Fashion on the Square Founder Y’Anad Burrell
“It’s a staple now in the Bay Area! It’s something that people look forward to, it’s something we make sure to keep affordable, it’s a positive experience for everyone.” Y’Anad Burrell, enthusiastic and warm, is talking about her baby: Fashion on the Square.
It’s true: at this point, FOTS is an institution in San Francisco (which is no mean feat for a city that loves to chew up, spit out, and discard hip new things like used burrito foil. [Actually, this metaphor might not hold: you probably shouldn’t be chewing your burrito foil.]) It’s been around now for 10 years, and it’s been a resounding success SF, a city not usually known as a fashion destination. In fact, the furthest someone traveled to be in the show was from Africa. (She ended up staying in the States for 3 months, shopping her line in New York and LA.)
Where did this idea come from? (This is me, Liz, asking penetrating questions in italics, for those of you who’ve never read an interview.)
“The idea of FOTS happened when I was a paralegal in Downtown SF. I was on my lunch break and I was walking through Union Square and said to myself: it would be fantastic to have a fashion show, with beautiful people, and cute kids- right here in the middle of everything. I hadn’t done any shows prior to that at all. I’d always loved clothes, loved dressing up- but taking it to the next level really came from me thinking about what this could do for someone. How can fashion transform lives? We all know that spark that comes from feeling good about yourself when you’re dolled up, when you feel beautiful- so that’s where this came from. That was the impetus, and everything else just followed and flowed from there.”
Flashback Friday! (The show is no longer in Union Square itself.)
I asked Y’Anad about that first year in Union Square (yup, that’s the titular “square” in FOTS!) She laughed. “That first year was nothing but jeans and t-shirts! Yes, we had about 15 lines of just jeans and t-shirts. And we had about 40 vendors, because that’s the only way we paid for putting the thing on. So yes, it has changed. We don’t have vendors anymore- it’s distracting. You don’t see vendors at New York Fashion Week, so you won’t see them here! We’re turning Union Square into Bryant Park.”
There were no tickets, no lines, no limits: anyone who happened to be in Union Square was a VIP. The complications only started after FOTS started getting bigger and more successful, and when couture entered the picture. Expensive bridal gowns and pavement don’t mix! So, they moved to the Westfield Center, and did the show right under the rotunda. Today, it’s all over the Bay Area. (You should check the website for a full list of locations and events
It seems to me like the fashion world is finally taking some heat for their lack of body and cultural diversity on runways, so I asked Y’Anad if this was something she kept in mind when planning the show. She eagerly assented. “You will see fluffy girls on the runway, every year, and they’re looking beautiful! The fashion industry’s “fluffy” is an 8! My fluffy is an 18.” (Side note: move over, curvy- fluffy is now my favorite new descriptor.)
But it’s not just diversity on the runways that matters: who’s behind the scenes and who’s watching are just as influential. “When we started 10 years ago, the show was mainly African-American,” Y’Anad commented, “and the audience was the melting pot, since the audience was just anyone who happened to be in the middle of Union Square! Now, 10 years in, it’s both a melting pot on the runway and in the audience as well.”
What keeps you motivated to continue FOTS?
“One of the reasons I’m still here doing this 10 years later is: quite a few years ago, I was in a “fluffy-girl” store and a mother came up to me. She was wondering if I could help her daughter find something to wear, because she was about to start high school, and she was traumatized about it already. High school isn’t always nice to fluffy girls! So I began to work with her, starting at what I like to call the “underarmor”: undergarments, Spanx, all of that. Because when you feel comfortable underneath, you wear everything on top better. You feel better.”
So for Y’Anad, fashion and confidence are inextricably linked (I completely agree, not that this interview is about me!) and FOTS is a way to bring body positivity and beauty to everyone.
Designer Colleen Quen
It’s inevitable that as an institution hits its 10-year mark, it has to consider how it’s going to change and evolve to stay relevant. “The next level- and the higher level- is art and fashion, instead of fashion and art,” Y’Anad said. “If I can get all the folks who love fashion into one room, and then talk art? That’s great.”
FOTS has always had a philanthropical bent- every year since the very beginning, the proceeds have gone to charity- but Y’Anad recently started the non-profit organization FOTS+The Arts, making it official.”It’s really for students who intertwine the disciplines,” she explained. “So maybe you’re going to school as a fashion designer, or studying merchandising, but how can you merge those disciplines with the fashion element?” Basically, the money raised is put into grants and scholarships for primarily Bay Area-based students, to help them take advantage of opportunities to showcase their talents and redefine what “fashion” means.
Ok, I can tell your interest is sufficiently piqued. Let me give you a few schedule highlights:
Saturday, July 19th, noon: Grand Opening Event
I’d love to be able to tell you where this event is, but alas, even I don’t know! The SF location is a secret for now, to be revealed on social media at 11am on July 19th. You can check Twitter handles @fotspassion or @glasshousecomm for teasers on the day of (updates will also be on Facebook.) Don’t worry, tightwads: whatever and wherever it is, it’ll be free!
Saturday, July 26, 2pm: Children & Teen Runway Fashion Show
According to Y’Anad, this is always one of the most popular shows. Let me hand it over to her: “The children’s show was always the one that just SHUT it down. People saw babies coming down the runway and just clapped and cheered!” It’s true: people love adorable kids in stylin’ duds. Evidence:
Sunday, July 27th, 5pm: Finale Runway Fashion Show and Fashion Icon Award
This is the big one! Not only is it the biggest runway show of the week, but Wilkes Bashford
, a trendsetter in men’s fashion for over 50 years, is being honored with the Fashion Icon Award. You’ve probably heard of him- perhaps that memorable name rings a gentle, classy bell? You may have seen his store in Downtown SF, something of a grand relic of another era. It’s one of those upscale, old-school establishments where I wouldn’t dare set foot in, but am glad to know places like that still exist.
And most exciting of all (for me, at least): Wear Your Voice will be there at the finale! Yes, you can meet your favorite WYV writer there. Don’t be shy. Fame hasn’t gone to our heads quite yet.
So I better see you at Fashion on the Square! Check out the schedule and buy tickets HERE
, whether you’re just stopping by for a day or you’re LIVING for every event. Come as you are: jeans and t-shirts or a ballgown, FOTS is for everyone.