After curating a fashion show, Ava Hariri-Kia is ready to be a force for change | Sunday Observer

After curating a fashion show, Ava Hariri-Kia is ready to be a force for change

20 September, 2020

I’ve had a complicated relationship with fashion. I was really into it when I was younger. I would walk around having taped together random fabrics and tell my parents, “We’re having a fashion show!” When I turned 13, I actually tried to get into modeling and the photographer told me that I had to lose 30 pounds before I could be in front of any camera. As a 13-year-old, it completely broke me and I really shifted away from fashion. When I got to the University of St Andrews in Scotland after having grown up in New York, I came into myself. I love who I am now, and I express that through the medium of fashion. I have always had a political message inside of me, which is always spreading love for everybody and bringing diversity and inclusivity into conversations.

‘Don’t Walk’ itself is very political. It’s a charity fashion show at St Andrews that was born out of 9/11. You may have heard of it because Kate Middleton walked in the show when she was a student here. The show is a way of saying, “We refuse to remain complacent during times of discrimination, oppression, and adversity. Our main goal since our inception was, and still is, to create an impact. We were founded on the principle of not walking past problems, endeavoring to fight against them instead.” And fashion is our medium. We are proud to say that ‘Don’t Walk’ has grown into the largest charity fashion show in the U.K. Since 2001, we have raised over £300,000 to support charities fighting against inequalities in our local, national, and global communities.

Last year, I was head of fashion. I not only curated the show but also managed a team of five as well. Our charities were Rainforest Alliance, and Families First, which works with underprivileged families and their kids in Fife, which is the county St Andrews is in, in Scotland. We had 22 models: 11 male, and 11 female. And we try to get every model to be in about 10 to 50 per cent of our show to be sustainable fashion. A big part of my job is reaching out to designers for clothes, and curating the show. Past designers have included Chanel, Tom Ford, Missoni, Lanvin, La Perla, and Anna Sui, along with an array of emerging independent labels and student designers.

We wanted to encompass all sides of sustainability, inclusivity, and ethical making. Normally, we have a color scheme but this time we focused more on structure than color.

So, that’s when a lot of these students came into play because they’re working on avant garde, over-the-top designs, like balloons bursting and turning into dresses right on the stage. My team reached out to a lot of fashion schools, like Central Saint Martins, Marangoni in Milan, and some schools in Poland. Their students were incredible and have some of the most innovative, forward-thinking looks I’ve ever seen.

And a lot of it is recycled. They had little accessories that were passed down for generations that they’ve used, and incredible materials that they’ve just recycled. I focused on contacting bigger names including Stella McCartney, La Perla, and Christine Silks, while my team reached out to the student and emerging designers. My one big blow was that we weren’t able to get in touch with Stella McCartney, because she’s doing such amazing work and she’s the busiest woman ever saving the world.

Our number one priority is that models feel comfortable in their skin and that they’re happy. Our big show is almost two hours long, with a 15-minute intermission where we have a live auction. Talk about stressful, but also talk about the most rewarding experience. And it’s crazy because as someone who’s watched the show, it looks so seamless. And then behind the scenes, I’m running around with five headsets, helping to run the show. I have to be in touch with the production people who are in the booth managing what names go up with lighting cues; I have to know which looks are going up next; and this year I had to make some last-minute decisions on looks to pull so we could make the timing work. Where else do you really get to learn how to be an adult so early on? Every person you’re in communication with, from lighting to sound design, to building up the stage has been doing this professionally for years. You learn in a split second how to be in the real world. So it was a crazy job, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. And next year I’m going to be a personal stylist who works on the video shoots and photo shoots. I also hope to be the first plus-size model to walk in the show.

I know that I love fashion and I want to change the fashion industry. I want to get into modeling, I want to get into sustainable practices. It was a really big step for me to look in the mirror and say that I’m beautiful and that I am confident and sexy and I could wear couture. I really want to stand up for those girls who have that dream and have been told to lose weight because it’s heartbreaking. There’s so much space for the fashion industry to grow and I want to be there at the forefront of it.

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