What comes to mind when you think of Seattle (if ever)? The usual cliches pop up up almost immediately: “Sleepless In…”, coffee, rain, North Face de rigueur, coffee, weed friendly, bookish, did I say coffee? I meant to say Starbucks. But not fashion.
When it comes to fashion, Seattle (and the Pacific Northwest in general) is not seen in the same light (due to weeks-long overcast skies?) as Milan, Paris, London, New York. Or Los Angeles for that matter. But the perception is changing. And the change is not because of proclamations by the fashion capitals of the world. It’s coming from Seattle’s own underbelly of local style and fashion.
To illustrate my point I’m including excerpts from an essay by Ryan Muller. Ryan is a Seattle-based entrepreneur, arts and culture mover and and shaker, and fashion egalitarian. Ryan is one of the originators of Chance Fashion, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources & opportunities to fashion artists of all skill levels (designers, models, hair and makeup artists, photographers):
Passing the Torch: 7 Years of Fashion
by Ryan Muller
I have always joked that I am not the fashionable type; my general wardrobe is jeans and a t-shirt, I don’t have piercings or tattoos, I don’t style my hair, I don’t even wear hats or accessories. At a glance, observers may not understand how it is that I am the founder and president of the country’s longest running monthly fashion event. It is simple really… I am in it for the artists.
Nevertheless, how we choose to dress and present ourselves to the world is a reflection of ourselves; it is how we construct our own vision. I’ll wear a suit for the proper occasion, but in my daily life I prefer simple clothes. No logos, nothing loud, I am known to blend in and stay “behind the scenes.” I may not be one to practice the art of fashion, but the simplicity of my dress most certainly speaks to my character.
I am not in the majority, however, as I am surrounded by a plethora of aspiring fashionistas. In this era particularly, social media has allowed anyone to participate in fashion, whether it be through a blog or Instagram account with daily publishings or just to follow the latest trends. Most of the time these individuals are on the outside looking in, hoping to catch a taste of the glamorous fashion life depicted in mainstream media.
In the world of fashion, people are constantly being told they are not good enough.You’re too short, too thick, too inexperienced, too underprepared, etc. These are the reasons given to so many aspiring fashion artists as to why they cannot participate in a fashion event. This practice of exclusion is prevalent in the fashion industry, as demonstrated in marketing strategies, reality TV shows, and ubiquitous images of unrealistic beauty.
Throughout my first two years producing AMDEF (Art Music Dance Entertainment Fashion) recruiting fashion artists was difficult. If I asked someone to model or showcase the clothes they make, their response was almost always, “I can’t participate, I don’t meet industry standards.” The stigma of being ineligible for fashion events was so strong people would cut themselves short before giving themselves a chance. At this point it became clear to me that an alternative fashion platform was needed.
Fashion is an art, and no art should be exclusive. The demand for a more inclusive fashion industry is evident in the counterculture. The rise in alternative outlets such as cosplay conventions, Burning Man hand-crafted costumes, and recycled fashion art shows that people are willing to participate in fashion in any way they can get their hands on it.
Throughout the seven years I have spent producing consecutive monthly fashion shows in Seattle, I have witnessed several shifts in the cultural perception of fashion: the frequency of fashion events in the city is increasing, the number of independent designers is increasing, and, dare I say, people seem to be dressing more fashionably (Is it finally goodbye to the era of flannel Seattle?).
On this note, I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new era in the Seattle fashion scene, as the next generation of fashionistas take the reigns of Chance Fashion. I’ll still be behind the scenes as president, executive director, and fill-in-the-blank staff member, but as of recently we have grown to the point where I can step back and let the organization run itself. In 2015, the Chance Fashion Board of Directors grew to ten members, our production and marketing team has grown to over 20 volunteers, and our Olympia chapter is on course to produce quarterly shows.
The Formation of Chance Fashion
Chance Fashion is produced by Active Entertainment , the company I created nine years ago with the purpose of stimulating relationships within the artist community and creating new ways to advance the art culture. This was achieved mainly through AMDEF, our annual collaboration of art, music, dance, entertainment, and fashion, as well as working with various musicians and performers to produce random concerts and variety shows. The relationships built throughout the early years of Active Entertainment laid the groundwork for the formation of Chance Fashion.
