Designers don’t need to go to the east or west coasts to pursue their dreams, Mark Launiu said.
“There’s so much passion and grind here in Kansas City. And a lot of people on the outside don’t know that,” said Launiu, co-founder at MADE Urban Apparel. “We’re always overlooked because they think of just our barbecue or our crime rate.”
To counter such misperceptions about Kansas City, MADE is turning the spotlight to the local fashion scene for a runway showcase, The Kritiq. Now in its third year, the fashion show is set for Nov. 12 at the Sprint Center’s College Basketball Experience. Tickets went on sale Sunday.
“There’s just so much talent here, so much diversity,” Launiu said.
‘Y’all want us?’
The Kritiq is expected to feature eight designers, including House of Rena (Eranne Whiters); Champ System (Maurice Woodard); Heartshaped Clothing (Corey and Christle Reed); Melanin Connoisseur (Royce and Latanya Handy); Steana Clothing (Steana Walker); Roger Figueroa (Roger Figueroa); Kyrie Eleison Apparel (Esmeralda Lole); and MADE (MADE Mobb).
Focusing strictly on Kansas City-based fashion talent, some of whom are still fairly unknown, the show aims to combine streetwear and high fashion, Launiu said. Fellow curators of the event include Jon Gee, L’Chelle Green and Gaston Williams.
Having just launched Heartshaped Clothing in August 2016, Corey Reed is excited for the exposure and learning experience offered by the Kritiq runway.
“After we caught wind of it, I was like, ‘Man, that would be a great opportunity.’ I kind of didn’t feel worthy because I respect MADE especially, and the other designers so much,” Reed said. “‘Y’all want us to be in it?’”
Launiu said Heartshaped is exactly the kind of young brand for which the fashion show was designed.
“If we overlook the talent and passion that we have within our city, then the outside world is going to keep overlooking us,” he said. “It’s not just food, the Chiefs, the Royals.”
Grinding in KC
The Kritiq was inspired by a skeptic Launiu met three years ago at a Magic fashion trade show in Las Vegas, he said.
“He comes by with his luggage, looks and goes ‘Kansas City, huh? What are you guys doing here? This is for the big dogs,’” Launiu recalled.
In the exchange that followed, the MADE co-founder was told fashion was for cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Seattle, he said. Kansas City, on the other hand, was for barbecue and crime.
“In my head, I’m like, ‘I can’t believe this dude said this,’” Launiu said. “But you could tell he was serious because the guy didn’t really laugh or giggle or anything afterward.”
Launiu returned to Kansas City with a mission to prove the skeptic — a magazine executive — wrong, he said.
The first two Kritiq fashion shows were organized at ArtsTech, with crowds eventually surpassing 400, and necessitating a move to a larger venue this year, Launiu said.
He hopes the change, as well as the elimination of product sales during the show, will help keep the space as stress-free and fun as possible for the designers and Kritiq attendees, he said.
“I just love keeping it good vibes,” he said.
And those vibes start with MADE.
“When MADE goes on the runway, I tell my models, ‘Whatever you do at home in the mirror by yourself, that’s what you do when you walk this runway. Just have fun. Just smile. You don’t have to take it so serious. Just do you,’” he said.
The event will feature hairstyling by students from Paul Mitchell, Launiu said. In the future, he hopes to reach out to urban and suburban high school and college students interested in fashion to involve them in the Kritiq, as well as the designer community as a whole, he said.
When MADE started five years ago, Kansas City didn’t have much of a market for the kind of streetwear highlighted by the coming fashion show, Launiu said.
“Now you see a lot of brands coming up, and I’m so excited to see it. I love it. I embrace it,” he said. “People ask, ‘Well, how do you feel about them competing against you?’ That’s not really our focus. We should at least come together, put our resources together before that’s even a topic.”