Participating in New York Fashion week as a designer is something I never thought I’d do.
In fact, having a clothing line in general is something I never thought I’d do. Nonetheless, last November a few PR companies reached out to me inviting me to participate in their shows for fashion week in Paris, Milan and New York. Honestly at first I thought it was a hilarious notion and was so surprised to be asked. Fashion week is for designers and models not geeky crafters who spend Friday nights covered in yarn clippings. However, the soft beckoning of the fashion world combined with an aptly timed episode of Sex and The City convinced me to take a leap of faith. I committed to a show in New York. New York seemed to be the right city for me to have my first real fashion industry debut. I don't quite speak “fashion” yet and I certainly don't speak Parisian fashion. I wanted to have this new experience somewhere I could understand the language and culture as best as I could.
I decided to do 10 looks with 10 dresses I had already made to minimize stress leading up to the event. A week or so before I was scheduled to fly to New York, I was on the phone with the PR firm and was given specific instructions to dress up as a designer for all events. Obviously I took that to mean that I had to design myself a dress for the runway, which I finished on the plane ride over. Why, oh why, do I insist on tiring out my brain and hands with last second dresses?! As soon as I arrived at the Hilton in the New York fashion district with my motley crew of ride or die girls (bestie Kiara, Aunt Rachel and my mom), I got swept up into the most chaotic and exciting world I’d ever seen.
First on the to-do list was to pick models. I had one goal with casting runway models: diversity. I sat down with the agency, 300+ headshots in hand and began the most grueling casting process I’d ever experienced. I wanted every single type of woman to be represented on my runway, or at least get as close as I could. Casting for diversity is so fun but presents its own set of challenges especially when models were getting cast for shows all over town and constantly changing plans.
The other designers seemed to have a type that they could stick to but I wanted to cast every ethnicity, body type, sexual orientation, etc. I wish I could say that out of 300 models it was easy to find curvy women to dress, but it turns out that size 6 is considered plus size for runway. Size 6?! I was shocked.
I stayed persistent with the agency to find a diverse group of models. Not because I wanted an honorary badge but because I genuinely love dressing women with curves and specifically design for those body types. I’m happy to say we did cast two plus size models, a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, and a trans model.
Once the models were selected, fittings began. One by one the models came in; I was able to meet them in person, hear their stories, and dress them in something that made them feel like a goddess. I make most of my designs to be adjustable so that they can contour the curves of each woman individually and uniquely. I always want my models to feel appreciated and comfortable wearing my clothes so that they have the freedom to let loose on the runway.
Each girl was so fun, sweet, and supportive. To be honest, I was a little intimidated by the thought of being surrounded by New York models all week. I was pleasantly surprised that I did not have the type of experience you’d expect in such an ego driven industry.
I loved seeing the girls together, encouraging each other in their beauty and witnessing the type of culture that happens among women who want to see each other succeed. It was incredible to see how the clothes complimented each woman individually but still looked cohesive as a collection.
The night before the runway I attended an industry night accompanied by my long-time gal pal Gisela Margarita Perez who works as a producer for CBS news and was the PERFECT date for the occasion. I was scheduled for a night of interviews and mingling with the press; I was so nervous! Because I don't have much of a background in fashion, I often feel like a fish out of water and don't always catch references that seem obvious to everyone else. Gisela, (as her best pre-interview producer self,) helped me get centered on the heart of my brand and what brought me to be in the room. With an amazing friend by my side and a drink in hand I was able to share my story with a room full of very posh, intimidating New Yorkers. I mostly blacked out during my speech! But what I said went a little something like this:
“My journey to becoming a designer is an unexpected one. I was working in anti- human trafficking fighting against modern slavery – which, sadly, the fashion industry has a big hand in. I want my brand to raise awareness about conscious consuming. I have worked with women all over the world who have been forced into a life of labor and sexual slavery. During this work I developed severe anxiety and needed something to give me peace.
I turned to crochet as a meditation. I began obsessively crocheting and making dresses to calm my mind. This led to the eventual creation of my collection.
I am so excited to be part of the fashion world today. The status quo of beauty is changing. Diversity is being demanded in mainstream media. I strive to bring visibility to every form of beauty. Fashion is for everyone and everyone deserves to be seen, heard and celebrated.”
It felt surreal to be in a room with people who make decisions about how to source labor and materials, people who make decisions about which girl gets to be seen in the next big campaign, people who daily influence our media and culture. I wanted to take every bit of that opportunity to speak right to the heart of the issues that matter most to me. After my Interviews I was happy that so many people approached me to talk about human trafficking and equal representation.
The industry night was an incredible success minus one little detail: the model who was wearing one of my crème-colored pieces got red wine all over it – the night before the runway!!!! If there was ever a moment to put my Zen abilities into practice, this was it. Luckily I had my mom with me and Moms are ninjas at this sort of thing. She got the stain out with some seltzer water and we dried it with a hair dryer in the bathroom. This little hiccup kept me up all hours of the night, (not that I was going to sleep anyway!)
The day of the runway, I arrived at legendary Chelsea Piers where I’d be showcasing at Pier 59.
People were lined up early in the morning looking fabulous and ready to be inspired. Backstage was pure chaos. I had been warned that this would be the vibe, but for some reason I didn't quite believe it until I entered the backstage dressing area. In a cloud of hair spray and powder, hundreds of models scrambled to get hair and makeup done while the frantic designers flung tulle and sewed last second stitches. I, of course was perfectly Zen and organized (not.) It’s funny how you can spend months preparing for something and then the amount of time you actually have to execute it goes by in a blink. I got all my girls lined up in my stitched creations. They looked beautiful, they felt confident and they were having fun. The runway was over in a flash! Before I knew it I was being greeted by my friends and people from the audience, telling me it was an incredible show.
NYFW was an experience I’ll never forget. Being in a position to cast those who bring visibility to the under-represented is something I do not take lightly.
I want people to see the incredible ferocity that each beauty can bring. I want to create clothes that make every woman feel beautiful and celebrated. It was also amazing to be a voice for the survivors of human trafficking. If there is one thing I can take away from this experience, it’s being put back in touch with my “why?” Why am I doing this thing called Namaste and Crochet?
I am not doing this for the fashion industry.
I am doing this for the woman who doesn't feel like her body type is celebrated.
I am doing this for the girl who feels like her ethnic background puts her in a box in the eyes of society.
I am doing this for the girls I have worked with in safe houses whose talents and bodies are exploited and their opportunities taken away.
And last but not least, I am doing this for you, my friend.
May you be inspired to be true to yourself, and the fire in your heart.