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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Studs, Struts & Stilettos heads down the runway for its fifth annual show

Studs, Struts & Stilettos heads down the runway for its fifth annual show

Fashion meets ... construction?

Chalked up on a two-by-four, it's a head-scratcher.

As John Eischen, executive director of Rochester Area Builders, explained to us, "I never in my life thought I would be involved in a fashion show.”

Yet for the fifth straight year, Eischen finds himself doing exactly that.

Next Thursday, the organization will host its fifth annual Studs, Struts & Stilettos fashion show at the Mayo Civic Center. The event serves as a fundraiser for the Rochester Area Habitat for Humanity.

“Five years in, it’s really starting to become the community event we wanted it to be," Eischen said in a recent interview.

The high-energy show, which this year will feature 21 different models, is unique even by fashion show standards. Each model you see walking down the runway will be dressed in garb made exclusively out of materials commonly used in the construction industry.

In the past, that's meant using everything from electrical wire and broken glass to wallpaper samples and mosaic tiles.

"It’s always interesting finding out what materials go into the design," said Kevin Worden, executive director of the local Habitat chapter.

To bring the event to life, organizers rely on volunteers to serve as models and designers. Their goal is to create a runway experience that rivals a New York fashion show — with extra doses of imagination and ingenuity.

“One year, someone had to shove a water bottle up her back in order to keep her top on," recalled (with a laugh) the RAB's Rebekah Nielsen, who leads the year-round planning process for the event. 

 Photo courtesy Rochester Area Builders

Photo courtesy Rochester Area Builders

Grace Bigler, a past volunteer for Studs, Struts & Stilettos, knows first-hand what goes into creating a dazzling design.

"I would spend hours and hours at Home Depot and look at all the materials," Bigler explained. When an employee would approach her to ask if she needed help, she would offer the strange explanation of, "No, just designing a dress."

Bigler, now a freshman at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, was the recipient of a scholarship from RAB in 2017. She said getting involved with the event was what led her to pursue fashion design as a career.

"I found out how much I love it, and how much good it can do," she said.

Last year, Studs, Struts & Stilettos brought in nearly $50,000 to assist Habitat in its efforts to build and repair homes in the region.

“The money stays right here in the Rochester area ... whether it’s building a new house or rehabbing one, or putting in a wheelchair ramp for a family," said Worden, now in his 13th year leading the local Habitat chapter.

"Choosing to come to this event is choosing to help more families in our area have strength, stability and self-reliance through better shelter.” 

This year's Studs, Struts & Stilettos is scheduled for Thursday, April 19 at the Mayo Civic Center Auditorium. Tickets are available online.

Cover photo courtesy Rochester Area Builders

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