Upcoming fashion show at Tru Coffee organized by UI senior promotes thrifting and authentic self-expression

In collaboration with Tru Coffee, Jarod Valencia-Chang, a graduating senior at the University of Iowa, is planning a fashion show for early March that displays thrifted and local pieces. Themed “Come as you are,” the show will promote second-hand clothing and authentic self-expression.


Emily Nyberg

Jean Ivonne Keller auditions for a spot in Jarod Valencia-Cheng’s upcoming fashion show “Come As You Are” on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023. Valencia-Cheng’s fashion show will take place in March.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

Style can say a lot about a person. Jarod Valencia-Cheng, a University of Iowa senior who is planning a fashion show at Tru Coffee, wants style to say everything.

Valencia-Cheng started collaborating with Tru Coffee in downtown Iowa City between October and November 2022 to create a production that emphasizes being one’s most authentic self.

Valencia-Cheng, who majors in English and creative writing and minors in dance and cinema, will graduate in the spring.

Over the past four months, they have worked as a photographer and clothing designer at the Wright House Of Fashion, a non-profit organization in Iowa City that focuses on supporting fashion and design in underserved communities. Their experience with the Wright House has been essential to planning the fashion show, Valencia-Cheng said.

Tru Coffee owner Haley Kesterson came up with the idea for a fashion show. As a regular at Tru Coffee, Valencia-Cheng knew Kesterson and the rest of the staff well. So, when Kesterson offhandedly mentioned she’d be interested in a fashion show, Valencia-Cheng offered to pursue it.

Valencia-Cheng held an open call on Feb. 17 for models for fashion models at Tru Coffee. They cleared the floor and lined the aisle with chairs to represent the runway, and Valencia-Cheng along with other panelists sat at the end of the runway.

Each of the auditioning contestants walked the runway, struck a pose at each end, and answered questions from the panelists. This portion of the audition allowed the judges to better understand how fashion influenced the lives of the potential models.

Some of the contestants heard about the open call through Valencia-Cheng’s Instagram, where they posted a photo of their handmade open call poster. The poster also advertised the fashion show’s theme: “Come As You Are.”

And contestants did. In unique and expressive outfits, they arrived at Tru Coffee in their favorite pieces and showed them off on the runway.

Gabby Estlund, a recent UI graduate and full-time employee at Big Grove, decided to audition after seeing Valencia-Cheng’s Instagram because she had experience photographing models but never modeled herself.

Estlund walked the runway in strappy tan boots and a dress dyed in the colors of a sunset. When choosing her clothing and accessories, she settled on an outfit she would normally wear — just like the fashion show’s theme suggested.

Estlund worked with many creative mediums while studying arts and journalism as a college student.

“I think fashion is a really unique [medium] in that it’s essentially wearable art,” Estlund said. “Sure, that’s been said before. But that’s just how I think of it. Especially because, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown in my confidence and ability to wear things that are more just out there and unique.”

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Estlund was also familiar with the environment of Tru Coffee because she often studied there during her time at the UI. Other contestants, like Innes Hicsasmaz, were newcomers to the establishment.

Tru Coffee opened in June 2021. It was named after Kesterson’s mother, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in May 2021. It is a business that not only sells coffee but also vintage clothing.

“What’s unique about the clothing that Tru Coffee has to offer is the fact that they’re thrifted pieces, and Haley goes out and picks this stuff out,” Valencia-Cheng said. “I think that there is really some kind of special connection between the clothes that she picks herself and the connections that she makes with the community.”

The models will wear this clothing, as well as loaned pieces from other Iowa City shops, to promote thrifting and the support of local businesses.

Valencia-Cheng hopes the event will introduce more people to Tru Coffee and encourage community involvement.

“I built the show specifically around how to get people that don’t normally come into Tru to come here, which is where the theme kind of came from — ‘Come As You Are.’ It’s very to the point,” Valencia-Cheng said.