By Nicole Plonski
Do you visit or live in NYC? Does your clothing help express who you are? If you answered yes to both questions, being featured on TO Z: Fashion is a possibility and it is not far out of reach.
The New York-based, female-run blog has made it its mission to look beyond diversity as different races and religions by zooming in on individual style, and in this way telling stories through photos. Xiaoxiao and Yi, the faces behind the blog, are constantly delivering a message to people: being cool means being yourself.
Xiaoxiao and Yi met at an NYU school event, which they both attended solely for the free food. Yi came from an advertising and design background, and Xiaoxiao had shooting fashion in NYC in mind long before their first conversation. It turned out that they lived across the street from each other, and soon after they were spending many days visiting stores in South Street Seaport and taking photos on the Brooklyn Bridge. The more time passed, the more they realized how much they had in common in terms of styles and aesthetics. Eager to record other unique styles in the city, they made their thoughts of a blog a reality.
Not even a full year later and Xiaoxia and Yi have, as a team: approached, photographed, and featured hundreds of people sporting their very own New York street style. You can see all of their work on their Instagram: @toz_fashion or their website.
Want to know more? I asked them 11 questions to get the scoop on their own fashion sense, their experiences, and their future plans for TO Z: Fashion. Check out their answers below!
1. Where are you from and how old are you?
Xiaoxiao: My hometown is Huzhou, a small city in southeastern China. I am 26.
Yi: I’m from Shanghai and I’m 24.
2. What is your individual role as part of T0 Z: Fashion?
Xiaoxiao: My responsibilities focus more on the marketing side: say hello to people when we want a photo of them, grow followers on different platforms organically and interact with them, interview people and craft initial stories, use SEO in storytelling, etc. I only take pictures when Yi is busy, when I am traveling alone or when I want to practice. When Yi takes care of the photos, I would love to be her assistant.
Yi: My part focuses more on our content. I’m the major photographer of To Z: and I develop different content for our blog and social media platforms, including graphic design, photo editing, video production and blog posts. We divided our responsibilities based on our personality. Xiaoxiao, compared to me, is more [of a] extrovert. She is so natural when she reaches out to people that we’re unfamiliar with. I’m a little bit slow to warm up. But I’m changing because of her and our blog! I majored in advertising in my undergraduate, so I’d learned a lot about design and copywriting. And of course, I’m very interested in photography!
3. How do you decide who to photograph?
Xiaoxiao: Most of the time, we just agree immediately to photograph someone when we see that person. But beneath this instant agreement is what we love and sense: that [that] person [has] a unique idea of styling and that [that] person’s outfit represents her/his personality.
Yi: We both love the fashionistas whose styles advocate their personalities. Actually, we found our preferences after we had [taken photographs] for around five months. One day we felt we couldn’t find anybody we’d like to photograph but in fact there were many people wearing trendy items. At that time, we realized that we preferred the stylish people dressing in accord with their characters.
4. What is your favorite place to photograph?
Xiaoxiao: Elizabeth Street in NoLita area. We met many cool people there. Their styles are not that fast fashion, which is overwhelming on the other side of Broadway. Also, this area is quieter and less crowded than many others.
Yi: NoLita, for sure! New York City has so many different neighborhoods and [the people there] have various styles and charisma. NoLita has what we want! We often come across who we’re looking for there.
5. What is the best part about T0 Z: Fashion?
Xiaoxiao: We don’t care about trends, and we care about trends. It sounds confusing, but here’s my explanation: we photograph all kinds of outfits. Some people wear trendy clothes, some wear items from many years ago, some even wear clothes from [their] Mom and Grandma. But what they have in common is that they use outfits to express their characters instead of simply following the trend. And this is the “trend” we care about – [being] yourself.
Yi: Be ourselves. And the people we featured or photographed are just being themselves. This is a platform that advocates and compliments personalities rather than trends.
