Tony Long, founder and CEO of FashionBar LLC, created Fashion Week Chicago to spotlight Chicago as an emerging fashion destination. Canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, Fashion Week Chicago returned to Water Tower Place in Chicago’s Magnificent Mile this fall from Oct. 10 through Oct. 17 with the theme “Health is Wealth.” It was the fifth year the event ran its Trans Media Show.

Designer Tony Long and models from the first show of the Trans Media Fashion show pose for pictures on the red carpet after walking the runway. The models wear Long’s designs from his clothing line IAMTONYLONG. All photos by Ashley Sanchez / North by Northwestern

Long said he hopes to make Chicago the next fashion destination. In doing so, he hopes to combat the stereotype of Chicago as a violent city and the stigmatized views around transgender and gender non-conforming people.

“I love fashion because of the identity and the power it gives somebody to get what they want; achieve their goals,” Long said.

The FashionBar CEO was born in India, moved to London and now resides in Chicago. He said he chose to do fashion in Chicago because he wanted to showcase the city’s identity. Long said cities have distinct personalities and, in his opinion, Chicago’s true personality is buried. Fashion, he said, allows the truth of the city to shine through. He seeks to showcase more positive aspects of Chicago’s identity using fashion.

Model Aidan Henry walks the runway during the fourth day of Fashion Week Chicago: Trans Media Fashion. He wears a design from IAMTONYLONG.

Fashion Week Chicago is an avenue for Long to display Chicago’s identity to the public. Along with FashionBar, he founded Fashion Week Chicago eight years ago.

Thursday’s show for Fashion Week Chicago was the Trans Media Fashion show, which has been running for five years. Long personally identifies as gender non-conforming and said that transgender and gender non-conforming people have always been meaningful to him and his life.

"For me, this show is important to empower them," said Long. “That way they can achieve the goals that they want to achieve and also assimilate into society, and have no remorse for it or shame for it."

Long said the narrative surrounding transgender and gender non-conforming communities is often one of pain given the epidemic of violence against them that disproportionately affects Black transgender women.

“This show takes trans people through the camera lens in the media and celebrates them in fashion," Long said. He said this changes the narrative, shifting focus away from violence and toward a celebration of their lives.

Designer Melissa Atkinson and models pose for pictures on the red carpet after walking the runway wearing designs from Trans Clothing Company.

In partnership with Howard Brown Health, Thursday’s show included designs from Tony Long's own brand IAMTONYLONG as well as Trans Clothing Company. IAMTONYLONG's collection for nonbinary people was created entirely by upcycling flannels, and Trans Clothing Company’s designer Melissa Atkinson showed their line made “specifically for trans bodies.” The show featured exclusively transgender and gender non-conforming models.

“It just feels really empowering to be seen with all of your trans siblings,” said Angel Marquez, a model from the Trans Media Fashion show. She added that the fashion industry as a whole has a long way to go, but its standards are slowly evolving in a progressive direction.

Marquez poses for pictures during her runway walk. She models a design from IAMTONYLONG.

Long said that although Chicago’s fashion scene is still emerging, cities like New York and Los Angeles are looking to Chicago because of its understanding and celebration of inclusivity in the field.

“The higher powers — the ones that think they know fashion — don't know fashion," said Long. "What they do know is how to spend money and how to waste money and not to celebrate the identity of individuals. What they do is self-absorbed. This younger generation needs to push this concept of identity, because it tears down the structure.”