Esther Lee Leach of Cherry Creek Fashion
The digital space, although rich with stories and imagery, can be a lonely place. We create from behind our screen so often that we can forget to share our time and ideas with others—in real life. So, how do we open up the doors to face-to-face connection and build something offline that can far outlast the fashion and media trends online?
Esther Lee Leach, the founder and editor-in-chief of Cherry Creek Fashion has aimed to break open these doors (and the perceptions about the prestigious region) to share physical space with her female subjects debuted on her website. She has stitched her own appreciation for fashion and the curators behind local boutiques to reveal a deeper sense of identity within the Denver community, literally opening up the doors between herself and strangers by debuting closet tours of designers and beauty bloggers and interviewing style savants in Cherry Creek to showcase the varied voices that makeup this notably posh area.
“Someone once told me to not move to Cherry Creek at all because all I would find was white guys in velvet slippers, and I thought, well, I like velvet slippers, but I am not a white guy. So, I’ll be there.”
Esther was raised in the Eastern Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, in a home with walls of artwork and parents who were published poets; who made a tradition out of reading together every Saturday with the family. Fashion became a part of her story when she began modeling at age 14 and her segue into media just a couple of years later when her older sister and her produced their own TV show on the island, and they watched their perspective and styles quickly trend across the local landscape. She was only just becoming Esther invited is into her home to share her journey with Flora Fauna from the beginning; from her empowerment around fashion to her drive to bring more people into her community, because it isn’t always what you think it is. She reminds us of the broadness that the fashion industry encompasses and hers happens to be a refreshing and vibrant one. Her voice is laden with exuberance as she shares her educated insight about production and media, pair this with a high-octave laugh and a laid-back island cadence and you are brought right in to a narrative that is uniquely her own.
If Flora Fauna is the nocturnal art-junkie covering counter-culture across Denver, then Cherry Creek Fashion is her polished and bright-hued sister tapping the fashion hub and offering an alternate view into the diverse colorways that stitch together a sibling-hood within the same bourgeoning metropolis.
Tell us about your roots in Saint Lucia and growing up in the vibrant heart of the Caribbean.
“Saint Lucia has a very rich and diverse culture that includes Africans, Europeans, Syrians, Indians, Chinese, French, English, Dutch and all of these varied cultures mixed together. Our home life was centered around art and storytelling as both of my parents are published authors and we read together as a family every single week. My mom is also the type of person who if you told her you wanted to build a rocket and go to the moon tomorrow, she would say, “OK you can do it, it will be hard but let me know what you need from me.” There was always much encouragement to follow our dreams.
There were no locally produced shows in Saint Lucia apart from the news and so at the age of 16 my sister and I wanted to have our own TV show. We were obsessed with Oprah. It took us two years to plan it all out and get proper funding and when we went live, we were called Vibe Central, and it quickly became a really popular show on the island. From there we developed Access Caribbean, which was a travel show that we started after my sister returned home from film school. We were a small company of all girls and we learned how to produce, record, music mix, and style both ourselves and other people. This is where our creativity blossomed because we had no choice but to learn it ourselves. I also began writing for a newspaper, covering news events, which then led to the opportunity to cover fashion events for another publication. I would eventually become a senior fashion editor covering shows in New York, London, and Jamaica. I decided to pack my bags when I was 26 and take my career further by studying fashion journalism in London at the University of the Arts.”
How was it transitioning from the fashion climate in the Caribbean to the iconic streets of London?
“It was definitely different but very similar in the sense of how colorful the styles were, and they are both very personality-based. In London, people aren’t as caught up on the brands, instead finding clothing at charity shops and collecting more unique items. As a fashion student, I trolled charity shops on the weekend and discovered some clothing that I still have today. You can just stand on the streets in London and be inspired by people watching, it was such a good education.”
Is it important to step back from the editorial ‘Vogue’ perspective and look at clothes the way they are worn in the real world?
“Yes, that’s much more important because you take the ideas from the street and bring them to the magazines and to the runway. That is what all designers do; they start from the street level, which is so much more interesting.”
What was your focus at the University studying fashion journalism?
“For my thesis, I made this Caribbean fashion book that profiled about 20 designers, because people outside of the Caribbean don’t understand what the industry is all about there. I showed a wide range of designers, especially the ones from Trinidad, like designer Claudia Pegus and The Cloth; these were very talented and international names from the region.”
A serendipitous love story led her life to new cities and locales when she met her umbrella-donning British husband while she was a student. They met at the Notting Hill tube station where he faked a story to get her attention while she stood poised on the platform. Within three months they were moving stateside together where he followed his career to NYC and then to the west coast in San Francisco. When Denver came onto their radar just a few years later, she had an idea of a western region flooded with cowboys. She wondered if there were even black people in the Mile-High City. “What is happening in Denver?” She asked herself.
Her second love story happened to be with this unassuming city that she embraced with an open mind. “People were so nice here and they dressed up more than in San Francisco (less yoga pants and more heels). Surprisingly, there were loads of mixed-race couples, even more than in New York. I felt instantly at home here.”
During this time of travel and re-locating she had been consulting for her sister, contributing at their company they started together as young women. Soon after landing in Cherry Creek, the birth of her son would occupy her for the first few years of his life, but once he started school, she knew that it was time to get back to the work that was woven into her identity.
What called you to commentate on the fashion culture in Cherry Creek specifically?
