Sometimes the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. That’s definitely the case for Kia Barnes, producer of the Andro Fashion Show. Last night, the subversive fashion show came in hot with a hometown affair in Atlanta after an East Coast tour, and TomboyX had the honor of having our Pride Stripes collection showcased.
As part of the city’s Black Gay Pride celebrations, the Andro Fashion Show has managed to fill a unique gap in the fashion world, challenge conventional beauty standards, and push for greater inclusivity within marginalized communities all at the same time. We spoke with Kia about Andro’s early beginnings, fashion as a tool for transmuting the status quo, and the importance of Black Pride.
What was the inspiration behind the Andro Fashion Show?
I began the Andro Fashion Show as a way of highlighting masculine-identified and androgynous queer women and trans men. I really just dreamt it up while talking with friends. We didn’t feel like there were genuine depictions of people like us within fashion, so I decided to do something about it. I’d also already worked with a few lesbian designers and wanted to share their work, as well as others. I started reaching out to designers and other LGBTQ organizations, and the community really got behind us. Thus, the Andro Fashion Show was born.
How did y'all get started? Tell me about the early beginnings of the show.
We went straight from a dream to auditions, and we honestly got off to somewhat of a bumpy start. We only had nine people show up to our very first audition, and we used mostly local designers. We began rehearsals and fittings, and I decided to share the process and our progress on social media as we built. The community started talking, and the buzz was unbelievable! We sold out our very first show, had another hugely successful show in a much larger space, and then I knew we had to take the show on the road!
How do you find and select your models?
Our auditions are so much fun! Think “Androgyny meets America’s Next Top Model!” Applicants audition in front of a live judges’ panel, as well as a voting audience. We hold auditions, called “Androgyny Defined,” in cities we plan to visit, as well as Atlanta. Many of our models also travel with the show, including new models we pick up in each city. We don’t just adhere to fashion industry “beauty” standards either! We always try to showcase a diverse array of styles, sizes, ethnicities, and cultures. We want everyone to feel like they see reflections of themselves on the runway, and that starts with the Andro models.
What has the response been like from the community?
The overall response has been amazing! We’ve had a huge outpour of support and love from the LGBTQ community, as well as allies. Most of our shows have sold out, and several cities are asking for more. We’ve also gotten so much gratitude and encouragement—so many queer women and trans men have thanked us for highlighting another side of a community that’s often disenfranchised, sexualized, and even exploited for entertainment. The Andro Fashion Show allows us to tell our own stories through fashion, entertainment, and activism, and the community has rallied behind us!
You’ve called the show “more of a movement than a moment.” What do you mean by that?
It’s not your average fashion show. We don’t just look for fit bodies and “beautiful” faces. We showcase a wide-ranging spectrum of styles, sizes, cultures, and fashion. In doing so, we’ve managed to foster diversity and unity, not only within the Andro team, but also within our audiences, and thus, the communities we visit. Also, the Andro Team continues the work outside of the show. We’ve partnered with LGBTQ businesses to produce Equality March Atlanta, a rally in commemoration of the Pulse Orlando tragedy, and we’ve also hosted charity events, including clothing drives and fundraisers, that directly impact our community. We don’t just talk the talk. We walk the walk, on and off the runway.
You honor community heroines at all of your shows. Tell me a bit about the woman you honored last night.
We honored Officer Courtney Mack, LGBTQ Liaison for the Atlanta Police Department. She’s been an officer for 8 years, served in the Army and Air Force, and has dedicated her life to fighting for and protecting our city and community. It’s so important that we bridge the gap between queer communities and the officers charged with protecting and serving us. I also wanted to thank her for her service, as well as let the community know we have resources, and APD is on our side.
Atlanta has both a gay pride and a black gay pride—why is it important to have both?
Our community is not immune to racism. One of our oldest gay bars in the city, Burkhart’s, just closed after the owner’s racist social media posts went viral. Unfortunately, queer people of color are often even more disenfranchised and ignored, outside of and even within the LGBTQIA community. Black Pride was actually begun by official Atlanta Pride in response to many Atlanta Queer People of Color voicing concern that Pride wasn’t representative of the many minorities, sects, and intersectionalities that make up the LGBTQIA Community. In my opinion, Black Gay Pride Weekend is even more inclusive, in that it highlights and celebrates the wide range of cultures, ethnicities, and every single letter that makes up Atlanta’s LGBTQIA community.
To me, I see the need for Black Pride as the same reasons we need Black History Month—not because we want to exclude anyone, but because we want everyone else to feel included and see reflections of themselves within our celebrations, on our stages, and even within something as basic as promotional material.
What does the future look like for the show? How would you like to see the show grow?
I’d love to see the show go international—the Andro Fashion Show needs to tour across the globe! As we continue to add more cities and designers to our lineup, I now know the sky's the limit. I started this show with the intention of positively impacting my community, and my community seems to just keep growing and growing. When it comes to positivity and progress, the more, the merrier!
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TomboyX is excited to be participating in the Andro Fashion Show again during Atlanta Pride on Thursday, October 11. We’ll also have a vendor booth on Saturday and Sunday, October 13-14, so if you’re coming to Atlanta Pride we hope to see you there!
Photo by Chelsea Raffkind