MILWAUKEE — On a Monday night, Lynne Dixon-Speller kicked off what was her third semester teaching at the Edessa School of Fashion in Milwaukee.  

What You Need To Know

  • Edessa School of Fashion started classes in January 2022

  • It was founded by Lynne Dixon-Speller, who named it after her grandmother

  • It’s the first new four-year college to ever be approved by the Educational Approval Program in Wisconsin

Before class officially started, she helped one of her students working with feathers on a hat. 

That student was Andre Purdy. He’s one of the first ever students of the Edessa School of Fashion. Purdy started taking classes in January. 

Andre Purdy and a model in one of his designs. (Courtesy of Lynne Dixon-Speller)

“I’ve been born with a gift, and I’ve always known it, but I knew I needed to improve, and you need education,” Purdy said. 

He first met Dixon-Speller in 2018, when he entered a fashion competition in Milwaukee Fashion Week. Dixon-Speller was one of the judges. 

“She saw the work, and it went from there, so it was like it was meant to happen,” Purdy said. 

Purdy is now in his third semester with the Edessa School of Fashion. He said he’s learned a lot.  

“I’ve learned textiles and fabrics, and different ways to shape it and manifest it into what I call it, what I call my own personal design,” Purdy said. “This is where the school has helped me to understand what direction to go and why I’m going in that direction.”

He said Dixon-Speller has played a critical role in helping him become the designer he was born to be.

For more than 35 years, Dixon-Speller taught apparel design at the Art Institute in Wisconsin.

“When they decided to close, it was difficult to accept the fact that a corporate structure had made our fate inevitable,” Dixon-Speller said. 

So she and other faculty decided they were going to control their own fate. 

Together, they launched the Edessa School of Fashion, named after her grandmother, who taught her how to sew.

Dixon-Speller’s grandmother graduated from Tuskegee University in 1920, a time when that seemed to be impossible for minorities and women. 

“I wanted every little young person in America to see that even 100 years ago, the undoable was doable and that there was someone they could look up to,” Dixon-Speller said. “If it wasn’t their grandmother, they could come to Edessa School of Fashion and have her as their grandmother.”

Lynne Dixon-Speller and her students in New York for Fashion Week (Left to right: Stephanie Schultz, Andre Purdy, Lynne Dixon-Speller, Sabrina Lombardo, Keerah Carter). (Courtesy of Lynne Dixon-Speller)

The Edessa School of Fashion is the first new four-year college to ever be approved by the Educational Approval Program in Wisconsin.

It’s also the first designated fashion college in the Midwest, and the first four-year college in the state with minority leadership. 

“That became a major achievement that we hadn’t even started out to achieve,” Dixon-Speller said. 

And in just three semesters, her students are achieving what she says many of them may have felt was impossible.

Several were invited to showcase their own fashion designs on the runway at New York Fashion Week Black

She said that thinking about how far the students have come and how proud her grandmother would be if she were here today is emotional. 

“I’ve shed a tear,” Dixon-Speller said. “It’s kind of like, it’s a leader moment when you didn’t actually lead. They led, and they got there, and they did it, and they survived it and they succeeded at it. When you can step back and watch what they can do, as opposed to trying to micromanage every second of it — that’s a rewarding feeling.”

And for Dixon-Speller, this is just beginning.