“Cherry Creek is in one of the more fashion-oriented places in Colorado. Between the mall and Cherry Creek North, there are over 500 stores and most of those are fashion-based but nobody was covering it. I wanted to get into these places and to profile the owners behind the boutiques and get into their closets, there was just so much to cover. I created what I wanted to read. Cherry Creek Fashion quickly became my next project after the domain name was available for only $10.95, I couldn’t believe it!”
Are you running the site independently?
“I am doing everything solo except for when we have bigger projects like fashion photo shoots and I bring in photographers like Danielle Webster. I also just shot with Caroline Miller who is wonderful and Kiri Morken and I work together a lot who is an amazing stylist. She has become one of my best friends.”
Is video a driving force behind your brand?
“Doing video on the site was an extension of my background so I had to include this medium on the site. I want to keep expanding it by including long-form videos and possibly adding in new categories to cover as well as interview features.”
Can you tell us about who the Cherry Creek Fashion reader is?
“I have two markets, the local reader, and the people who are outside of Cherry Creek. I wanted to give those people on the outside an opportunity to know about the area and to get them out here shopping, especially in Cherry Creek North. There are a lot of small businesses that depend on it.
You seem to be breaking a barrier and exposing a different side of the area to people.
“Yes, I want people to come and investigate it for themselves. And even more important behind exposing the fashion and the brands itself, is about exposing the personalities behind them. What is their personal style and how do they bring that to their home and to the way they entertain and their life in general? This is why I love doing people’s closets, it is so much more interesting than a brand name. My personal style belief is to shop a range of stores, I can buy something from Good Will for a $1 and mix it with more expensive pieces. You can find something for $5 at Show of Hands or $1,000 at Neiman Marcus, there is a whole range. There is something for everybody because people live, work and play around here. I don’t want it to be intimidating for people, because it’s not, you just have to come and talk to the people here. Most people are small business owners, there are many mom-and-pop shops—just a little bit sparklier.”
Fashion can be a liberating act of expression as well as a way to connect people in unexpected ways. Can you tell me about your experiences with bringing people and ideas together for the sake of self-expression?
“It is a part of my brand to talk to people on the street about their style. I actually wish women would do that more, just go up to each other and complement one another if they appreciate what someone is doing, it just brings a smile to their face.”
How do you bring a lens of diversity to CCF?
“Our first cover was a black woman, Kiri Morken, but it wasn’t something I even thought about. I am always looking for diverse people to include in the magazine because I want people to see themselves in the magazine. It is so exciting to see all the shapes and colors in major magazines and I want to reflect that.”
Have you seen a change in how fashion covers diversity since you have been in the industry?
“I think they have almost been forced to show more diversity and step up to arise with the times. They are enforced by journalists and designers alike to represent it all, which ultimately makes your brand more of a business as you will attract more money in the process from a wider audience.”
Issue 1: Kiri Morken photographed by Nathan Daine
Issue 3: Keren Nimmo photographed by Esther Lee Leach
Issue 5: Hannah Moon photographed by Danielle Webster
Issue 7: Georgia Alexia Benjou photographed by Esther Lee Leach
Issue 8: Jennifer Tom photographed by Caroline Miller
The structure of your magazine showcases the voices and people behind brands and businesses and even people behind the camera that are in the fashion realm.
“Yes, I want to peek behind the camera and get to know them. They are some of the true style people and I want to know what they have to say.”
What are the challenges of being in the digital space versus print?
“I think the digital space, especially in an area like Cherry Creek, is a challenge because people are still getting used to digital-forward brands and that my particular magazine is only online. But the best thing about it is the constant and instant access to the publication, it is always there. You also can’t do video in print so that opens up so much opportunity.”
Can you tell us something we might find surprising about the culture in Cherry Creek?
“It is very down-to-earth and friendly, although when I first told people I lived here, they would say how stuffy it was, but it is a neighborhood where people live and work, and it is a welcoming place for everybody.”
What is the takeaway for Cherry Creek Fashion readers when they click into your space?
“To be inspired, encouraged, to live their best life. Don’t wait until guests come over to bring out your best china, bring it out on Saturday with your three-year-old and teach him how to use it. I want to remind people to find your own style and your authentic self—in your home and in your life. Fashion is not that important, it is more about wearing what makes you feel good. I remind you to not chase the trends; if acid-green and yellow is huge on the runway, but it doesn’t work for me, then I won’t abide by it. I will take what works for me and apply it into my life. Do you. The most interesting people do their own thing.”
What do you want to tell people about visiting Cherry Creek? How should they spend a day in the city?
“Walking through Cherry Creek is a must. Grab a coffee from Aviano, go to the mall, or take a stroll. There are so many amazing boutiques that are for all age ranges and at different price points. In the night we love going out, Narrative is a new restaurant with amazing quality Italian food, we hang out here and sometimes head over to the Rino area. We have great hotels too, the Jacquard, which we have done a few CCF shoots at as well as the Moxi, they all have great restaurants attached too. There are great opportunities to have a staycation in your own city.”
Any advice for editors and creators who are building their own business?
“Just start. Start your Instagram, start your website, just do it. It doesn’t matter how small it is, just start. Also, reach out to people. I reach out to everyone in their DM’s, even the TV hosts who have 20,000 followers. This is why I love Denver, because the creative community here is so supportive, everybody is so willing to meet up, help and connect.”
Do you think building a fashion publication would be more difficult somewhere else like NY or San Francisco?
“Definitely. Because all of these markets have an established and mature fashion industry, they are very closed. I can’t just reach out to Anna Wintour. But in a place like Denver, it’s still the wild west, you can do whatever you want. There is space to connect with people and just grab a coffee and see where that takes you.”