Fashion Focus CHICago stimulates creative sector, promotes diversity

By Arts & Culture Reporter

The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events will join the Council of Fashion Designers of America for Fashion Focus CHICago, a nine-day series of runway shows, community shopping events and other celebrations that have been organized to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the City of Chicago’s fashion initiative. 

The event began Oct. 4 and will proceed through Oct. 12. 

According to Tonya Gross, fashion and culinary arts program director for the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the event aims to support creative entrepreneurs in Chicago by facilitating a community and providing a platform through which aspiring designers can reach consumers.

“We’re looking to facilitate the kind of fashion organizations in Chicago that help not only to support designers but the continuum of design in Chicago,” Gross said. “We look at it as helping others to help themselves.”

Beginning the 10th year of Chicago’s fashion initiative, this year’s Fashion Focus CHICago event aims to expand by introducing elements enhancing consumer engagement and promoting diversity, Gross said. African Fashion Week, Haiti Fashion Week and Latino Fashion Week will all host events during the nine-day period.

“Fashion in a place like New York feels exclusive. The barrier to entry can be very high,” Gross said. “In Chicago, a program like African Fashion Week—which just launched in 2014—is welcomed and embraced because we want them to thrive as a business entity.”

African Fashion Week began by hosting a shopping event at Block Thirty Seven, 108 N. State St., from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 5. 

“Having an African fashion week is very important,” said Christianah Ajanaku, founder of African Fashion Week. “It gives designers of African descent a one-stop place to showcase their talents. For Fashion Focus CHICago to give us a wider platform to showcase our work gives us the opportunity not only to reach our community but to reach a larger audience beyond our own community.”

Jennifer Akese-Burney, designer for Akese Styleline, will be one of those featured at African Fashion Week’s shopping event. According to Akese-Burney, Fashion Focus CHICago is one of the best events she has participated in during her nine years in the fashion industry because of the diverse population that attends the event from beyond Chicago. 

“It wasn’t just for Chicago. People came from different countries or states to be a part of it,” Akese-Burney said.

According to Gross, there’s potential for Fashion Focus CHICago to assist artists in developing a broad consumer base beyond the local level. 

“Chicago can be one-stop shopping for a designer who produces, manufactures and sells locally,” she said. “However, that’s not financially feasible for everyone. With [the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s] help, we’ve lent visibility to the event that could create a great national, international or even global brand.” 

Fashion Focus CHICago began on Oct. 4 and is set to continue through Oct. 12. For the event schedule and locations, please visit www.cityofchicago.org.

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