Models wearing Naranji clothes walk in the April 2023 Trans Media Fashion show. Credit: Provided/Kelsey Kurz
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

GOLD COAST — Trans and nonbinary models will strut down the runway this weekend at Trans Media Fashion.

The semi-annual show is 2-6 p.m. Sunday at Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave., and is the final event of FashionBar’s Chicago Fashion Week.

Ticket sales and sponsor dollars from Trans Media Fashion will go to Howard Brown Health’s Broadway Youth Center, which provides health care and social services to young LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness and other underserved youth.

“We want to ensure that trans and nonbinary people have representation within the fashion community,” said FashionBar CEO Tony Long. “Chicago is so diverse, and we want that representation to be visible.”

Long, who is nonbinary, launched Trans Media Fashion five years ago. He said the idea came to him in a dream. He woke up around 2 or 3 a.m., texted himself three words — Trans Media Fashion — and saw the text the next morning.

Long has worked to build an event that pushes against negative stereotypes of trans people and shines a spotlight on joy in the trans community.

Over the past seven Trans Media Fashion shows, Long has seen models grow into themselves, he said. For instance, Long said Noella McMaher started out modeling children’s clothes in Chicago — and last year, at age 10, McMaher was the youngest openly trans model to take the runway at New York Fashion Week.

Trans Media Fashion has “allowed trans and nonbinary people to kind of find a place within the fashion community and also find a place within themselves to realize how powerful they are,” Long said.

At Sunday’s show, about 15 models will wear pieces from two collections: FashionBar Sustainable and Naranji, a brand founded by a Northwestern University student that highlights gender fluidity and Pakistani cultural roots.

Models wearing FashionBar Sustainable walk in the April 2023 Trans Media Fashion show. Credit: Provided/Kelsey Kurz

Long said visitors should expect “regal” upcycled clothes in shades of red, black, gold and cream from the FashionBar Sustainable collection. Naranji, meanwhile, is known for bright, kaleidoscopic work.

Wren O’Kelley, associate director of communications and marketing at Howard Brown Health, said she’s excited to attend the show for the first time and see trans self-expression and creativity on display.

“Oftentimes when we talk about trans folks, we’re having to talk about negative things,” O’Kelley said. “It’s a really nice opportunity to have something that’s just wholly positive.”

Howard Brown Health has supported Trans Media Fashion for years. Many people from the clinic’s Broadway Youth Center have modeled, O’Kelley said. When Long was younger, he, too, relied on Howard Brown as a safe space.

Now, Long is forging a safe space of his own.

“What Trans Media does is it brings the joy of what it means to be trans and nonbinary,” he said.

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