UPTOWN — Asian Fashion Show Chicago, an event that promotes local Asian designers, photographers and models, is struggling to fill seats for its third annual production, organizers said.
The show, run by the nonprofit Chicago Asian Women Empowerment, will take place 12:30-1:30 p.m. Saturday at Truman College Cafeteria, 1145 W. Wilson Ave. More than 25 local models will walk the runway, wearing looks from nine Asian designers.
Tickets are $30, and all proceeds go toward Chicago Asian Women Empowerment programs.
Victoria Ng, the organization’s executive director and founder of the fashion show, said she was inspired to create the show in 2019 after facing struggles as a model. She was rejected from multiple jobs because of her height, and when Ng was selected to model, she said runway organizers would try to emphasize her features in an “exotic or oriental” manner, which made her uncomfortable.
“Being able to see people who look like yourself on the runway, strutting their stuff, is really motivating to a lot of our models and it was definitely motivating to me,” she said. “I was hoping to build a space where Asian models and Asian designers would be represented and amplified.”
Model Paolo Tolledo said the show is important to him because he gets to put his personality and talent on display without fear of discrimination. The show offers him a safe space, one that he said he does not get to experience all the time in the real world.
Victoria Li, a model who holds the Miss Chinese Chicago 2022 Second Princess and Talent title, had her first experience on the runway last year with the show.
“Asian Fashion Show Chicago is a tremendous add to the community in uplifting Asian Americans in fashion. As a petite midsize Asian woman, I rarely saw models who looked like me,” Li said. “It kickstarted my confidence to continue modeling and showing other women like me deserve to be seen.”
After being combined with the Miss Asian Chicago pageant in previous years, the fashion show is on its own this year. Last year, some attendees thought the combined events took too much time and suggested separating the two, Ng said.
Ng said she is struggling to fill seats, a major change from last year. She said she’s had to pay out of pocket for whatever the ticket sales don’t cover to make sure the show runs smoothly.
The past year has also proven difficult for some local designers. Ng has had trouble contacting those who design couture. She said many have struggled to keep up their art over the past year.
One participant had to abandon her passion projects for a job in real estate because she didn’t have the money to invest in her work anymore, Ng said.
“I felt that [couture designers not being able to participate] was very disheartening. That’s actually something that we were like, if given the resources, we would want to be able to foster,” Ng said. “There are other fashion incubators in Chicago for sure. But I do see very little Asian representation in those incubators.”
Chicago isn’t known as a fashion hub, but Ng, who was born and raised in the area, said she chose to host the event in the city because she wants to uplift the local fashion community most.
More broadly, events like these can be an easy entry point for those who are just starting to feel comfortable with their Asian identities.
Last year, Ng said several audience members turned out for the show after it had taken a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic years. Those years had fueled anti-Asian violence nationwide, and several people saw the show as an opportunity to reconnect with their heritage.
“There are a lot of the foundations that do a lot of direct service or action-oriented things,” Ng said. “But when we’re talking about engaging those who are perhaps on the fence about like, what does it mean to be AAPI and how to be mobilized, that’s where softer methods [of outreach] reach these people.”
Even with the hurdles of low ticket sales, Ng is looking forward to this year’s fashion show, which she said has led to multiple creative partnerships. Streetwear design is trending, and the show will feature loose, baggy styles throughout.
Talia Choi, a Chicago Asian Women Empowerment board chair, said she loves the event because it celebrates and spotlights AAPI fashion creators.
“I have seen firsthand how this show has brought people together. I have seen our models, designers and volunteers hanging out long after the completion of our event,” she said. “I love how every one of us that makes this event successful are doing this out of our own time for the community.”
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