Not quite two years ago, Alyssa Dilts decided it was time to come home.
The Omaha native and North High School graduate had spent nearly a decade in Chicago, first attending college at the International Academy of Design and Technology, and then working for a modeling agency. She regularly flew to New York, Milan and other fashion centers attending fashion shows with the models she represented.
But her mom was about to have hip replacement surgery, and Dilts wanted to be nearby to help. Plus, she and her boyfriend were ready for a slightly slower pace of life.
Her mom suggested that she could continue to work in the modeling industry, but from Omaha instead of Chicago. Dilts dismissed the idea at first. But as she thought about it more, she began to think her mom was onto something.
She knew Omaha had its own fledgling Fashion Week, and she realized that she knew its producer, Brook Hudson, from years before. She sent Hudson a message asking if she'd like to meet for lunch.
“It was like we were friends forever and ever,” Dilts said.
Thus began a partnership that has elevated the quality of the Omaha Fashion Week's twice-a-year shows and, more recently, launched modeling careers for several Omaha women.
Dilts, who founded Develop Model Management in downtown Omaha after moving back in December 2011, handles the model calls for Omaha Fashion Week, taking photographs, gathering measurements and filming the girls (and boys) walking down the runway. She uploads the information to an online database for Omaha Fashion Week designers unable to attend model castings.
She helps models work on their walk, their confidence and their figures. She offers contracts to those who have the right look and show the most promise, and she has landed local, national and even international work for many of them. One model just returned from spending six months in Asia; another is working in Singapore right now. Later this summer, Dilts plans to take at least one model to meet agents in New York.
Dilts herself dabbled briefly in modeling. When she was a teenager, her parents signed her up for modeling classes at Nancy Bounds Studio after an injury sidelined her from what she believed to be her true love: volleyball.
As it turned out, modeling classes were a better fit.
“It changed my life,” Dilts said. “I loved every second of it.”
She booked a few jobs — a hair show, a Gordmans ad. Soon she was teaching classes. She first met Hudson, a former Miss Nebraska, when she signed up for classes at Nancy Bounds.
Dilts left Omaha for college in the early 2000s, and she studied fashion merchandising. When she needed an internship, her experience and connections from Nancy Bounds helped her land one at a modeling agency. Eventually, her internship turned into a full-time job.
Over and over, she said, she has realized the value of keeping in touch with old friends and colleagues, and treating everyone well.
“I always try to teach the girls that you never burn bridges,” she said.
In addition to working with Omaha Fashion Week and the models she offers contracts, Dilts also teaches classes out of her Leavenworth Street office, just as she did at Nancy Bounds.
She hopes the girls learn the same skills she did — poise, confidence, responsibility.
And every day, she said, she is glad she returned home.
“It's been the best experience of our lives,” she said.
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