Scoring an internship with legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz resulted in a life changing four months for Brett Warren.

At the time, Warren, a McMinnville, Tenn. native, had recently graduated with a degree in graphic design and photography from Middle Tennessee State University and he dreamed of making it big in the highly competitive world of fashion photography. It helped that the ambitious photographer knew how to needle his way onto high-profile sets with the likes of celebrities such as Michael Douglas.

“It was pretty wild to be plucked out of college from me just shooting my friends or shooting portraits for people who were paying me to being on set with Vogue or Vanity Fair. It really shook up my world,” Warren said.

Warren, now 30 years old, left New York knowing he wanted to start his own photography business back home in Tennessee. Today, he works out of creative co-working space WELD, where Warren has fashion books piled on his desk for inspiration.

You might be wondering: How could a fashion photographer survive in Nashville?

Well, the city best known for music actually has a burgeoning fashion community that has garnered national attention in the last several years. A report released in January by the Nashville Fashion Alliance shows the fashion industry contributes $5.9 billion and 16,200 jobs to the local economy in direct and indirect impact.

Nashville boasts the largest per capita concentration of fashion companies outside of Los Angeles and New York City, the report says.

It was working with those Nashville fashion companies that helped advance Warren’s photography career. After gigs at CMT and Perky Bros, he spent a year working with popular tie maker Otis James overseeing art direction and photography, and he’s photographed campaigns for flourishing designer Cavanagh Baker, womenswear brand Ona Rex and noted Alabama designer Billy Reid.

“Working in Nashville is a lot of fun because a lot of the people I’m shooting for are my friends. My friend Ashley has Ona Rex, it’s been fun to see her brand grow and see what it’s becoming and make her designs look the best they can for people around the world,” Warren said.

Warren’s rising profile earned him the attention the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee this year and he was selected as the first photographer to receive the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund. The fund was established in 2011 to recognize and help advance the career of a local fashion industry professional.

“I’m very, very honored,” said Warren, who applied for the fund years ago but didn’t win. “I know I’m not the first fashion photographer in town and so many people have done great work for so many years and I’m thankful to all of them. I’m just really grateful to get to do this now.”

With the money from the fund (which averages $5,000), Warren plans to go to London and Paris to work for a week, photographing models and taking meetings with editors and designers. He also plans to visit the National Portrait Gallery in London to see the work of his favorite photographer, Tim Walker.

Warren’s goal is to grow his photography business from Nashville while he takes more frequent trips to New York. Next up: encouraging large companies to shoot campaigns right here in Music City.

“It’s really cool to see (Nashville’s fashion industry) get national attention for the great things happening here, because I’ve always believed and felt like what’s happening here is getting better and better every season,” Warren said.

Fund recipients: Where are they now?

See what two past winners of the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund are up to now.

Eric Adler Bornhop: This Nashville menswear designer was the recipient of the Fashion Forward Fund last year, and he plans to use the money to do a trade show at the end of the year, most likely in Chicago or New York. Eric Adler Clothing has emerged as a top fashion brand in Nashville after Bornhop debuted his clothing line during Nashville Fashion Week in 2014 as one of the 10 emerging designers.

Julianna Bass: Womenswear designer Julianna Bass used the Fashion Forward Fund to go to the Bread and Butter trade show in Berlin to understand the European market. The trip inspired her to move to Berlin, where she met her investor and started her label officially in 2014. Bass moved the company to New York City in 2016 but continues to take frequent trips to Berlin. Her collection is sold in boutiques around the world and on ShopBop.com.


Nashville Fashion Week: If you go

This year’s Nashville Fashion Week is April 4-8 with fashion events across the city. Ticket proceeds from Nashville Fashion Week benefit the Fashion Forward Fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Events include:

► Shop Nashville Week with special events, trunk shows and deals at area boutiques each day

► An Intro to Metalsmithing lab to make your own pearl bangles from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Margaret Ellis Jewelry on April 4

►  Nashville Designer Showcase from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at OZ Arts Nashville on April 4

►  Emerging Designer Runway Show from 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. at Union Station on April 5

►  A tour of Elizabeth Suzann’s studio from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on April 6

► Alabama Chanin Intro to Hand Sewing Workshop from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Aurora Nashville on April 8

►  The Nashville Fashion Forward Gala at 6:30 p.m. at Track One on April 8.

See the full Nashville Fashion Week schedule and ticket details at www.nashvillefashionweek.com.

Reach Lizzy Alfs at lalfs@tennessean.com or 615-726-5948 and on Twitter @lizzyalfs,