RAGS Celebrates 20 Years of Support for the YWCA

Art to wear is on display at the Woolworth Windows. Photo: Gabriel Brown

The art of fashion hits Tacoma in a big way as RAGS – an annual wearable art show benefiting YWCA-Pierce County – fills the Woolworth Windows with a retrospective showcasing the popular event which will celebrate its 20th year March 6-9, at Mercedes-Benz of Tacoma.

Spanning nearly two decades, the RAGS exhibit emphasizes the event’s “wearable art” aesthetic over frolicsome fads of the same period. You won’t find anything resembling Gaultier’s pointy cone bras or Versace’s barely-there scarf dress. But peer through the windows and what you will discover are the striking imagination and meticulous stitching, cutting and draping involved in creating one-off garments, as well as made-by-hand accessories and jewelry.

Photo: Gabriel Brown

RAGS is a juried event, and participating fiber and jewelry artists are culled from a nationwide pool of applicants. The Woolworth exhibit features the work of approximately 35 local designers including textile artists Annette Self, Ann Darling, Elaine Spence, Marylou Ozbolt-Storer, Diane Katz, and Roni Simone; and jewelers Cheryl DeGroot, Dixie Stanton, Joan Joachims, and Tina Wade. The installation nicely demonstrates the breadth of creative talent that attracts a very faithful fan base each year to the 4-day event held at Mercedes-Benz of Tacoma.

Twenty years of RAGS fashion are now on display at the Woolworth Windows. Photo: Peggy Bing
The Woolworth Windows provide the ideal backdrop for the RAGS retrospective. Photo: Peggy Bing

The first RAGS came about when local organizers Sondra Purcell (then YWCA Board President), Judith Nilan and Mimi Anderson conceived the idea of a wearable art show that would support YWCA-Pierce County domestic violence prevention programs; they approached Rick Gottas, then owner of the American Art Company in Tacoma, to host it. Thanks to the generosity of local artists including Lynn Di Nino, Corky Brown, Jacque Kleiner and Indian Owen, who donated a percentage of their sales, the inaugural event raised $5,000 for the Y. By the end of five years, the all-volunteer RAGS Guild had turned over $107,000 in donations to the organization. When the event outgrew its original location at the American Art Company, Larson Automotive Group opened its doors, sharing its Mercedes-Benz showroom for the 4-day event. RAGS has been held there ever since, free of charge.

Over 20 years, RAGS has raised more than $1 million for the YWCA. Photo: Gabriel Brown
Over 20 years, RAGS has raised more than $1 million for the YWCA. Photo: Gabriel Brown

As the 20th anniversary event nears, the RAGS Guild has made gifts totaling nearly $1.2 million in support of YWCA-Pierce County domestic violence prevention and intervention programs. According to RAGS Co-Chair Cheryl Peterson, in the past five years major funds have been channeled into building a new women’s shelter, and renovating the original one.

This long-running and ever-popular fundraiser is produced entirely by volunteers, sponsors, and underwriting donations. A more jovial and hardworking group of organizers would be hard to find. Co-founder Sondra Purcell describes the RAGS Guild as “extremely well organized and very dedicated to the cause,” adding that they have “grown this event into a wearable art phenomenon.” She recalls how during a visit to a boutique in Taos, NM, a few years back, “The owner asked if I was visiting from out of town. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’ve come from Tacoma, WA.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I was in Fife [where the hosting Mercedes-Benz dealership was located], but never got to Tacoma, maybe next time!'”

Don’t miss your chance to support a worthy cause, and see some one-of-a-kind clothing design. Tickets for the March 6 opening-night gala at Mercedes-Benz of Tacoma are $70; the March 2 20th-Anniversary Party at American Art Company is $35. The 3-day sales event March 7-9 is free. Click here for schedule and ticket information. RAGS 20-Year Retrospective is at the Woolworth Windows, 11th & Broadway, through April 17, 2014. ~Lisa Kinoshita