Tiana Lee
Tiana Lee: “Fashion is my vessel for change.” Photo: courtesy Tiana Lee

Model and fashion producer Tiana Lee doesn’t believe in sitting around waiting for change to happen, she believes it is each person’s duty to create the change they want to see.

This past weekend, the Berkeley native took a step towards change with her fashion show, ‘Controversy.’ Lee used the show as an opportunity to address many social issues that people encounter on a daily basis. Topics represented through the fashion on display included animal cruelty, race inequality and support for the LGBT community.

Lee said the fashion shows she produces are a first step — she hopes she can continue to use fashion to make a positive difference in the world in future. When asked why she does it, Lee simply responds, “Why not?”

Lee’s introduction to fashion came by way of family. Her mother, Regina Frazier, was once a model; her aunt, Sheila Frazier, is a stylist; and her cousin, Cherilyn Gibson, is a photographer. These influential women gave her the initial push to get started.

Models hold signs that read: “I Wear my Black Well” at the “Controversy” fashion show organized by Berkeley’s Tiana Lee. Photo: courtesy Mecca Media

In 2007, Lee began modeling with John Casablanca and Model Talent Management (MTM), and quickly found herself on runways, doing photoshoots and appearing in some music videos.

“Modeling was a great experience for me,” said Lee. “It opened up so many doors and gave me a chance to learn. But, as time went on, I became intrigued by the other aspects of fashion.”

After seeing that fashion had more to offer than just modeling, Lee began to dabble in photography, design and, eventually, production. Having an interest in all these things led to her start her own production company: CreativeLee Productions. Through the company, she produces fashion shows with the hopes of giving those with an interest in fashion a chance to showcase their skills.

‘Controversy’ which took place at Venue in Downtown Oakland on Saturday May 14, was Lee’s fourth fashion show. In front of a sold-out crowd, the show showcased a broad selection of Bay Area talent — a feat that Lee is very much proud of accomplishing.

“Everyone who was involved in this show is Bay Area born and bred,” Lee said. “To have it all go right is a testament to the kind of talent these people possess. I wanted the audience to see the kind of talent that exist in their own backyards. Opportunities for fashion are slim in this area. So every chance we get, we have to do it right.”

A model walks the runway during the ‘Controversy’ fashion show held in Oakland on Saturday. Photo: courtesy Mecca Media

But putting Bay Area talent under the spotlight wasn’t Lee’s primary goal with the show. Lee said she wanted to make a statement, and that statement was that all people deserve to be treated equally. Throughout the show, models dressed in clothes that addressed social issues. The show opened with an ode to animal rights. The first model hit the stage in a fur coat holding a sign that read “Real women don’t wear real fur,” setting the tone for what would turn out to be a very powerful night.

Later on, there was a segment where a few of the Black male models came out wearing hoodies and jeans, then transitioned to a more business-savvy look. With that portion of the show, Lee said she wanted to show that Black men should not be judged by the clothes they wear.

“I wanted to bring awareness to certain issues,” said Lee. “Of course there’s a lot more I wish I could have addressed, but I think we hit some key topics: the acceptance of the LGBT community, the problems of body shaming women, judging Black men by the clothes they wear. I wanted to start some positive and healthy dialogue.”

When asked why she thinks fashion can be an effective outlet for activism, Lee started with the fact that fashion is one of the biggest influences in the world.

“Think about how the world comes to a halt for New York Fashion Week, or fashion week in London and Paris,” said Lee. “It’s obvious that this is a medium people pay attention to. Why not use it for a positive influence?”

Model wears shirt with words “I Can’t Breathe,” the last words of Eric Garner who died after being put in a chokehold by police in Staten Island in 2014. Photo: courtesy Jason Robinson

Lee isn’t the first to bring political issues to the forefront of fashion, of course. Recently musician Erykah Badu teamed up with fashion designer Kerby Jean-Raymond for a Black Lives Matter collection that was displayed at this year’s New York Fashion Week. In front of celebrities and influencers, Badu chose to address the oppression that many Black people are forced to deal with on a daily basis.

Lee hopes that the future will bring her more opportunities to “spread light and love” through fashion. In June, she’s heading to Florida to produce a show dedicated to Cancer Survivors’ Day, a production that she is very much looking forward to.

“I’m grateful for any chance to make a difference,” said Lee. “Fashion is my vessel for change.”

Follow Tiana Lee on Twitter and Instagram @LoveTianaLee. See footage of the ‘Controversy’ show.

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Delency Parham

Delency Parham is a graduate of the University of Idaho where he played football and majored in journalism. He graduated from Berkeley High in 2010, which is where he discovered his passion for writing....