In an effort to branch out to the fashion community, I teamed up with Gabe Choy, owner and director of Seattle Fashion Week at the time, and Bob Tomazic, general manager at what used to be Heaven Nightclub. Our goal was to create a monthly event that would provide local fashion artists an opportunity to get together, practice their trade, and develop their local fashion community. After spending adequate time conceptualizing, I began reaching out to all the fashion artists I knew to better understand their needs and gather their input.
By June 2009, Chance Fashion was officially launched. Back then, models could walk in off the street, get their hair and makeup done, and shoot with any photographers available. At the time, we had so few photographers Bob had to turn on the strobe lights to make it appear busy in photos. I kept myself busy by circulating the venue making sure everything was in order. I kept by the door to register and direct all incoming talent and guests, then would run backstage to be make sure designers, hair and makeup artists, and models knew how the runway segments would be executed. I’d briefly chat with the DJ, general manager, and host on timing, then shoot back to the front door to not miss registrations. It was hectic at first, but the benefit to doing a show every month allowed us to constantly evolve our production procedures.
In the beginning, I literally did it all. I was the producer, promoter, backstage manager, runway coordinator, and the door guy. Coming into this I had some experience as a producer, but fortunately some of our first featured designers knew more about fashion shows than I did, so I was able to draw from their experience. I spent time after the shows talking to them and learning how to further develop the events.
Chance continued this way for some time. After every show I would follow up with the artists and use their feedback to improve the next show. We received both negative and positive responses, but we just kept going. Eventually we had a runway coordinator, then a backstage manager, then more hair and makeup artists, and every month we would creep closer to having a fully functional production team.
A little over a year after Chance began operating, Heaven Nightclub closed, leaving us without a home to continue developing the event. But because we saw the progress we had made within our community, we weren’t willing to give up quite yet. I’ve always said to myself, “If I go a year without seeing progress, I might consider quitting.” We endured a year of struggling with venues until we finally came to find a new home at Neighbors Nightclub.
The issues we encounter most frequently usually pertain to the common perception of what the fashion industry is “supposed” to look like. I’ve been told a list of things I would never accomplish with Chance, all of which we’ve done with the grassroots support of independent fashion artists:
- Achieved a designer’s creative direction with inexperienced models
- Packed the house with unknown talent
- Compensated talent off ticket sales
- Generated quality photos with inexperienced photographers
- Generated sales for designers
- Generated paid work via exposure
We accomplished all this in nightclubs, something people also told me wasn’t possible. And, I apologize for the mini-rant, WE BROUGHT STRAIGHT PEOPLE TO A GAY BAR! Even in 2016 there are still people who avoid our fashion shows because they’re afraid of being at Neighbours.
Fast-forward a few years and it is clear why the perseverance was worth it. Chance has found its stride at Neighbours, our staff team is growing, we’re jumping hurdles left and right, and our production process is under continuous refinement. We had discussed making Chance a non-profit for about two years, but it finally became evident that it wasn’t just a good idea, but a necessity. With an average of 50+ staff and talent volunteering their time to produce each monthly event, it made sense to move in that direction. The process of applying for the license, getting it approved, using it, and generating the accounting data needed to officially apply to become a 501c3 all took place over the course of a few years. Though we are still working out some kinks, it has given us the opportunity to receive donations and acquire a larger staff team through the board of directors.
By 2014, Chance had become a well-oiled machine. We had produced events in San Francisco and Portland, brought in designers from all over the country (and now all over the world), and we had produced some highly successful events at some of Seattle’s most fashionable event spaces. We had even received two grants from the Office of Arts and Culture through their smART Venture program, and were invited to showcase at City Hall for their annual Create | City event.
In 2015, Chance underwent an enormous growth spurt behind the scenes. With two successful fundraising campaigns and our new non-profit status, we were able to acquire a new website, new runway, new technology services, legal support, and funds to help cover overhead for our larger productions of the year: the Artist of the Year Awards, the Swimsuit Show, and the Evening Gown Edition coming up this November.
Chance Fashion’s effort to create a more beautiful and accepting culture through the art of fashion has become contagious, and the reigns are slowly passing into the hands of a new generation of fashion leaders.
Moving forward, our current goals include implementing our new technologies, acquiring more production tools, recruiting more staff, further developing our teams, and preparing all the new staff for another year of progress in 2016. What better way to celebrate the accomplishments of Chance Fashion than to showcase the spectrum of diversity within our community.