‘Rebirth’: UNITY Charity Fashion Show hosts first in-person show since 2019

Annie Xia, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

UNITY Charity Fashion Show held its annual show May 12 with the theme “Rebirth,” reflecting the event’s first return to in-person productions since 2019. The group partnered with Arts of Life, a Chicago nonprofit supporting artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

SESP sophomore Anthony Engle, UNITY’s director of production and finance, said both UNITY and Arts of Life encourage people to reveal themselves through creative pursuits.

“It’s giving back to the community in a way where (Arts of Life’s artists) can express themselves and use their own creativity just as UNITY members do in their wardrobes,” Engle said.

The fashion show’s budget was about $10,000 and featured 10 designers from the Chicago and Evanston areas, Engle said. McCormick junior Sahibzada Mayed and his fashion start-up Naranji created the event’s only designs from a Northwestern student.

Beginning as Mayed’s engineering capstone project, Naranji uses computer-generated patterns for fabric inspiration. After finishing the patterns in March, Mayed said they prepared the clothes during Spring Quarter to officially launch the brand at the UNITY show.

While developing Naranji’s pieces, Mayed said he championed the idea of fluidity for how garments were styled. At the fashion show, the same item was worn as a skirt by one model and as a tube top by another.

Mayed expressed their hope that customers will wear Naranji’s clothing in their own personal styles.

“I know there’s a lot of fashion designers that do very intricate pieces, but I don’t see people wearing that every day,” Mayed said. “We’ve been focusing on pieces that would literally fit into people’s lives.”

One of Naranji’s designs, a purple fitted dress, was modeled by first-year computer science graduate student Yamini Ulaganathan. Because of her professional modeling experience, she participated in everything from judging the open-call auditions to teaching models how to walk.

Ulaganathan described how she had been trained in a ruthless environment and wanted to focus on building confidence at UNITY. She said she scheduled private one-on-one training sessions for any model who asked for additional practice.

“I didn’t have anyone to do that for me, so I will go out of my way to do that for someone else,” Ulaganathan said. “I’ve been there where I’ve messed up the choreography and been intimidated by the people around me.”

Engle said UNITY has already started contacting locations in downtown Chicago to host next year’s show at a larger venue. In the future, the organization also plans to host more pop-up thrift shops and invite speakers from the fashion industry.

For Engle, UNITY provides the NU community ways to express style on a campus that lacks a strong fashion scene.

“We’re trying to provide that experience for Northwestern students because we know they love fashion,” Engle said. “We hope this can be the outlet for them.”

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