talents to causes like the Urban Nights show.
Aside from being a burgeoning scene for Colorado fashion, Urban Nights brings to light a growing need for our country to help those who are underserved or ignored. As a society, we must come together to make sure that everyone’s basic needs are being met. Whether it’s clothing, or a place to sleep at night.