WORDS Sam Aaron Baker | PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden & Jeff Wong
Anyone who follows fashion knows how quickly it can change, and there is nobody better to talk about fashion’s future in Portland than FashioNXT founder and executive producer, Tito Chowdhury.
Making his way from Bangladesh to the states more than twenty years ago via America’s second coolest city (Austin), Chowdhury received a Master’s Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Texas. When Intel called, he answered. Upon arriving, Tito was immediately involved in supporting the cultural community of Portland. He has helped put Portland on the global fashion map, and his event has been ranked by TIME Magazine as second in the US only to New York’s Fashion Week.
What is Fashion’s role in Portland? Fashion is the most important industry and amongst the largest major money-making sectors for the city. It always has been.
Why is it so important? Fashion is art and designers are artists. If you want to see the value they bring to the city, just look at the real estate market. Real estate is not an industry in itself, rather it is a result of a thriving industry or industries. The biggest industries here being footwear, apparel, and technology. Fashion is part of the hand-made livelihood that is so prevalent here.
If fashion is so important, why is Portland not seen in this light and how does FashioNXT help bring attention to the talent here? The national media often talks about Portland’s food scene, and rightly so because we have very talented chefs. We are also known for our craft beers and overall craft culture, because the maker movement is so strong in Portland. But fashion and technology are at the forefront of the economy’s health, and at FashioNXT we bring them together and put them onto the runway in ways that no one else is doing.
Can you give us an example? At this year’s show, the incredibly talented designer, Seth Aaron, who won Project Runway and Project Runway All-Stars, is launching the world’s first ever 3D printed designer shoe line. People think fashion means splurging and waste, but FashioNXT is a community where fashion and thoughtful design is a solution to very real resource-based problems that the world is facing.
We have so many food festivals, beer festivals, tech festivals, etc…but the only time the city tends to talk about fashion is during your events. If fashion is so important to the city’s economy, why is it not celebrated as such? Portland is a purpose-driven city that has long been at the forefront of green architecture and sustainable innovations. We definitely have the west coast, low-key feel. Maybe these can be contributors to why some people’s perception of the fashion industry is linked to vanity.
Interesting…Can you please elaborate? We are a city filled with designers and artists that tend to be looked down upon for indulging in events that celebrate fashion. That creates a natural discouragement for people who want to dress up; who want to support. They keep it low-key in the day-to-day, but I see decision-makers of these major footwear and apparel companies at FashioNXT every year. I see them dressed in a way that I don’t see at other events in the city, and they express themselves more freely. Pushing the limits and being creative and innovative in design and fashion will only make the city stronger, and we need to celebrate it without shame.
What happens if you were to make your event less spectacular? IE: More “low-key” to fit the “vibe” of the city? If I were to do that, then I am not showing the relationship between prosperity and fashion. I wouldn’t attract people from certain circles if I were doing my shows in some secret alleyways. Fashion shows with top and rising-star designers need to be special, because they are special. You will always have the people who are super passionate about fashion come to those back alley spaces, but if the show is hidden, then people won’t show up in numbers to see some crazy, amazing shit a designer is doing. I want to provide them with a more elegant experience–one that speaks to the fashion sector in a manner that they are accustomed to. Red carpets, bright lights, and interesting people who they may not normally encounter. Then I want to put them all in a space together and see what magic can happen.
Seeing how Portland’s fashion industry is driven by sports, where in New York it is more high fashion and couture, how can our city transcend to become more of a player on the global scene? We need more local support and interest from the brands that call Portland home in order to communicate that these categories are not mutually exclusive. The future success of sportswear is stronger when paired with cultural influencers from realms outside of athletics. People that can help look at design through a fashion lens.
But in the sports product industry, performance is the driving force behind design. This isn’t going to change. Yes, this is true, but for the majority of the population, excluding the elite athletes, when fashion comes before function, it appeals to a broader audience who will wear the product more often. When you add tech and innovations to garments designed for fashion, the customers choose whether they are wearing it for looks or for performance. This way everybody wins. While the companies here may have a strong focus on athletics, which is true to their brands, without fashion they will suffer. We have seen this with recent market share changes between Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour, and if they suffer, our city suffers.
How can we be better as a city and/or industry? If you go to a city like London, which is not as established for fashion as Paris or Milan, Burberry is deeply invested in the fashion incubators of the city. This cultivates creativity and homegrown talent. It is important for young artists to know that they have a community of other artists and designers who want to help and mentor them. I understand that this culture exists within the companies here, but it should also be prominent beyond the work day. Portland’s economy is directly related to fashion, so we must always try to elevate the encouragement of local artists and designers to feel that there is a place for them in this city.