On Your Fashion Radar: Coalesce Collective

The Minnesota-based fashion collective celebrates Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as well as BlPOC creatives

Photo by Michelle Lee

Nearly 100 Minnesotans arrived in New York City at the start of fashion month in September. As part of Coalesce Collective, they prepped to take the runway at the inaugural Asian New York Fashion Week.

The Minnesota-based fashion collective, Coalesce, celebrates Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), as well as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) creatives. They made their debut at Fashion Week Minnesota less than two years ago.

After just three runway productions as an organization, founder and producer Mao Xiong applied to Asian New York Fashion Week on a whim. She had nearly forgotten about it by the time she got the good news that Coalesce Collective had been accepted. “We were like, ‘Oh well, we didn’t get in. We’ll just try again next year,” she jokes. 

Xiong has had her sights on a larger stage from the beginning. This year, the experience in New York has led to a new focus locally. “It was always our goal to expand and connect with more AAPI creatives outside of the Midwest,” she says. 

The organization’s very name indicates this mission, encompassing a sense of unity and a “coming together” of creative minds.  

Asian New York Fashion Week is an event series created to celebrate the next generation of Asian designers, talents, and stories. Among its cohort of local talent, Coalesce brought along eight designers, more than 60 models, the collective’s lead hair and makeup team, lead photographer, and even its own DJ. 

“In a way, the experience just showed me, ‘Wow, Minnesota is really good,” Xiong says.

As part of the Asian New York Fashion Week events, Coalesce designer Kennedy Lor showcased an androgynous, ready-to-wear line of upcycled menswear, his take on “quiet luxury.” Lor’s process includes sourcing and deconstructing old menswear garments, then cutting and sewing these elements into new, tailored pieces, which formed 10 unique outfits on the New York runway. “I aim to create that high, luxurious designer look at a more affordable price point,” Lor explains. “I feel like quiet luxury is really coming in. Everyone wants that look right now.”  

Lor, along with seven other designers, exercised more creative control in New York than he says he is used to, a factor he feels helped everyone communicate their stories in new ways. In the past three productions in Minnesota, Coalesce’s designers all walked their collections together. That left such creative choices as model casting, hair and makeup, and music to Xiong and her co-producer, Mary Lee. 

The more deconstructed approach in New York inspired Xiong and Lee to shake things up for 2024. “New York was definitely opposite to how we usually do things,” Lee says, “but it kind of showed us, ‘Hey, we can change things up and that’s OK. 

For 2024, Coalesce Collective has officially separated itself from Fashion Week Minnesota and plans to go big with a whole weekend of runway shows and events staged locally and aimed at elevating the voices of each individual designer. “I’ve always felt like sometimes, as an AAPI artist or as a BIPOC artist, you kind of lose your voice,” Xiong says. 

“We didn’t want that to happen. It’s important for us to have an independent voice, but we will always support Fashion Week Minnesota.”  

As for winter fashion must-haves this year, for Lee, it is a neutral beanie that will complement her winter outerwear. And for Xiong, who recently made the move to New York full time, it’s maxi skirts of any material. “I’ve been seeing it all over New York. Leather, denim, even corduroy maxi skirts. People are styling them so beautifully.”

As an Associate Editor on Greenspring Media's Custom team, Emma contributes to multiple publications, including Real Food and Drinks, Twin Cities Living, and Minnesota Monthly. A true Minnesotan, Emma spent most of her life in an ice rink, training as an elite figure skater. When she is not writing or skating, you can find her at a yoga class, thrifting, drinking overpriced coffee, or spending the day on the lake.