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VOL. 119 | NO. 206 | Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Fashion Designer, Entrepreneur Lives Out Dream

By Rosalind Guy

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DREAM BUSINESS: Anner J. Echols runs her fashion design and production company from a residence-turned-office space in Southeast Memphis. -- Photograph By Rosalind Guy

At least twice a year, many people find themselves cleaning out their closets, getting rid of clothes that are too big, too small or just no longer needed.

Anner J. Echols offers her clients a fashionable option for remaking the clothing they are considering throwing away. Echols, whose resume boasts, among other talents, the ability to design clothing, also transforms used clothing into creative new designs. As she comes up with new creations, she gives them names like the "My First Lady Outfit," "Silver Wings" and "Pretty in Pink."

Capitalizing on talents. With her mottos, "Come out of the closet with your talents," and "Make a domestic investment by investing in yourself," Echols has allowed her own talents to emerge by launching a business venture that uses two of her talents that bring her the most joy: sewing and modeling.

Echols is founder and CEO of AJE Productions and Swept Away Fashions. Among the services she provides are fashion and make-up consultation, choreography, production and design.

After spending many years as a model, Echols began designing some of her own clothes. She got permission to wear some of her own designs at shows she was performing in, but soon, she was coming up with more fresh designs than she could model herself. So she hired 12 models to show off her fashions.

AJE Productions
Owner: Anner J. Echols
Founded: 2001
Basics: The production company hosts fashion shows and offers workshops and "transformation services," which include fashion and make-up consultation and clothing design. 363-0737, www.sweptawayfashions.com

Her first clothing line was called "Styles You Can Dance In," and her models ultimately evolved into professional dancers - part of the production side of Echols' enterprise. The original 12 were whittled down to seven dancers, known as The Sweepers. They range in age from 19 to 59 and wear Echols' original designs when performing. The dancers have performed at a variety of functions in Memphis, but they have yet to perform outside the city. Echols said the group's goal is to land gigs outside of Memphis.

Within the past year, The Sweepers have performed at charity events for groups including The March of Dimes, American Diabetes Association and Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Greater Memphis. The group also has performed at fashion shows produced by Swept Away Fashions and the Southern Women's Show.

One special performance, which Echols plans to repeat sometime in the future, was a musical tribute for teachers who have made a difference in the lives of their students. According to Echols, the reunion of teachers and former students was a touching one that left hardly a dry eye in the house.

Helping others change. Echols doesn't downplay the importance of looking one's best. One of her company's mottos is "When you look good, you feel good." But a major objective behind her work is the belief that she can help people transform not only their outer appearance, but their inner beings. Echols pointed out that when transforming the "total person," the work must go below the surface.

And she works with all ages, from preschoolers to adults.

Recently, she offered a six-month course on what she called the "white-glove treatment" to a group of preteen girls at the South Parkway East Learning Center. The Dreamers, as the girls were called, were taught everything from good posture and poise to strategies for overcoming shyness and tools to improve self image and self-esteem.

Echols believes it's critical to teach techniques for transforming the inner self in order to achieve a full personal transformation.

"Outer appearance is very important," she said. "But once you transform your inner self, you can better deal with your co-workers and other people you may come in contact with during the day."

Business showcase. Echols keeps herself busy trying to help others. Her production company is hosting a Life Changing Home and Small Business Showcase Nov. 19 at Germantown Centre, located at 1801 Exeter Road. The event will offer resources for people interested in capitalizing on their talents.

"We want to help people find out what their true talents are and help them make their dreams a reality," she said.

The showcase will feature financial consultants and successful entrepreneurs, as well as professionals who can help prospective business owners in preparing a business plan.

"Now, more than ever, is the time for something like this," Echols said, pointing to the unpredictable business climate and the recent loss of jobs due to natural disasters.

Echols transformed a former Southeast Memphis living space at 4893 Chesterwood Court into studio and office space for her production company.

She said she is living out her dream, and at the end of the day, she wants to communicate to her clients the importance of shooting for their dreams.

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