Ingjin San’s designs raise awareness of Myanmar’s civil war

Ingjin San pushes boundaries in fashion by raising awareness of the current civil war in her birth country, Myanmar.

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Ingjin San’s Spring/Summer 2023 collection debuts at the Flying Solo show at New York Fashion Week on Sept. 10. (Courtesy of Jules Roques)

Sofi Cisneros, Contributing Writer

Fashion designer Ingjin San wants peace restored in her home country of Myanmar — and she’s making it known on the runway. 

Awash with bold statements such as “End Genocide In Burma” and “Fashion Is Inherently Political,” her Spring/Summer 2023 collection transcended typical runway fashion. By transforming her personal artistic medium into political activism, San is raising awareness of the ongoing civil war in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, through the way she knows best: fashion. 

“Fashion is not only about dressing up all colorful, rainbow, all materialistic. It’s not just that for me,” San said. “It’s not only about clothing, or it’s not only about creating, it’s also very practical, very realistic and it’s also political.”

San’s collection debuted at Flying Solo’s Sept. 10 New York Fashion Week show, calling upon the audience to take action against Myanmar’s oppressive government. Models posed on the runway while wearing traditional Burmese textile patterns called acheik, typically seen on longyi skirt fabric that’s worn during ceremonial events. 

“To honor those that have lost their lives and their futures, I have dedicated my entire collection this year to them,” San said. 

The designer, who was born and raised in Yangon, Myanmar, moved to the United States to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer. After graduating from Salt Lake Community College’s fashion institute, she launched her eponymous brand in 2017. She promptly debuted collections at Massif Fashion Week 2017 and NYFW 2018. Both San’s heartbreak and longing for peace in Myanmar were at the forefront of this year’s collection.

“I wanted to really put my feelings to my creations so that way I can put all their messages out there for the people of Burma because they are not allowed to do so,” San said. “I can help them, support them.” 

The present situation in Myanmar began when the country’s own military staged a coup in February 2021 after refusing to accept the National League for Democracy as the returning government party. Despite the party’s landslide win in Parliament, the military contended that the election results were fraudulent and subsequently detained many NLD members including Burmese politician and diplomat Aung San Suu Kyi. 

However, the military was met with fierce opposition by Myanmar civilians. Millions of protesters filled the streets of major cities throughout the country. By going on strike, they disabled the banking system and made it difficult for the military to accomplish anything. But what began as peaceful protesting soon gave way to deadly attacks — the military killing nearly 1,300 people since the coup’s conception.

“We do need to reject the military group because they are actually a group of terrorists,” San said. “They’re not protecting their own citizens; they’re doing all the horrible crimes every day.” 

On Sept. 16, just days after San’s show at NYFW, a military aircraft attacked a small village primary school in central Myanmar’s Let Yet Kone village, killing at least 11 children and increasing anguish among Myanmar’s population. San stands among those deeply disturbed by this recent attack.

“[The United Nations] just released a statement, and in that statement they only said that it could be a war crime,” San said. “It is very obvious that it is a war crime.” 

Resistance groups have spawned around the country in response to these crimes against humanity and have taken up arms to establish groups called the People’s Defense Forces. In response to the detainment of Suu Kyi, a new group of democratic leaders called the National Unity Government have become the face of the resistance as a shadow government forced to operate in exile. 

“We need the U.S. government and world leaders to come together to take serious action, not just only statements after statements,” San said. “We also need them to accept the Myanmar National Unity Government that is trying to defeat the military.” 

San also emphasized that the situation was as urgent as the current Russia-Ukraine war.

“We need help in every possible way, like that Ukraine is receiving because Burma is in a similar situation,” San said. The only difference is that they have the government protecting their citizens. In Burma, the military of the country are the ones who are supposed to protect their own citizens. Instead, they’re the ones killing and murdering their own citizens for their own gains.”

She says the people of Burma need money and real humanitarian aid as they lose their homes and villages to fires every day. While donations to organizations and calls to representatives to help in the fight to terminate Myanmar’s military coup have been in use since February 2021, San continues to aid her home country and encourage others to do so as well. 

Contact Sofi Cisneros at [email protected]