High school student designs Hmong-inspired clothing line

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lincoln High School senior Kang Chu Thao holds up her favorite of the pieces of clothing she has designed that will be part of a fashion show Saturday afternoon at Lincoln. Also shown are other pieces Thao made, as well as some traditional Hmong clothing that will be part of the show. (Sue Pischke/HTR)

MANITOWOC — Kang Chu Thao has wanted to work in the fashion industry since she was a little girl. Now a senior at Lincoln High School, she has taken a big step in that direction by designing a line of clothing that combines Hmong influences "with a modern twist."

The 18-year-old will showcase her designs at a fashion show she's putting on at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Lincoln High School, 1433 S. Eighth St. Doors open at 3 p.m. The show will last 30 to 40 minutes, and refreshments will be served afterward.

Admission is one gently used article of clothing to be donated to the Manitowoc County Domestic Violence Center.

Thao said she hopes members of the public will attend her show.

"I worked really hard to try to get this out to the public," she said, referring to flyers made and distributed with the help of a friend.

Independent study
Lincoln doesn't offer classes in fashion design, Thao said, so she applied to do an independent study course. The class involved designing and sewing clothing and planning the fashion show.

"I made 10 pieces of my own," Thao said.

Some she made "from scratch," and for others, she employed the strategy of "recycle, reuse and redesign," meaning she bought items at thrift shops and remade them.

Her fashion show also will feature 10 pieces of traditional Hmong clothing. All of those are from her own collection, purchased or made by her mother.

"They're very special to me," she said, and they're also her inspiration for the clothing she designed.
Combining cultures

Thao described the clothing she made as having "more of a sophisticated look." The designs are simple, and she incorporates Hmong symbols and patterns and traditional Hmong colors, which are vibrant and "neon."
Fashion designers use elements of other cultures, such as African-American, Japanese and Chinese, in their designs, but none of the major designers incorporate a Hmong influence, according to Thao.

Pursuing that "fresh idea" is what she wants to do as a career. She plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stout with a double major in merchandising and design.

"It's just all really about finding myself and knowing how to share my culture with the rest of the world," she said

Thao's parents came to the United States from a refugee camp in Thailand in 1992. Their customs and culture were lost, Thao said, and she won't be able to fully experience her culture. She has felt it would be easier to be of one culture or the other, but now she has found a way to connect them through fashion.

"Creating and showcasing the clothing that I've created enables me to share my Hmong culture with my community," she said.

Thao said she wants to use her artistic ability to improve her community by sharing the Hmong culture.

Selecting models
Thao put out flyers seeking fellow Lincoln students to serve as models for her fashion show. She met individually with those interested, because she was looking for more than just an interest in modeling. She approved all 19 who expressed interest.

Thao "absolutely, no doubt" will be successful in her career as a fashion designer, said art teacher Gloria Pivonka, one of two teachers overseeing the independent study project.

Pivonka said Thao's maturity level "contributed to bringing all this together," and she described her as "self-directed."

"From start to finish, she's done everything," Pivonka said, referring to handling all aspects of the project. "She's taken it to the professional level."
Cindy Hodgson: (920) 686-2966 or chodgson@htrnews.com


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