Who is the ‘The Retention Strategy’?

Mpls trio create dynamic fashion event


By Julia Toles

Contributing Writer


Let’s start with Ashley Johnson, known as “The Face” of Retention Strategy, who comes to Minneapolis by way of Detroit. Born and raised in the Motor City, she has always had a passion for community and has longed to instill social and academic events into various communities. Johnson has achieved this by creating a healthy environment for her peers and functions to inspire young individuals and encourage them to also do the same.

Madia Willis, another third of the Retention Strategy, hails from Washington, DC and is known as “The Designer.” She once owned a clothing line called Biribelle that was infused with African fabric and a touch of vintage feel. She uses her talents to prove and encourage that the mind can achieve anything it is set on.

The Retention Strategy: (l-r) Ashley Johnson, Christopher Webley  and Madia Willis Photo courtesy of Christopher Webley
The Retention Strategy: (l-r) Ashley Johnson, Christopher Webley
and Madia Willis
Photo courtesy of Christopher Webley

Last but not least, Christopher Webley, completing the trio, is known as “The Engineer.” He describes himself as a “visionary.” All the way from North Carolina, he has nurtured his immense passion to not only empower people but to teach individuals how to follow their passion by exposing them to opportunities and resources.

Now, what do these three individuals have in common? One, they are not from Minneapolis, but now they all reside here. These three young professionals of color, in a new city thirsting for cultural diversity, decided that instead of looking for events to attend, they would just create them. From that thirst, these individuals birthed “The Retention Strategy.”

“Our work starts conversations, develops culture, and drives demand, establishing long-term relationships with people and the community in which we serve,” according to their mission statement.

The Retention Strategy started a conversation by putting together an African-infused, modern-day, gender-specific and neutral fashion show called the Diaspora at the Lab Theater last month. In order to maintain their mission of a culturally diverse atmosphere, they featured designers from everywhere.

Just to name a few lines: the Akua Gabby line opened the show; this first-generation African designer from Ghana impressed all in attendance with a huge African-infused homage-style collection for women inspired by her Ghanaian culture. Her line spoke with loud colors and an edgy twist of African garments transcending into modern-day style.

To add more spunk to the show, Coatou was also a crowd favorite, an internationally recognized men’s line that did not fail to make all in attendance gasp. The tailored men’s line did not leave a characteristic out of its lineup — there was something for the professional, metro, fashionista and everyday male.

Other lines that graced the runway were Golden Hanger, JLoren, Bridgette, Ambar, Sho Sho Esquiro, Dahil Republic, and Saukoko Betty.

This show was titled “Diaspora,” meaning “a unique approach to history through the fashion lens. The Retention Strategy achieved each of those points listed in its show by incorporating ethnic contemporary music as designer lines hit the runway, and not to forget the eclectic style and ambiance that the Lab Theater brought to the show.

For its first major event, Diaspora was a success and a clear representation of what culturally diverse, fun and dynamic events look like. If this was any indication of what is to come from The Retention Strategy, one can guess that it will only get better.

To learn more about The Retention Strategy, check out their website at www.theretentionstrategy.com.

Julia Toles welcomes reader responses to jtoles4@gmail.com.