Kala Wilburn: Meet the woman behind Vehicle City Fashion Week

From custom to collection, Flint native Kala Wilburn is the heart and hands behind the fashion line Fannie Lucille. For Wilburn, fashion is about more than sewing fabric together—it’s also about sending a message.

After being introduced to the sewing machine by her grandfather, Wilburn not only discovered a new hobby, but also gave birth to her passion to create.

“While I was in high school, I would make our costumes for fashion shows, talent shows, and parties,” said Wilburn, 31, a graduate of Flint Southwestern Academy. “I didn’t really know it was something I wanted to do, it was just something I was just interested in.”

From there, Wilburn went onto college at Central Michigan University, majoring in biology with dreams to be a brain surgeon. That quickly changed once she discovered their fashion program. After changing her major, Wilburn dove completely in—traveling around the world to learn about her love for fashion.

After graduating from CMU, she settled in New York to begin her career at a sneaker company. Wilburn continued to design and sew all different types of pieces from clothing to backpacks, keeping her ideas in a notebook not knowing that soon, one of those sketches would soon birth her company, Fannie Lucille. 

“One day, one of my clients asked about a backpack I was drawing,” Wilburn said. “They asked me to make a backpack that I was designing. I got to make the first backpack for him, that’s how Fannie Lucille started.”

From there, Wilburn stayed in New York, starting her first custom collection and establishing Fannie Lucille—naming her company after great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother.  

“My grandmother explained to me how people would cut clippings out of magazines and bring them to my great-grandmother and she’d make them.” said Wilburn. “I felt like this was something I was carrying on.”

Wilburn moved back to Flint, returning to family with a goal of putting her dreams into action in her own hometown.

“My family had a conversation about building a business and carrying on something that would last for generations in our family together,” said Wilburn.

Fannie Lucille provides a number of services from custom cardigans and jackets to handbags and hats as well as alterations. The styles range from dressy casual to snap backs. As Fannie Lucille makes the transformation from custom to collection, Wilburn plans on making sure each piece possess their own uniqueness.

Wilburn also actively mentors other local designers to help jumpstart their careers.  

“When I moved back to Michigan from New York, I wanted to create something that would help people in the community who were looking to get into the fashion industry, but didn’t know how,” said Wilburn. “My brother would bring his friends and people who wanted to start anything to do with fashion and figure out how to help them.”

But after losing her brother to gun violence, it became vital for Fannie Lucille to take on a whole new message and meaning. This inspired Wilburn as she began spreading her new message of “Fashion Against Violence."

“Nobody understood how fashion was going to help with anything with violence, but it created this whole conversation for people to express themselves and what they went through,” said Wilburn. “So, I combined my passion for fashion with creating a zero tolerance for violence in our community, so that’s how ‘Fashion Against Violence’ came about.”

With that message, Wilburn began doing outreach work, exposing the community to fashion through workshops and industry professionals, ultimately establishing Vehicle City Fashion Week to combine her two passions.

“We have a big runway show the last day where we feature designers, performers, vendors, business owners to give them a platform to be put on display and allow people to shop small.” 

The sixth annual Vehicle City Fashion Week will be held Nov. 14-18. 

Aside from spending more time with her family, Wilburn says her ultimate goal is to see other designers flourish. 

“My goal is to nurture and grow other designers in the City of Flint,” she said. 

For more information, visit the Fannie Lucille or Vehicle City Fashion Week facebook pages. 
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