Cleveland’s prominent stature in arts and culture has always been a calling card for the city, but fashion has rarely been at the forefront—that is, until Aimon Ali entered the conversation.
When Ali moved to Cleveland from Toronto in 2018, she brought her penchant for the fashion industry with her. The enterprising 20-something had produced large-scale fashion shows in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver and quickly discovered the potential was there to mount events of similar scope in Cleveland.
Aimon Ali, founder of Fashion Talks“As I was starting to meet people in Cleveland, I learned that there are so many amazing creatives who are on par with top-tier talent I had seen in Toronto,” says Ali. “But when I Googled Cleveland Fashion Week, nothing really came up at the same level as New York or Toronto. I wanted to fill that gap.”
Enter Fashion Talks, a boutique fashion services and events agency with the aim of “elevating diverse creatives” in style and design. Sunday, June 25, marked Fashion Talks’ third annual installment of The Runway, an ambitious fashion show showcasing local, national, and international designers.
Set against the stunning backdrop of Severance Hall, the show highlighted local brands such as Love, Niki Boutique; Porshia; Esperanza Threads; and Back to You Designs—along with Ali’s own Nomia Studio accessories line.
Hosted by Nola Movement founder Nike Olabisi-Green, the event also highlighted three “Ladies of Influence” making a difference in Cleveland: Lillian Kuri, incoming president and CEO of Cleveland Foundation; Jing Lauengco, entrepreneur and brand strategist; and Lesa LaForce, modeling agency owner and philanthropist.
“Every year, I am more excited to produce the show,” says Ali, who held the past two editions at The Madison and Cleveland Museum of Art. “From conceptualization to mood boards to the end result, it’s an amazing process seeing it all come to life.”
Diversity in Motion
Diversity and inclusion are top values for Ali, and those are strongly reflected in the Fashion Talks philosophy and approach. For instance, anyone can audition to be a model for Fashion Talks events—no professional experience or specific look/body type necessary.
“We look more for confidence and energy than what a model looks like,” explains Ali, adding that almost all the models are local to Cleveland.
That mindset also extends to the runway, where everything from traditional Pakistani gowns to patchwork denim to luxury leather goods to blinged-out bodycon dresses is on full display. According to Ali, the high-fashion mentality marks a departure from what she sees as Cleveland’s typical style sensibilities.
“Cleveland is so used to T-shirts and street style,” says Ali. “The idea with Fashion Talks is to produce elevated events that help people think of fashion in a different way.”
To that end, Ali infuses other artistic elements such as ballet performances into each installment of The Runway. (This year, ballerinas Tabitha Miner—aka “Tabitha in Motion”—and Schuyler Berger opened the show with a duet.) For Ali, it’s not just about rounding out the events, but also changing the face of how we experience them.
“Ballet has always been considered a traditional upper-middle class ‘white’ activity; a lot of people of color wouldn’t consider watching ballet as something to do with their time off,” says Ali. “We want to send the message that this is for everyone.”
The inaugural 2021 installment of The Runway at The MadisonFrom Canada to CLE
Though Ali has swiftly made a name for herself in Cleveland, her plans didn’t always include moving to the Midwest. Having moved from Pakistan to Canada at the age of three, Ali initially thought she would be a lifelong Canadian. But after meeting her now-husband through family, she decided to take a leap of faith and make the move to Cleveland.
“I had only traveled a little bit to America and didn’t know much about Cleveland—it was a bit of a shock to the system at first,” explains Ali.
But Ali is no stranger to creating opportunities for herself, having forged her way onto the fashion scene from a young age. While majoring in psychology at York University, Ali began volunteering backstage at local fashion events, which quickly “snowballed into being on the model coordination teams and designer teams for big shows,” she says. “At that time, I saw it more as a creative outlet since I was pursuing developmental psychology.”
Over time, Ali became the president of the Fashion Association at York University and began working on events such as Toronto Men’s Fashion Week, Toronto Women’s Fashion Week, and Startup Fashion Week alongside her undergraduate studies in psychology.
When Ali decided to move to Cleveland in 2018, she still had one foot in healthcare and another in fashion with a part-time job at Holland Bloorview Kids’ Rehabilitation Hospital alongside her work as an event producer, stylist, and co-founder of a fashion PR business.
Five years later, Ali is all-in on Fashion Talks—a fast-growing agency that has expanded to include a nonprofit foundation; a glossy magazine; mentoring and networking programs; and events both in and outside of Cleveland.
In September, Fashion Talks will host an event at New York Fashion Week, which Ali says will act as a “bridge for Cleveland entrepreneurs and give them a platform to showcase in front of more people.”
For Ali, it’s all part of a bigger vision and mission that she finds highly fulfilling. “What I do can be stressful, but it’s a ‘good stress,’” she explains. “I’m so grateful to work in a creative field. Children of immigrants often don’t see the creative industry as an opportunity [available to us]; there is often a feeling that you have to work hard and suffer to earn money. I want to have fun and do something different.”