“I knew I wanted something else, something bigger,” explained Project Runway season nine winner Anya Ayoung Chee as she spoke with fashion students on campus Wednesday afternoon. Offering advice and sharing her journey in the fashion industry, Anya Ayoung Chee chose a more candid and relaxed approach to her presentation. While engaging students in conversation, Anya outlined her rise to fame from unknown to internationally acclaimed designer through the hit television program Project Runway.
Growing up in Trinidad, Anya Ayoung Chee had limited career options and felt as though she was expected to pursue a traditional career by becoming a doctor or a lawyer. It wasn’t until Anya traveled to Tokyo, Japan with her family at the age of fifteen that she realized her true passion – design. Anya recounted how mesmerized she was by the technology and innovative designs illuminating the streets of Tokyo. It was this experience that influenced her in choosing to study graphic design at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City. Anya eventually left Parsons during her junior year and studied at the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, England. Upon graduating, Anya worked a string of jobs ranging from film production studio assistant to luxury perfume packaging designer, until her life was suddenly rocked by tragedy. In 2007, Anya’s younger brother Pilar died in a tragic car accident at the age of eighteen. Following this tragedy, Anya embarked on a “soul searching” journey that eventually led her to the Miss Universe Pageant in 2008 where she represented her home country as Miss Trinidad and Tobago Universe. Representing Trinidad and Tobago provided a platform for Anya to begin designing clothing and promoting her own designs. In 2011, Anya Ayoung Chee auditioned for the ninth season of Project Runway and was chosen as a contestant in the final round of casting. Anya recounted the weeks leading up to Project Runway, describing her motivation to be a part of something bigger than herself and the encouragement she felt as “almost divine.” Anya did, however, suffer a lapse of faith when she received a call from Project Runway producers and initially turned down their offer for casting in season nine, fearing she would embarrass herself and her family and friends. Eventually Anya did accept the offer from producers and the rest is history.
Today, Anya Ayoung Chee is working on her eponymous line in addition to her street wear line PILAR, created in memorial of her brother. Anya’s Spring/Summer 2014 line showed at fashion weeks in South Africa, New York, and London. Anya also recently launched “The Canyaval Shop” showcasing her designs inspired by Carnival which feature strong Caribbean influences. Anya Ayoung Chee is still very involved with The Tallman Foundation, a charity that her family founded in memory of her late brother, Pilar.
Anya Ayoung Chee credits much of her success to her “light-hearted approach” to the industry and her mentor who taught her everything she knows about the technical side of design. Anya offered the same advice to fashion students during her presentation: find a mentor to foster and develop skills and take calculated risks. Anya enforced the ideals of self-respect, positivity, determination, and tenacity in setting out to achieve greatness. When asked to impart her best piece of advice for young designers and professionals trying to break into the industry, Anya left students with the following words of encouragement: “Celebrate yourself and risk being yourself fully. It’s never worth not knowing.”
Check out some of Anya Ayoung Chee’s designs here!