Austin Intercultural Network brings the world to the runway

Danielle Ortiz

Coco Chanel said the world is the runway, but for the five designers who showcased their clothes at the Austin Intercultural Fashion Show, the runway should reflect the world.

The stereotypical image of tall, skinny and mostly white models wearing clothes designed by white designers is ingrained in popular culture. For decades, the fashion world has been a target of criticism for not reflecting the range of cultures and ethnicities that make up the world’s population. According to the Fashion Spot’s diversity report, the fall 2018 fashion season is the most racially diverse and gender-inclusive one yet, indicating  that fashion’s narrow view is slowly changing.

The Austin Intercultural Network wants to bring about and accelerate this change locally. With their 5th annual Intercultural Fashion Show, the organization promotes cultural awareness through its lineup of designers, including Theo Shayo from Africa and Divya Bharal from India. The show also featured its first Native American designer, Nan Blassingame.

Shalini Komarla, the event organizer of Intercultural Fashion Show, said that the show was founded on the basis of bringing people together. The idea took shape after the organization hosted an informal fashion show and saw a great turnout. Now its shows sell out.

“There are restaurants where you can eat food from different parts of the world,” Komarla said. “But there was no platform for people to wear clothing from their part of the world.”

According to Komarla, Austin has had a diverse fashion scene for many years and having a show to reflect that diversity seemed right.

Shayo, founder of the clothing shop Shavanthe, was one of the designers featured in the show. She specializes in traditional and contemporary clothing made from African prints, where she draws inspiration from her culture and travels to 21 countries. Shayo said she moved from Tanzania to Texas seven years ago and noticed the lack of diversity in fashion.

For Shayo, the show isn’t just about sharing her clothes, but rather getting to see different cultures herself.

“I look around and there’s models from South America, Asia, and here, it’s beautiful,” Shayo said. “I’m even getting inspired by the show.”

Zane McCarthy, chairman of the board for AIC, said he looks forward to the show every year because it’s not just about the fashion.

“It’s very easy to get caught around people like yourself, but events like these expose you to different cultures and people,” McCarthy said. “It allows people to socialize and understand — a fashion show gives us something to talk about.”

The platform the show provides draws in attendees such as UT alumna, Denise Sanchez, who  loves what AIC is doing for multicultural designers.

“Yes, this is a fashion show, but it’s more about the diversity,” Sanchez said. “The designers have a wonderful opportunity to showcase their beautiful creative pieces when they don’t have that chance elsewhere.”

For Shayo, there’s still work to be done to create more diversity in Austin, but as a designer she feels like she can be part of the change.

“I want to be relatable to everybody so they can wear my clothing,” Shayo said.