A breath of fresh air: Center for Hmong Arts and Talents’ Fresh Traditions Fashion Show moves to bigger venue in its sixth year


Neon pink and green embroidery pop against a gray backdrop and blue border. Sold at many Hmong markets, these colorful story cloths are probably the most well-recognized textile tradition of a culture with both a deep history and bright future in cloth creations.

For the sixth year in a row, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talents will facilitate the Fresh Traditions Fashion Show. The show will provide a platform for Hmong designers to share their work with a broad audience and celebrate Hmong culture in the Twin Cities.

What: Fresh Traditions Fashion Show

When: Saturday, Sept. 29

Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

Show at 8 p.m.

Where: Minneapolis Central Library

Cost: $15 in advance

Age: All ages

“As Hmong people, we migrated … we had to modify what we wore,” said Sai Vang, executive director of CHAT. The evolution of Hmong fashion has been a long, ongoing process.

These changes included a switch from long, heavy garments to lighter garb after a migration to more southern parts of Asia and, most recently, the shift from traditional clothing to Western apparel.

The focus of the show will be the innovation of traditional regalia, playing on that still worn during the Hmong New Year. Designers will pull from time-honored elements to create their own collections.

Each of the five designers in the show is allowed seven to nine looks, one of which is required to highlight traditional Hmong fabrics.

Depending on each designer’s clan and Hmong dialect, the traditional fabrics will vary. Each designer will pull from the eclectic palate that showcases intricate textures, dark blues and blacks and vibrant neon hues.

Designer Khou Chang plans to show a black satin crop-top and short green skirt for the required piece. This look uses traditional Hmong fabrics but styles them in an updated, Western way.

Oskar Ly, another designer for the show, has been involved with Fresh Traditions since it started six years ago. The show began as a group of friends looking for an outlet to present their work in the Twin Cities.

As the daughter of a seamstress, Ly’s desire to create couture has both familial and cultural ties.

“A lot of times we stray away from our Hmong roots in order to be more quote unquote ‘American’ … [Fresh Traditions] has been a way to reclaim being Hmong through clothing,” Ly said.

Because many Hmong youth are pressured by their parents to pursue more conventional and stable careers in fields like healthcare or business, the scene for Hmong designers was very small, Ly explained.

At her parents’ urging, Ly got a degree in human resource development at the University of Minnesota before pursuing fashion full time. Now, she works as a freelance medical interpreter and is pursuing a technical degree in fashion from Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Not all the designers in the show plan to pursue fashion as a career. Fresh Traditions is their opportunity to pursue a dream.

As the fashion scene in the Twin Cities has grown, so has Fresh Traditions. The show’s new venue, the Minneapolis Central Library, will accommodate the growing crowd of fashion-show goers. Last year more than 250 people attended the show.

CHAT’s organizers hope this celebration will emphasize the importance of celebrating cultural heritage but also inspire others from the Hmong community to pursue a career in an artistic field. They hope these emerging designers are seen as community role models.

“We want to encourage our designers … to inspire our community to be proud of our heritage and culture,” Vang said.