The Center for Hmong Arts & Talent (CHAT) held their 11th annual Fresh Traditions Fashion Show this past Saturday at the cozy and intimate Midpoint Center this year. With excitement from attendees waiting to see designs by Houa Thao, Mee Chang, Ka Ying Lee, and Leslie Lee, this sold out highly anticipated event delivered a great show with beautiful designs. “Journey” was the theme of this year’s show, and all four designers created a collection of clothing based on what journey means to them.  Along with incorporating “journey” into their designs, each designer participated in The Fresh Traditions Show Challenge which required each fashion designer to create one ensemble using the combination of 5 traditional Hmong fabrics including: black velvet, black satin, florescent pink chiffon, neon green chiffon, and royal blue satin.

Before the show, I had the chance to speak with Leslie Lee about her brand Designs by Lee, and how she incorporated this year’s theme “journey” into her designs.

 Interview with Fashion Designer Leslie Lee

Interview with Fashion Designer Leslie Lee

Aggie Ofori-Amanfo: What is your name of your brand, and what was your initial inspiration for making clothing?

Leslie Lee: My brand is Designs by Lee. I’m more of an above average person so finding clothes has always been hard for me, and I think there's been a lot of women in my position along with young kids and men who just have a little bit more to love. My main focus is to target the everyday average person as opposed to the ideal unrealistic perfectionist woman so that's what I design for- the everyday person.

AO: How long have you had your fashion brand?

LL: I haven’t fully launched my brand yet, I’ve been working on establishing myself but it’s been a good year and half working on my brand and getting myself out there.

AO: How would you describe the style of your brand? 

LL: I’m more of a simple sophisticated elegant person. My design style is more of a classic look. Most people say it's more mature but to me I think that maturity is always a good thing in general so my clothes are a bit more catered to that.

AO: Being this year’s theme is Journey, how did you incorporate this into your designs?

LL: For me, a journey is an individual path someone takes and I kind of did a few revisions on my collection in general after taking some time to step back and analyze what is it to me that I find important. What's important to me is my daughter, she’s a little bit more to love too as well, and finding clothes for her is always hard. At such a young age being 8 I don't think any kid should feel the obligation of saying “oh my look or my personal appearance is affecting me personally” and I didn't really like that so this year I used the role of being a good mother and trying to nurture my child and protect her from what society may think of her. I wanted to spread awareness and acknowledge her that she’s beautiful, so I did incorporate that into my line. My line with Fresh Traditions is actually a mother daughter look! So I got to work one on one with her, she did some of her sketches and dresses and I also did some revisions of what she did so it's actually a collection where we both got to participate in it and I’m very touched and happy because I did dedicate this collection to her so that's an inspiration of my journey- to show my daughter that she’s beautiful too.


Houa Thao

Houa Thao brought her journey to life through 6 elegant evening wear looks by opening the show with a long beige silk evening gown and ending with her challenge design incorporating the florescent pink and neon green chiffon as a belt, the black velvet and satin as the suit, and the royal blue satin material as side stripes on the trousers.


Mee Chang

Mee Chang’s journey was represented through her traditional clothing line with a modern twist. Using orange, red, and blue throughout all of her pieces- strength and power were conveyed through her designs. Mee ended her presentation with the outfit designed for the challenge using florescent pink and neon green chiffon as a shawl, black velvet material for the crop top, black satin for the skirt, and the royal blue satin material as a belt and the hem of the skirt.


Ka Ying Lee

Ka Ying Lee showcased her journey using a binary pallet consisting of blue and black. With the use of pinstripe material throughout the majority of her pieces, Ka Ying Lee’s versatile looks intertwined with one another as her line began as business couture and gradually progressed into evening wear. Ka Ying Lee’s final piece was absolutely stunning, as it also incorporated the challenge of using all five traditional Hmong fabrics.


Leslie Lee

Leslie Lee closed the show with her representation of what journey means to her by creating a line inspired by her daughter. Creating a mother and daughter line with pieces created by her daughter as well brought a sense of love and unity as the models walked hand in hand down the runway. Leslie’s challenge design composed of a beautiful ball gown using black satin, florescent pink and neon green chiffon material for the full flared skirt, and black satin as an embellishment around the waistline.


Given how all four designers interpreted their life journey throughout each of their beautiful designs, it was clear to those who attended why The Fresh Traditions Fashion Show was a sold out event, and will continue to hold the position as the most anticipated and longest running Hmong fashion show produced in Minnesota.


Words by Aggie Ofori-Amanfo // @aggieoa

Photographs by Sara Fish // @sarajsfish