Houston Chronicle - Houston's Asian designers amplify their voices in fashion show

The pandemic took half of Sameera Faridi’s business.

After 17 years of operating her Poshak Fashion & Style boutique specializing in bridal, Faridi, like many fashion designers, found herself with few customers and an unsettling reality about the future of fashion.

Weddings canceled. Some shops closed permanently.

To adjust, she relocated her boutique and her Sameera Faridi Design Studio, both focused on South Asian fashion, to a nearby space on Hillcroft with lower rent and more square footage.

That was something positive, Faridi said. But there many negatives.

“Everyone was so doubtful. We’re lucky to have survived the wave,” she said.

Faridi, a native of Pakistan, will be one of four designers featured in Houston First’s AAPI Amplified Fashion Show May 22 in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center to celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month. Others participating designers are Danny Nguyen of Danny Nguyen Couture, Tina Zulu of Kimono Zulu and Nicholas Phat Nguyen of Mysterious By NPN.

“With what’s happening in the nation and the attacks on Asians and Asian Americans, this is the perfect time to showcase these designers,” said Sydney Dao, director of retail for Houston First. “It’s time to amplify voices who feel like they haven’t been heard in a positive way. There have always been Asian designers, but many have been in the background for so long.”

AAPI Amplified Fashion Show
When: 6-9:30 p.m. June 5

Where: Avenida Plaza in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center

Details: Houston First celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month with cultural performances, market, food trucks and fashion show. Admission is free.

In the past two decades, more Asian Americans have taken the helm of fashion houses, heading up their own companies, including Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, Derek Lam, Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurang. Of the 500 members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, nearly 50 identify as Asian; about 20 identify as Black and 30 as Latino.

Dao believes more Asian parents are allowing their children to pursue creative careers over traditional ones, such as medicine or engineering. They are recognizing fashion design as a viable career path.

Still, it’s a tough business that’s known for its lack of diversity. Designers need strong financial support, a steady clientele and the ability to weather a storm — or a pandemic.

For Faridi, that has meant creating a more affordable collection ($500-$1,500), compared with her custom bridal designs ($2,000 to $6,000).

“It’s a different world,” she said. “People don’t want to spend $5,000 on a wedding dress, but I think we’ll see some return to normal. The wedding industry never dies,” she said.

Tina Zulu, who is Filipino and owns Kimono Zulu, a collection of reimagined vintage kimonos, said the pandemic spurred her to get even more creative. Now she’s reimagining robes.

“My sister had a baby during the pandemic, so I decide to give her a kimono robe and matching mask. I posted it on Instagram and it became a big seller. It took a pandemic for people to want a nice robe.”

Zulu has partnered with a number of local artists on kimonos, including David Adickes, Matt Manalo, Gonzo247 and Judy Masliyah.

The AAPI Amplified Fashion Show is among the city’s first major runway events after a year of virtual fashion. Designers are ready to get back to work.

Nicholas Phat Nguyen, owner and designer of Mysterious By NPN, said he never imagined he’d be creating his collection, which is made in Vietnam, over Zoom. Typically, he visits Vietnam twice a year to produce his designs. Travel restrictions prevented that.

“Right now, I’m still designing but not producing,” he said. “The demand hasn’t been there. But after not being dressed up for a while, it’s time to bring back glamour. I’m ready to get back to work.”

That’s what Danny Nguyen, owner of Danny Nguyen Couture, plans to do, too.

At the start of the pandemic, he was creating stylish masks, as many designers did. But months later when the demand for masks narrowed to a trickle, Nguyen turned his focus to advertising and marketing his fashion collections on social media.

“I couldn’t rely on those events that would sustain us, and people weren’t doing custom designs. It really pushed me to look at other options,” the Vietnam native said.

Nguyen’s latest venture is an art gallery to support young, emerging artists. It’s a passion project that is more about amplifying creatives than making money — something he’s fine with right now.

“I realize I don’t care what people say. I have to do what inspires me,” Nguyen said. “The only way I defy the odds is to prove them wrong.”

Read the story online: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/lifestyle/article/Houston-s-Asian-designers-put-on-a-fashion-show-16177256.php