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Portland's default plaid look has morphed from flannel to poly-cotton blends over the years, but the city's fashion underbelly is original and renowned. Recognition is still hard won though.
Tito Chowdhury likes to get one thing straight about FashioNXT, the four days of fashion shows he puts on every fall. These shows are the real deal. Quality gear.
The lighting, the runway, the music, the guest list. The designers. The media coverage. The likes. The quality of the photos on Instagram. Anything to distance himself from what he sees as the rather amateurish and cheap shows one might find at other times of the year here.
Chowdhury is the CEO of FashioNXT, billed on LinkedIn as both a fashion and tech show and a marketing and consulting firm. He was the executive producer of Portland Fashion Week from 2006 to 2011. Before that he was a digital circuit design engineer at Intel.
"It's the only consequential international fashion event in Portland, by far bigger than anything else," he told the Business Tribune.
The latest wave of new residents in Portland might be confused by other fashion shows "that don't have any standard of acceptance of other qualities," as he puts it.
He cites this year's designers, who are coming to show from Canada, Seattle and the Midwest as well as Portland, and notes that no less than Time Magazine called FashionNXT the number one fashion event outside New York.
FashioNXT also runs an accelerator and an incubator. The opening night is given over to a show of the UpNext finalists, the accelerator competitors with the incubator finale in the lobby the same night.
"We'll be bringing industry masters to mentor them. We're the only such effort. It's tremendously important. Everyone wants to do a show and a party but no one wants to participate in the development of the future generation of designers."
The second night (Oct. 4) features fashion with a streetwear focus.
"Portland has been the focus of streetwear since before it went mainstream, it's the power center for streetwear, with athletic wear as the main driving force." He says collaborations Nike and Adidas have made with fashion designers (such as the best-selling Yeezy shoes of Adidas with Kanye West) make it important to take the lead in showing streetwear.
That same night the Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell will showcase his Thomas Royall line of luxury beachwear. Ridgewell is a regular at FashioNXT and is marking the U.S. debut of his line.
"There is no formula beyond the quality of the designer," Chowdhury says. Portland can be "so inward looking, which is a disservice in the fashion business. Portland is a tremendously small market. If designers don't know how to speak to a global audience, then they are never going to be successful as a fashion business."
With the dearth of fashion coverage in mainstream media, he and his team now must chase fashion fans on social media. First it was print, then social media, now he finds people get their ideas from their friends. He has hosted for breakfast 40 to 50 Instagrammers who count as his influencers. He depends on them to disseminate pictures of (and enthusiasm for) the shows, which he calls a social engagement project. "Content is king. On Instagram people are discerning on the quality of the picture. (The better ones) get more engagement."
However, "There's nothing like being in the front row with a 100-foot runway and soft lighting. There's no comparison to screens."
With 500 people in the audience and 100 people holding up their phones, getting out ahead of the bad and blurry photos is hard work.
He comes back to his favorite subject: quality.
"New York Fashion Week might have 2,000 shows, but only 100 of them are in a good place. 1,900 are in terrible venues, terrible production, cheap. People just lower the bar for bragging rights to say they are showing at New York Fashion Week."
His four nights, he promises, will be worthy of the one hundred.
When: 6 p.m. - 10 p.m Oct 3-6
Where: 2204 N Randolph Ave.
Tickets from $25 to $185
Bashar Wally, CEO of Provenance Hotels and a supporter of FashioNXT, told the Business Tribune in an email,
"Portland's vibrant creative community not only improves our quality of life – it is a driver of tourism and our economy."
People flock for our food art and fashion, he says.
"As Portlanders we're passionate about supporting these communities and, from a business perspective it makes good sense. FashionNXT highlights the Portland fashion industry and its creatives, and elevates the city's profile within that world in a wonderful way."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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