From styling Heidi Klum to rocking New York Fashion Week and creating a one of a kind eyewear collection, Project Runway All-Stars winner Mondo Guerra has done it all. But it’s his activism, as an HIV-positive Latino, that has perhaps had the biggest impact. He’s raised awareness with his designs on behalf of Merck’s I Design HIV education campaign, has been very involved with Dining Out for Life, and proceeds from his line from SEE Eyewear benefited amfAR. Mondo was also a co-chair of the Cielo Latino Gala alongside Rosie Perez and has kept busy speaking to students about his journey with HIV.
At the annual U.S. Conference on AIDS, Mondo spoke with other activists, advocates, and people living with HIV. He says his visits to USCA in previous years have helped him to design looks based off the conversations he has had with people. This year, he is hoping to channel this same energy and put it into his 2016 efforts.
Fellow HIV advocate and designer Greg’ry Revenj (far right, who was one of our 2015 Amazing HIV-Positive Men) caught up with Mondo at USCA for his own inspiration..
Since your coming out as HIV-positive on TV years ago, what's changed?
One of the hot topics I have come across is the issue of ageism in the positive community. There is a separation between advocates who have been around since the AIDS crisis of the '80s and the emerging advocates of today. I am going on 15 years being HIV-positive and am seeing both young and older generations coming to me about insight, but I am not seeing a lot of crossover peer mentorship. The older generations aren’t offering insight to the youth and I’m not seeing the youth sharing their experiences as the new generation of HIV.
Speaking of hot topic issues, PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis — the HIV prevention treatment — is being more widely discussed. What is your stance on it?
I believe that PrEP is a personal choice. It is definitely relevant in my life as I am in a serodiscordant relationship [where one person in the relationship is HIV-positive and one is negative], so it is a conversation that we have had about it. I do understand that it isn’t for everyone. I, by no means, live in regret but if the pill were available before I was diagnosed, I don’t think I would have been responsible enough for adherence. As a younger person I felt that “invincibility” that everyone feels; as a young adult it's part of growing up. [A note on adherence: Truvada for PrEP is a pill that must be taken daily, and even one missed dose can be detrimental to the efficacy of the medicine.]
You are so much more than your diagnosis, including a fashion designer, which I admire. What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Of course, I have my continuing collaboration with SEE eyewear, an exclusive line that features my aesthetic and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. I have a collaboration with Crocs, which was totally unexpected. I never thought I would see myself wearing Crocs. They are awesome, not only because I am working with them, but because they are so comfortable. I don’t know if you own a pair, but you should because they feel like pillows for your feet.
Now I need a pair. What else?
Focusing more on my personal creative work, I launched a collaboration with Merck called iDesign, where I am hoping to inspire people living with HIV to take an active role in their treatment plans with their doctors. To me, it is very important to have an open and honest dialogue with my doctor. [People need] to address topics regarding treatment, current therapies, and other conditions they may have beyond their HIV diagnosis. In addition to doing all of these things, I am working on my collection for spring 2016, which I have scaled back on my usual style in that there is an absence of color and pattern, focusing on white and the combination of unconventional materials and texture. This collection was conceptualized from a piece of paper being folded into an airplane. As an airplane is made from a piece of paper, you fold it, build it, and create a dynamic vehicle with momentum and then you throw it and aren’t sure where it will end up.
Remembering it is created from a piece of paper and at any point it can be ripped up and thrown away, in a way is mirroring my personal life. For me it is just starting with a clean slate, which could be literal with the white, but it’s important for me to start again. It’s important for me to start that foundation of my future. I know what the past 15 years has been like, [but] where is the future going? And then being able to build on that new foundation going forward.
How does a day like today fit into that?
Being here at USCA, I am walking the floor and meeting people like you and having conversations about their stories and what life has been like. Those stories are really inspiring, and I want to take the stories and apply them to my fall 2016 collection. It is really time for me to get back into designing with a purpose and really having that visible crossover. I am glad I am in that position to have a platform that allows me to do that. It is important for everyone to share their story. There is a lot of power in a story and when you are able to feel empowered you can accomplish so much more than you thought you could achieve. I also encourage Plus’s readers to visit the campaign’s website www.projectidesign.com for more information about the collaboration.