Runway to triumph

Lifestyle editor Sarah Delgado finds a sanctuary in Fresno
Gwen Vang, marketing manager for Fashion Inc., strikes a pose in a dress she upcycled.
Gwen Vang, marketing manager for Fashion Inc., strikes a pose in a dress she upcycled.
Wyatt Bible

As a young girl growing up in the small town of Madera, fashion was not something I had envisioned my adult self taking on. My perspective on the topic was skewed and I wasn’t confident that Madera would be the place to grow in fashion.

Madera, renowned for its rich agriculture and farmlands, has a “smallish” population of 68,050, which is barely a fraction compared to Fresno’s diverse population of 545,567.

Then I was introduced to music icons like Michael Jackson and Aaliyah.

I was mesmerized by their distinctive styles: Jackson was known for his military-inspired get-ups, which were unconventional for men’s fashion during his time; and Aaliyah was known for her signature baggy pants and fitted crop tops.

By age 9, I was inspired to establish my sense of style by the icons I had chosen to look up to for inspiration. I drew my first fashion sketches of ball gowns and simple silhouetted dresses in secret because I was hesitant and embarrassed to embrace fashion.

From them, I learned the value of self-identity and constructing a personal style and struggled with feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness

By age 13, many of my peers in high school had their goals for college set amongst other aspirations, but I was still struggling with what I wanted to pursue. Deep down, there was always a yearning to be involved in fashion, but knowing my place and what I had to offer was challenging.

At this point, Robert Smith and Siouxsie Sioux, along with other music icons, contributed to my fashion style as an adult.

Influenced by the macabre and unusual music I had been consuming around this time, Smith’s disheveled tresses, and Sioux’s bold, avant-garde makeup, helped me embrace the essence of self-expression through fashion.

While my fashion taste was uncommon amongst my peers, the joy derived from dressing alternatively outweighed any sense of alienation I had felt.

When I moved to Fresno and began college, it wasn’t until I attended “Goth Prom” that I found a rich, diverse set of people who had their unique styles. I met a plethora of people I related with that night and I no longer felt alienated for my style.

It was during the event that I was introduced to visionary Francisco Rodriguez, the creative mastermind behind House of Francisco, who later became my fashion mentor, showcasing his collection of avant-garde pieces from his studio at Broadway Studios on 1416 Broadway St.

Rodriguez had been hosting a series of runway shows since settling into his studio space. He had been crafting the fashion scene from the nooks and crannies of Fresno since before it erupted to what it is becoming now, rich and acknowledged.

I had found my place amongst like-minded individuals in Fresno.

What Fresno excels in is growing its community and acknowledging the culture. While its current state of promoting art culture in Fresno is lacking, it still does a pretty good job of bringing attention to the local art community with events like ArtHop, FresYes and events curated by other creatives.

After I was exposed to the Fresno culture from “Goth Prom,” I, as a journalism student and lover of fashion, combined the two subjects and promised myself to document the beauty of Fresno fashion. I felt the need to satisfy my creative urges to work in fashion and I felt that Fresno was the sanctuary for that.

In April 2022, I seized the opportunity to interview Rodriguez for a feature, an encounter that marked the beginning of my journey into the heart of Fresno’s fashion world. As I immersed myself in the scene, I found myself organizing my first fashion show in April 2023 alongside Rodriguez.

I had grown familiar with many of the models because of my frequent willingness to support other fashion events and because I am a current student earning a certificate in fashion merchandising at Fresno State. My willingness to be involved in contributing to the scene also led to my tenacity to gain experience in a professional fashion setting. After dedicating countless hours to documenting the fashion scene, I created a magazine dedicated to Fresno fashion called “In The ‘No.” It is my love letter to the scene I have participated in and my way of giving back.

That same month, I was asked to lead Fashion Inc., a fashion club at Fresno State, as president, due to my knowledge of the current fashion landscape in Fresno and vast connections to it.

Fashion Inc. was created in 2009 by a group of fashion merchandising students and often held annual fashion shows to showcase student designs. The club serves as a space for fashion merchandising students and enthusiasts to express their artistic vision for fashion. However, since 2019, the club had been dormant and inactive.

Since assuming leadership of the club, the officers and I introduced workshops, collaborations with other student organizations and outreach for the fashion merchandising program.

Under the leadership of Lizhu Davis, a fashion merchandising professor, our first objective was to embark on reviving the fashion show aspect of Fashion Inc.

I worked to organize the first fashion show for Fashion Inc. since its revival on Oct. 20. I invited Rodriguez to help the other officers and me while we created an environment that presented a once-unappreciated art form to a greater audience.

Leading up to the event, Fashion Inc. hosted a model call for the show. I invited models I had seen from the community and was pleased to know that the turnout reached over 50 eager individuals wanting to model.

Fashion Inc. hosted the “Gothic Beauty” fashion show, which combined student creations while also showcasing local designers’ and stylists’ collections. To my surprise, the venue housed a packed audience.

Upon seeing the success, I was inspired to begin working on a spring showcase. The idea of semesterly shows was something that had not been done in previous years for Fashion Inc.

I’m excited to announce that Fashion Inc. will host “The Enchanted Forest,” a collection of student creations that follow the theme of fantastical worlds and mystical beings. Of course, audience members will also be able to indulge in beautiful creations from local professional talents as well.

Fashion, for me, isn’t just about fabrics and designs, it’s about having a canvas for self-expression and a medium you introduce to society to reflect your true identity.

Though my journey in Madera was a chapter filled with figuring out my self-identity and the societal challenge of being accepted, I found solace in the next chapter of my life when I moved to Fresno and introduced myself to every new face as my authentic self. Despite the absence of the platform in Madera, my passion for fashion propelled me forward with unwavering determination and ideas I was waiting to share with people just as passionate about fashion.

Amidst this longing for a community, I realized that sometimes the space some individuals seek isn’t waiting to be found; it’s waiting to be created and nurtured.

My journey taught me a valuable lesson – the importance of having faith in my dreams and the importance of authenticity. I find self-identity and authenticity critical when finding and building a community.

To those who still are finding their communities and people, I urge you not to lose heart. Embrace your uniqueness and let your light illuminate the path for others to follow.

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