6. What is the story behind the name?
Xiaoxiao: We wanted to build a link between us and our audience. X and Y are the first letters of our initials respectively. Z refers to the audience who see what X (Xiaoxiao) and Y (Yi) see and feel how we feel when it comes to styles. This blog is delivered to the Z.
Yi: Haha. Because our name initials are X and Y. From X (Xiaoxiao) and Y (Yi), To Z. We came up with this whole blog idea after we hung out with each other for the first time on Brooklyn Bridge. Actually, we knew each other on the first day of our school at an NYU welcome event. Then we found out that we were living really near each other. Her building was just across the street from mine. But we hung out after our first semester ended. We had a long talk and then we got to know more about each other. Xiaoxiao loves meeting people and I love art and photography. But we both love fashion and style. So soon we had this blog idea. But we didn’t start it right away. About half a year later, we finally decided to go out and look for styles on the street.
7. Have you ever photographed a celebrity or someone relatively famous?
Xiaoxiao: Oh, yes. We ran into supermodel Emma Stern Nielsen on Broadway. That was the very first time. Afterwards we captured supermodels Ophelie Guillermand, Riley Montana, Yuka Mannami, Montana Cox, Alina Baikova, bloggers Sonya Esman, Camille Charrière, Tamu Mcpherson, Sally Ashour, Valerie of Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, Poppy King the founder of Lipstick Queen, etc.
Yi: Yes! We ran into several supermodels, like Yuka Mannami, Alina Baikova, Montana Cox, Emma Stern Nielsen… We also photographed supermodel and TV personality Veronica Webb; founder of lipstick brand Lipstick Queen, Poppy King; and popular social media influencers, such as Tamu McPherson, Camille Charriere, our best friend Andy Casanova and many others.
8. How do people usually react to being confronted by you two?
Xiaoxiao: They are simply very nice and say “sure.” Very few of them say they are shy, but they are still happy to be part of the blog. We only got rejected five times. And those were very polite no’s.
Yi: Most of them are very nice! 90% of them said yes to us. New Yorkers are really friendly. Some of them were very shocked because they didn’t feel they looked good at all, especially for some seniors. We met several ladies who looked really fabulous but they were not that confident in themselves because of their age. They told us they felt gross about themselves. But when we complimented their styles and told them they looked really awesome, they nodded to us. It’s really not about age. Style never ages.
9. What has been your most memorable experience as part of TO Z: Fashion?
Xiaoxiao: We ran into Poppy King the founder of Lipstick Queen three times in NoLita. We three decided to have a cup of coffee the fourth time we met. It was fantastic to [get to] know Poppy’s personality, her style and her stories, and to share our thoughts.
Yi: I think the whole experience is very memorable to me. I read the book “The Sartorialist” by Scott Schuman in my undergraduate. At that time, I felt it was super awesome to meet and snap so many different people in cool styles on the street. I never thought I could do it one day. To Z: gave me a perfect opportunity to explore this fantastic city and meet all kinds of cool New Yorkers.
10. What would you say both of your individual styles are?
Xiaoxiao: Make the most from fewest items. For me, styling is permutation and combination. I can match one item to different styles. One important principle: creative but neat.
Yi: I think we’re not swayed by the trends. We choose what we think are best for us. My style is inspired and influenced by my favorite artistic styles, De Stijl and Memphis design. I love colors but I prefer basic and normal shapes. Just like Mondrian’s artworks, the form is very simple but the colors are really eye-catching.
11. Any future plans for TO Z: Fashion?
Xiaoxiao: Grow To Z: into a hub for individuals to find small but interesting brands, for designers from different cultures to communicate and explore new markets.
Yi: I hope To Z: could be a great hub to connect fashionistas, designers, stylists and all other creatives, and also become a perfect platform for them to show their works and personalities and communicate with each other. We’d like to focus more on humanity rather than trends. We should dress more for ourselves rather than be limited by trends. Since we’re both from China, we also would like to have more cool Chinese designs under exposure!