Austin Fashion Week is happening, just not in the way anyone envisioned it before March 13, when the first cases of the coronavirus were reported in Austin.
After being postponed from April to May, then again to August, the new Austin Fashion Week is now three days of live virtual events that will feature designers from around the globe under one Fashion by Events umbrella.
Matt Swinney, founder of Fashion by Texas, which produces Austin Fashion Week and other events around the state, and his team are creating Fashion by Events: Fashion by Texas on Oct. 15, Fashion by Black Designers on Oct. 16 and Fashion by Global on Oct. 17. The third night, Oct. 17, will offer 24 hours of fashion from designers from around the world.
Many of the designers, especially the global ones, will be filming their own virtual shows that will run at a scheduled time. Others will be part of a runway show at the Domain that is being filmed in advance without an audience. Doing it in advance will allow for filming backstage happenings and interviews Swinney will have with the designers.
Swinney is trying to see the opportunity that a virtual fashion show can offer. There are no limits to the number of people who can see the designers’ work, and there’s a chance to add those behind-the-scenes vignettes and designer interviews that can’t be done during a live in-person event.
"The coolest stuff happens backstage, and the audience never sees it," he says.
Without the time limits of an in-person event, it also opens up more designers to being seen by people in Austin.
Swinney also believes there could be a better connection between watching designers’ work and then either purchasing something from their line or following them on Instagram.
There are definite risks. Each designer who will be filming their own shows will be offering something different. Some videos might look like a runway show in an apartment. Some might look more like a music video. Some might be an audio slideshow of photographs of a designer’s work.
The other risk is whether people will be willing to pay for it. Swinney set the price as "pay what you want to donate." Each donation gets you into all three days of events.
"I hope it lives up to the brand we’ve created, at least as best as it can," he says.
If successful, Swinney could see this as opening up more content creation possibilities in the future. The future of Austin Fashion Week could be a model of both in-person and virtual offerings, he says. "It opens up opportunity."
One of the new Austin designers who’s been waiting for Austin Fashion Week is Mirandy Kim, 26.
She designed three looks under her Good Oasis brand that have been waiting since March to be worn by models on an Austin Fashion Week runway. It will finally happen as part of the Fashion by Texas event on Oct. 15.
The concept behind Good Oasis is to be as sustainable as possible, she says. Good Oasis reflects something calm, something that is about kindness, she says, and she’s trying to reflect that calm and kindness to the Earth.
For her, sustainability means using fabrics that have not been bleached and are either undyed or dyed using methods that do not harm the Earth and its water.
It also means finding a new use for a fabric that might have otherwise been thrown away. And it means being ethical about how the people who make the fabric or clothing are being paid.
She found a local sewing group that swaps leftover cloth between members and picked up some of the materials for her line there.
She also found Harvest & Mill, which makes organic cotton clothing, and found a warehouse in Dallas where leftover fabric is sold off.
As well as being sustainable, Good Oasis reflects her own history of having a Korean father and Japanese mother, as well as her father’s family’s connection with New Mexico, where many of his family members still live. It has those earthy tones, but it also has draping, like ceremonial garb women in Asian cultures might wear.
Her own story of being a blend of different cultures, of living overseas as a young child, and then losing her dad at age 5 to a heart attack, is all wrapped up in the designs.
"It’s very reflective of my life," she says. "It gives me an inner strength, an inner power."
Kim always had an interest in fashion. Her first sewing experience was a home economics class in middle school in which she had to sew a basic shirt. She didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing and made her own pattern.
"It was super crafty," she says.
For high school, she went to a Catholic high school in Connecticut that wasn’t diverse. There were only a few African Americans and only two other Asian Americans. She says she didn’t have a sense of style, but she would watch "Project Runway."
For college, she played it safe. She went to the University of Connecticut and earned a degree in business and then got a job in investments.
"It was a secure, stable job," she says, but it didn’t move her.
"It was not the right fit," she says. "I was longing for fashion, to be free to do the creative thing."
Her time working in investments in Connecticut came to a close when her husband, Ian, got a job with Indeed in Austin.
The move gave her the chance to redefine herself. "It was a new opportunity to do whatever I want to do."
She didn’t secure a safe job. Instead, she took jobs that would train her in fashion or would create networks or usable skills.
"Networking is powerful here," she says. "People want to support you. That’s what Austin is about, supporting each other."
She got a job at a consignment store and learned about fixing clothing and putting it back together. She found a fashion teacher and learned about patterns and draping. She learned how to dye fabric in a sustainable way.
She says she’s seeing this life experience and being mentored as her graduate school, as well as her research and development.
She worked in producing events to save money to make her own brand.
If she had tried to get this kind of education in New York and start a brand there, she wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it, she says, plus it’s a perfect Austin story. It’s about being creative, having a side hustle and a startup.
She had the opportunity to do a fashion show for a Waco modeling agency in August 2019 and was originally slated to do three looks for Austin Fashion Week in 2020.
She’s used her time during the coronavirus pandemic to learn more about dyeing fabric, and layering dye onto fabric, kind of like a tie-dye. She and her husband also moved to an apartment with a patio, which allows her to do dyeing at home.
She also used sustainable cotton to make more than 300 masks through a Fashion By program. She now is learning to code and create user experience apps.
She’s begun thinking about her next Good Oasis line. During Fashion by Events, she’s taking a road trip to Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. It’s the first time she’s getting out of Austin since the start of the pandemic, but she’s hoping it’s going to inspire her.
"I want to be in touch with what’s going on with COVID-19. It’s more minimalist, more lounging clothes."
She says she feels like with Austin Fashion Week, she’s getting ready for a new step in her career. It’s felt like she’s just been waiting and waiting for it to happen. "Everybody’s experiencing it," she says.
"I feel honestly blessed that I can still do stuff like this," she says.