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FIDM’s Debut Fashion Show Features Gender-Fluid Design

Los Angeles fashion design graduates channeled their personal experiences and cultural movements to create their debut collections.

The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), located in Downtown, L.A., staged the Debut Runway Show for eight graduates of the Advanced Study Fashion Design program on Aug. 18. Students spent nine months developing their collections for the show, which was produced and shot for streaming at the Cooper Design Space. Eight graduates created their capsules by collaborating with instructors, investigating fabrications and analyzing the market.

“My collection is women’s wear with a little bit of streetwear,” 2022 graduate Sasha Swedlund said. Inspired by Black hair and hairstyles, Swedlund pointed to “Bantu knots… crocheted weaves, braid-ins, different hair cells that have a lot of volume” as the basis for her apparel silhouettes. She used technical athletic and utilitarian fabrics to create the line featuring dresses and outerwear.

A look by Sasha Swedlund.
Sasha Swedlund. ABImages

Joel Elliott’s line promotes the ethos that “clothing should not be gendered.”

“One of the things that led me to fashion was realizing that I didn’t feel served by the kind of gender masculine clothing that I saw in stores, so my collection is gender agnostic,” the designer said. “It is a number of pieces that can be worn by any person no matter what body type, gender expression or anything… I want to give people the freedom to kind of play around with what they expect out of their clothing.”

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Calling his range a “wacky, colorful pattern show,” Ethan Martin wanted to recreate the experience of a “drag show on a runway.” Meanwhile, Susan Lizotte’s ethereal women’s designs were made from semi-translucent fabrics. The “organza is hand painted, because it’s a way that I like to relieve stress,” she said. Cole Moscaret’s collection of structured menswear drew inspiration from World War II uniforms, while Yubin Min used drawing, hand-stitching, appliques and fabric manipulation to evoke a floral aesthetic.

An ensemble by Ethan Martin.
Ethan Martin. ABImages

“As an Cameroonian-African-American guy, I went through a lot to be here,” Thierry Kepgang Nana said of his autobiographical collection. “This collection is personal to me—it’s about my life, and even the future.” Organza represents fragility, while luxury brocade showcases strength, he said.

“I created my collection just to show that even broken things, when you sew them together, can make something beautiful,” Esther Goar said of the geometric patchwork effect in her men’s and women’s designs.

Fashion Assembly opens its doors

Downtown L.A. is home to a new resource for minority-owned fashion brands, and the city’s recent design school graduates could be among those served by the dedicated space.

Fashion Assembly has launched an office and warehouse solution for nascent labels and emerging BIPOC designers offering a multi-purpose co-working space in the Arts District. The 16,000-square-foot location provides room for community engagement, office and design work, as well as the logistics infrastructure needed for creators looking to grow their businesses.

The facility addresses the growing demand for fashion and beauty products developed by minority designers and entrepreneurs, Fashion Assembly said. These small businesses can sign short-term agreements to rent spaces ranging from 100 to 2,500 square feet.

Founders Brian Pearson, a franchise development broker, and Anje Collins, a former celebrity entertainment publicist, developed the concept while experiencing their own challenges launching a lifestyle brand, Coco Blue Shoes, during the pandemic. “Our goal is to help our members grow their businesses and reach their ideal customers all over the world by providing them with the operational resources and knowledge they need,” Pearson said.

Fashion Assembly’s warehousing, production and office spaces are housed in the same building, and members of the team can help entrepreneurs to grow their businesses within this flexible infrastructure. “There is strength in numbers,” Pearson said. “As a result, Fashion Assembly gives our members the space and support they require to compete with the big boys.” This includes help creating processes for order management, fulfillment, marketing, and public relations.

Mindful of the shifting priorities and financial strains that can come with launching a small business, Collins said the facility offers flexible, month-to-month membership plans. The facility includes high-speed internet, reception services for guests, shared common spaces for networking, co-working and community events, conference rooms, showrooms and a photography studio. Grade-level doors allow for easy warehouse access, and members can utilize on-site equipment as well as shipping and receiving capabilities.

Pearson and Collins want the facility to help underrepresented demographics in the beauty and fashion spaces. “There are many challenges when launching a brand created by a person of color,” Collins said. “We started in our living room, storage unit, and two industrial locations and outgrew them all, so I understand how difficult and expensive it can be to run an e-commerce business.”