When it comes to fashion, Portlanders would not be characterized as shy. From capes to bowties, nearly anything goes.
Tito Chowdhury, founder and Executive Producer of FashioNXT, sees untapped opportunities in Portland’s independent creative streak. Instead of merely “keeping Portland weird,” he wants to push Portland further to the cutting edge of weird, defining forward-thinking styles and trends for the rest of the country, and world.
If you think New York is the only city that owns fashion, consider this:
- Of all cities, Portland boasts the highest number of Project Runway winners. Five of the 15 season winners are from Portland.
- Tito’s Portland-based FashioNXT event is the biggest showcase of Project Runway stars and was recognized by TIME Magazine as #1 in the United States outside New York Fashion Week.
- Two of the biggest design leaders in the wearable technology are from Portland — Nike and Intel.
Here, Tito tells us about the birth of FashioNXT and his ambitious plans to put Portland on the fashion map:
The spark that inspired the birth of FashioNXT: I’ve been involved in various programs to make Portland more exciting, more interesting and more cosmopolitan. I co-started Portland Fashion Week and as executive producer, I really pushed it to international visibility. I got the Portland Mayor’s Award in 2007, and in subsequent years, the event got bigger and more prominent. We curated relationships with companies like SolarWorld, creating the first solar runway to promote sustainability as a lifestyle forward choice. In 2012, I moved on to create FashioNXT, which curates next season’s collection and also the ideas and concepts about what’s coming next.
How FashioNXT is different from other fashion weeks: Other fashion weeks and runway shows are only focusing on apparel. In modern times, people’s fashion decisions cannot only be influenced by showing how apparel looks on the runway. People wear technology, for instance, and you have to show people how it functions—the look is only part of it.
Also, when fashion started, the only way you could connect your brand with communities was by inviting press to take pictures. With the advent of modern media, people are learning about what is being launched before the show is over. People are not just making the buying decision by going to the store, but also in their house, on a TV or at a computer. These new elements need to be part of the fashion experience.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur: The best thing is seeing the world and how you would like the world to look tomorrow, and then making it happen. You are literally putting your mark on the future of how people live and play.
Biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: I was surprised by how quickly the initial ramp-up was, in terms of getting traction and the moral support and excitement behind it. Visionaries, they see it, and they’re like, wow. We need to help make this happen. I was introduced to a design leader at Nike, and he immediately joined as an adviser pro bono. The mayor’s wife heard about it, saw it, and got out talking about it.
Biggest challenge: It has been difficult to pull the resources together from both private and public sectors. In both sectors, people are thinking about where to allocate funds, but they’re not thinking about what’s next, what the next thing is they can get behind. There is a lack of leadership.
Never think you can find your dream job. It doesn’t exist, you have to create it.” (Tweet this.)
Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Know your pain tolerance. Find your calling.
Your calling doesn’t always come to you from the sky. Get involved, try different things. Always put yourself in situations that challenge you. Never think you can find your dream job—it doesn’t exist, you have to create it. Once you do, you have to make sure you have the pain tolerance.
Benefits of starting a business in Portland: Portland is a city that defines what good life means. It doesn’t get swayed by pomp and glamor and fads. The pressure for social status isn’t as prevalent here. Also, it is a more manageable city if you’re trying to make a living and find the right people. A lot of people know each other. As a struggling entrepreneur, you don’t have live 40 miles away from the center of activities. You can still be in an affordable neighborhood, you still can eat good food, you can maintain the same friendships.
Also FashioNXT is an interdisciplinary endeavor, representing the intersection of the fashion industry and technology industry. New York is capital of fashion, with little understanding of technology. Silicon Valley is capital of technology, with little understanding of fashion. Portland has a unique position, culturally, temperament-wise, and talent-wise to make this happen.
Challenges of starting a business in Portland: We have limited resources. We cannot be a wishy-washy, “anything goes” city and think we can still be a leader. At this point, we are a globally competitive city, and we have to create value that stands up to the global competition. We can’t think, just because my friend is doing something, I have to support it. We need to be more careful and proactive about supporting quality endeavors.
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