Catching up with Jen Su

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Media personality, Jen Su.
Media personality, Jen Su.
Angie Lazaro/Supplied

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Jen Su since she moved to the United States. We recently caught with the media personality to find out what she’s been up to in the last few years.

She recently hosted an event by Midwest Fashion Week called CONNEXIONS while in the US. The fashion event is dedicated to empowering creativity and collaboration between designers from around the world and gives them a platform to showcase their brands. The event is coming to South Africa for the first time this year, and she hopes that this can be an opportunity for her to come to the country. 

She tells us about this and more: 

Jen Su. Image: Dave Hann/Supplied
Dave Hann/Supplied

We have missed you in SA, what have you been up to recently? 

Thank you and I have missed you too! The last couple of years were pretty rough — my son Michael, 13 at the time, had to be airlifted to the US for emergency medical treatment after being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia T-Cell. 

A full medical team accompanied him on the flight, and then he was rushed by ambulance when we got to America, to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he went right into Paediatric ICU and almost died. 

He then suffered complications from chemo and one of the steroid medications, which affected his bones, to the point where he was in a wheelchair for over a year. Thanks to the team of medical professionals at CHOP, he is doing so much better and after surgery and therapy, he is walking again. 

Jen Su. Image: Dave Hann/Supplied
Dave Hann/Supplied

My colleague, Gareth Cliff and his team at CliffCentral came out to visit me in the US when Michael was undergoing chemo, and former Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi sent messages of support to him as well. I’m so grateful for my South African family, friends and fans, who have continued to send me messages of encouragement and support to this day.

How has COVID-19 impacted your life, and how have you adjusted to the 'new normal'?

The most challenging part of Covid-19 has been the restrictions on travel due to lockdowns around the world. Between my son’s cancer and the global pandemic, I haven’t been able to travel back to see friends and family in SA or Asia. 

Being fully vaccinated has been a game changer and I’m praying that the vaccine rollout in SA will be ramped up soon. South Africa will always be my home and depending on health protocols in the coming months, I’m hoping to be back for the Midwest Fashion Week CONNEXIONS in Joburg this September. 

Can you tell us a bit about the MidWest Fashion Week 'CONNEXIONS' and what the initiative is about?

Midwest Fashion Week ‘CONNEXIONS’ is a fabulous inaugural event for empowering creativity and bringing the very best of local SA designers from the Midwest of the U.S.A, and South Africa for the first time. 

It strives to grow the already established fashion community beyond the Midwest and open up markets for designers based in other parts of the world. It is really about bringing together diverse thought leaders in global fashion and design.

Jen Su. Image: Dave Hann/Supplied
Dave Hann/Supplied

MFW was founded by renowned designer Berny Martin. From Indianapolis, New York, Chicago, Paris — it’s now time for Jozi, and I’m thrilled to see the collaboration coming together. 

MFW will be held at the eclectic Gallery MOMO under the talented auspices of creative professional Odysseus Shirindza in collaboration with Rurban Concepts. The event will be hosted by ABC News Anchor Lionel Moise, and will be a fusion of art, fashion, installation, catwalk, and a perfect celebration to mark the Heritage Day weekend.

Why are events/initiatives such as these important for local designers and how do you think this will contribute to their local and global success? 

The pandemic has created many challenges for the fashion industry, and now more than ever, we need these events to continue to showcase and promote local designers to the world. 

Jen Su. Image: Dave Hann/Supplied
Angie Lazaro/Supplied

It’s essential for designers' survival, to have that support platform and funding available to them. I’m excited to see the collaboration between designers in SA and the Midwest region of the US — and a platform such as MFW will see fresh talent come alive, unique materials, edgy designs, and sustainable creative takes on fashion.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

At the moment, I’ve been quite involved with community outreach and promoting cultural projects through film in the city of Philadelphia, as a Board Director of the Philadelphia Film Society. 

I’m looking forward to continuing my music and television projects, once my son eventually finishes treatment. While things are significantly better, we are still often in hospital — so after my first book, From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand — I’m currently writing a new book centered around my son’s cancer journey and survival.


MFW CONNEXIONS Founder, Berny Martin, on how the platform will positively impact local designers

Can you tell us a bit about what to expect from CONNEXIONS

This is a first for South Africa as this event will be bespoke and focused on a small group of designers across product lines alongside art. 

The designers will get a chance to bring their brand vision to life outside of the conventional runway presentation. You can expect to engage with new and emerging brands from South African talent alongside US brands in an environment that showcases the artistry of fashion the connection to art by local and diaspora artists. 

It will be a day of art and fashion celebrating the connections of life, art, fashion, cultures and people! It is also great that the guests will be able to interact with the designers and artists first hand.

Due to Covid-19 regulations, the event will be accessible to a select few at the venue, by invitation only, with a virtual component to allow for a broader audience to tune in.

Some of the confirmed designers include: Berny Martin – Catou; Odysseus Shirindza - Arnreuby; Reggi Xaba – Ifele; Nokwanda Ngcobo – 8thWandah; Heather Marie Designs; Inga Gubeka – Inga Atelier.

How do you think this will uplift and enhance the careers /success of local designers

I am encouraged by how we can work together to make new connections with South African designers. 

This inspiration was ignited by my trips to South Africa and how the culture there (South Africa) can be an asset to this region in the USA. Fashion is becoming more and more the found source of global economic development and South Africa has a lot of potential. This platform will give South African designers global exposure. 

Over the years, Midwest Fashion Week has built relationships in the various cities where it hosts events such as Paris Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week and Chicago. These relationships include showrooms, boutiques, press and stylists. These platforms will be made accessible to South African designers who collaborate with Midwest Fashion Week.

These opportunities and networks help the designers to further grow their businesses and brand visibility on a global scale.

What is your vision for the future of CONNEXIONS

The objective of the CONNEXIONS showcase is to facilitate new dialogue between the Midwest region of the U.S. with South Africa. I am hopeful that the new dialogue will spark conversations around economic development and growth between the two regions in the mix of the new global economic developments.

My vision is to realise a significant impact on emerging South African designers and put more South African designers on the global map through facilitating collaborations with designers here in the USA.

The platform believes in collaborative efforts to make various initiatives happen. Recently, Midwest Fashion Week partnered with former Miss Universe GB finalist, Model, activist and beauty entrepreneur Muna Jama to develop a make-up course program alongside her beauty brand Muna Beauty aimed at using makeup artistry to empower young women in developing countries and in this case her native home of Somalia.

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