Thomas McClure is Columbus.
The man is everywhere. He has his hands in more pots than I have fingers and toes. If I could crown anyone the King of Columbus, it would be this guy.
That’s why it’s so hard to fathom that he wasn’t born here.
Since his move to Columbus from Dallas in 2005, McClure has been on a mission to put his adopted hometown on the national radar. From tripling sales at Heyman Talent Agency during his time as agent and director, to founding CMH Fashion Week, McClure has been on a mission to prove Columbus is more than just OSU football.
I met with him at his favorite spot in the city, Zen Cha Tea Salon. We got zen, we drank some tea, and we caught up on life.
Let’s start with the topic of the hour: CMH Fashion Week. This year’s production was significantly grander than the past year, what was your motivation behind it?
Each year we have to top the last. Something that added to the grandness was the tent. Having a tent is very reminiscent of Bryant Park. It gave us that extra bit of awe. Also having the city skyline [at the Genoa Park runway finale] as the backdrop was amazing. Each year the board and myself always look at what we can do to top the last year’s finale show. It will definitely get more challenging as the years go by.
It was rumored to have made national news…
Not national news, but we have national recognition because we were named No. 3 in the country for fashion designers. It goes New York, then L.A., then Columbus. Of course, a large part of it is due to The Limited, Express, Abercrombie & Fitch, and others, but a large part of it is CCAD turning out designers. We have a bunch of designers that aren’t going on to design for huge companies, but rather starting their own lines. Look at Josie Wills and Betsey Stevenson. So that also has to be taken into account as CMH Fashion Week is helping showcase that. I do know that Experience Columbus is doing a national campaign showcasing fashion in Columbus, as well as making it a fashion destination, which is along the same lines as what we’re doing.
What can we expect in years to come?
Well in five years, I see us having a Fashion Week twice a year. One in the fall and one in the spring, just like New York. Really, what it’s supposed to be is in the spring you’re showcasing the fall/winter looks and in the fall, you’re showcasing the spring/summer looks. Right now we’re an all-season fashion week. Having two weeks takes more work and more people, so in five years, I definitely see us having an office. We don’t have an office right now because we don’t really need one, but down the line we will need one as our staff grows larger. I also see our philanthropy program growing. This year we gave away $2,500 in scholarships; in five years I see us giving away $10,000.
Will we see the same designers for fall and spring?
It depends. Some designers only do fall designs and some only do spring designs. It’s really whoever qualifies each year.
How did the idea of Columbus having a fashion week come to fruition?
It was definitely a huge task to take on. Funny enough, we had a few naysayers, [who] to my face, would say “Really? A fashion week in Columbus?” It only added to the motivation to get Fashion Week off the ground and running. The idea actually came during the time I was booking models at Heyman Talent for Express or Lane Bryant or whoever, and I realized we have major retail hubs here. I thought if anyone in the U.S., besides New York or L.A. and maybe even Miami, deserves a Fashion Week, it’s Columbus. Also, Columbus is a very locally driven city. You know, we support each other and have a tight-knit community. We have a great infrastructure. That was the drive behind making our fashion week a non-profit. I actually don’t know of another fashion week in the U.S. that is non-profit with our similar mission – of supporting local designers and giving a scholarship away. I felt it really piqued the interest of the community, and I feel like it really elevates what we do. We’re not just one big fashion show – we have a mission.
For someone as accomplished as yourself, I’ve always found it interesting you never went to college.
I actually have 40 hours under my belt. I’ve gone in and out. That’s it. After high school I held a 9-5 job, and didn’t really think it was my thing.
Would you say it’s more about your drive?
Yes, but also not to toot my own horn…
(Laughs)…but I have a really good instinct for business. I helped grow Heyman Talent Agency into what it is today during my time as agent and director of the company. I feel the same way with anything I take on. If I have a passion for it, it’s going to happen. I’m going to make it happen. So there is a drive, there is a know-how, but there is also a customer service attitude. Your charisma is what gets people interested. I think what it really boils down to is this: if you can sell your passion through simply having a conversation with someone, it’s not long before others catch on.
I don’t think college is for everyone. Of course it’s great for those who want to get to their goal faster or maybe explore other avenues of what they want to do. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do until I moved to Columbus and that was at the age of 30.
What did bring you to Columbus?
I met my partner, Arend, in 2004 while still living in Dallas. After about a year together he had accepted a job position in Columbus. I was like “Where the hell is Columbus?” (laughs) I had no clue what that was. The funny thing was right after he accepted the job, we were at a coffee shop in Dallas and I opened up a national LGBT magazine and flipped right to a page that said Columbus was the hidden gay gem of the U.S. I saw that as a sign. One of the main reasons we moved here was for that LGBT acceptance. As a matter of fact, when Arend came here on his job interview, he was at a local restaurant where he saw one guy go up and kiss another guy on the lips. We had never seen that before. I was like, “That’s kinda cool!” Dallas does have a great LGBT community, however it was mainly on a street called Cedar Springs. If we went outside of that area, we felt as if we couldn’t be as open. Columbus, we can go anywhere and be affectionate and everyone treats it as a natural thing. So when Arend saw that and told me about it, it just gave us hope.
What were you doing in Dallas before the move?
I was doing extra work, I was waiting tables, I was bartending…I even tried the whole corporate thing. I actually got fired. I got fired from a temp agency if you can believe it. How does that happen? (laughs) I was entering loan checks into a database. That’s all I did, 9-5. All I could hear was elevator music. I couldn’t even bring my own headphones in. I hated it, so I’d call in sick. And I always made long distance calls on their phone. They, of course, ended up firing me.
You’re such a rebel.
I know, right? I told them I’d pay them back, but I never did. It was like $3. But yeah, the last job I held in Texas was at a restaurant where I served, bartended, and trained other servers and then also some extra work on a few movies and commercials.
Speaking of acting, you are actually the president of the Columbus Film Commission. Can we expect any blockbusters to be filmed here?
Right now I will say this and I can’t disclose too much information, but we are in talks with a major film production company that wants to do a slate of 10 films. They need a place to build their studio and Columbus is their top city. I’ve showed them around town and got them set up in a meeting with the mayor’s office. Hopefully in the next year we’ll see something.
Impressive. You really do a lot for our city. You’d think you were a born and bred Buckeye.
You’re right. Everyone thinks I’m originally from Columbus, but I’m not. Columbus is now my home. I put an article out in Outlook last year about how often I hear people say they can’t wait to move out of Columbus or how much they hate it here. My advice was to make the change you want to see. If you want something changed, go change it. If you’re not happy with something about our city, do something about it. In Columbus, it’s completely possible.