Designer Anya Ayoung Chee prepares for Trinidad Carnival on the heels of Project Runway elimination

PHOTO - CREDIT_ Yaisa Tangwell

CNW caught up with Caribbean American fashion designer, Anya Ayoung Chee.

When we spoke to Ayoung Chee this week, she was knee deep working on Trinidad Carnival, which is currently in its peak with its main street parade scheduled for Monday, March 4.

Ayoung Chee’s year has definitely been off to a busy start. It was only a few weeks ago that the episode of Project Runway All Stars aired, in which Ayoung Chee was voted off. Project Runway is a popular reality TV show and fashion design competition where finalists prepare a collection for the lauded New York Fashion Week.

Ayoung Chee was the winner of Project Runway Season 9 in 2011, and competed again in the show’s current season, Project Runway All Stars, where winners from past seasons compete for the title of world champion. The show is currently in rotation on Lifetime, and airs on Wednesday nights.

Although Ayoung Chee catapulted to major international recognition through her involvement in Project Runway, she first made her mark in the public sphere as Miss Trinidad & Tobago Universe 2008, competing in that year’s Miss Universe pageant in Vietnam.

By 2009, she launched her first fashion line and began to blaze her trail as a rising fashion designer and entrepreneur. After her 2011 Project Runway win, with a new global audience in tow, she then launched a successful women’s resort wear line.

Ayoung Chee, who was born in New York to Trinidadian parents, moved to Trinidad at an early age. She now lives mainly in Trinidad, but is also back and forth between Trinidad and New York regularly. Proud of her roots, she holds her cultural heritage at the forefront of all her ventures, as the heart of all she does.

An ardent creative, passionate entrepreneur and fierce social activist, Ayoung Chee has spearheaded several projects in Trinidad. These include a coworking space, boutique, cafe and Together WI, a social change movement comprising of a collective of creatives, founded by Ayoung Chee.

“As a social activist, I am inspired to address issues that I think affect us in the Caribbean, as well as Caribbean people living outside of the Caribbean. Together WI, the foundation I started about 1 ½ years ago, executed several different campaigns that a group of us thought were pressing,” she shares. These included violence against women and general anti-violence campaigns, addressing increasingly prevalent issues in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean.

A fervent ambassador of Trinidadian culture in particular, and Caribbean culture at large, Ayoung Chee is on a mission to contribute to building the Caribbean through dynamic, socially conscious entrepreneurial endeavors.

“If the clothes that I am selling are being made by women who are benefiting from having jobs that are sustainable, that creates value, structure and stability for their lives and their families. This essentially affords them financial freedom, which, in my opinion, is a big stepping stone in dealing with the issues that contribute to domestic violence and violence against women”, she shares.  

Ayoung Chee believes that her power to drive social change lies in her ability to create businesses, systems, and communities that support sectors of society that need it most. “I think that aligning my work with social activism, is actually most effective,” she says.

Anya Ayoung Chee – Limited Edition is the name of Ayoung Chee’s current boutique fashion line, which she keeps in tight production to ensure high quality and exclusivity.

The designer, however, has begun to dig her heels in the business of carnival. For the past seven years, she has designed for the largest carnival band in the Caribbean, Tribe. She’s also been work on her own carnival project, cANYAval, a multifaceted ecommerce platform that creates opportunities for Caribbean designers to create new avenues for monetization through access to a global marketplace.

Ayoung Chee explains, “There’s no end to the carnival seasons. They go back to back – from Trinidad, to Jamaica, to the smaller islands, to Notting Hill, Barbados, and on, and on. Therefore, carnival fashion has a continual audience throughout the year that it didn’t have before. Simultaneously, e-commerce has grown. People shop online more, and social media has aided us in that process.” This is why, she says, cANYAval is re-entering the market at an opportune time. The platform offers quick, global, door-to-door delivery, and the ability to shop online, along with pop-up shopping experiences in all islands that have major carnivals, making it a full service carnival fashion business.

Ayoung Chee takes supporting the Caribbean creative community of utmost importance. She hopes to see the community have greater access to global markets in order to create greater scalability and monetization possibilities among creative projects.

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