This weekend, the Dayton Emerging Fashion Incubator (DE-FI) LLC will be celebrating its 1 year Anniversary with (DE-FI) Gives Back that will include a Habitat For Humanity Build on Friday July 11th, on Saturday July 12th we will help out with some activities benefiting Homefull, and on Sunday July 13th we will be supporting (DE-FI) Designer Misti Leigh who will be hosting a Casting Call for the first major fashion event that the City of Springfield has hosted when she presents Fashion Forward Fusion on August 16. The Casting Call will take place at the Boonshoft Museum in Springfield located at 465 Upper Valley Pike, Springfield, OH 45504 from 1pm-3pm. For more info about the Casting Call and Fashion Forward Fusion please visit http://www.iiifashionevents.com.
As the owner and CEO of the Dayton Emerging Fashion Incubator (DE-FI) LLC, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the past year since we first launched with our Fashion In the Mystic Garden Event held at SunWatch Indian Village on July 13, 2013. What an event that was, we had amazing designers, a Native American Drum Group, a fire lit runway, fire dancers, and so much more all in the majestic setting of the restored village. We’ve come a long way since that day, I remember being so stressed out that day and unable to gather my thoughts, I was like an egg shell ready to crack at the gentlest of touches. In fact I stayed away most of the day during the preparation process and when I did come back to check on the progress I hid in the huts of SunWatch calling the individuals that I needed to speak with to come out to meet with me to avoid being bombarded with questions! lol
Over the past year we’ve learned so many lessons, grown leaps and bounds, and we are ready to keep the ball rolling and continue with that upward climb of shining a spotlight on Dayton Emerging Fashion scene! In the beginning, we had a million and one ideas on what we wanted this Incubator to be and how it should operate. We played around with a lot of ideas some were wildly successful, others bombed big time, and some we just needed to work out the kinks and adjust accordingly; after all there weren’t a lot of organizations out there that we could model our incubator after, all we knew is we wanted something that supported and nurtured the growth of local fashion designers, models, and other fashion professionals.
One of the major and most successful initiatives that we took on was the unprecedented act of waiving the fees for designers to showcase their designs and we paid our models! Believe it or not this sent shock waves through the fashion community and we caught a lot of heat from other fashion organizations and groups. Some attacked us by saying that we are a For Profit Organization and that because they are a Non-Profit 501 (3) (c) that they couldn’t pay their designers or models and therefore relied only on the use of volunteer to serve as staff and models…NEWSFLASH the Salvation Army, Habitat For Humanity, and numerous other organizations that are Non-Profit 501 (3) (C)’s pay their staff, so ones tax status has nothing to do with ability to pay those who help you grow your business it more about the willingness to share your profits. However, in saying that 95% of what we do self-included is Volunteer and we only get paid when we have an event the the past 365 days we’ve only had 3 events but the amount of time and days of work that we put into what we do as volunteers cannot be measured and is priceless not to mention the fact that everyone from our staff, designers, and models are required to volunteer at least 40hrs a year in their respective communities to be a part of (DE-FI).
It’s not easy to start a new business especially one that is a new concept and a misunderstood industry in the Dayton and Miami Valley areas. (DE-FI) was started with $150 and in our first year of existence we have raised nearly $30,000 and out of that we’ve paid nearly $10,000 out to our designers, models, and staff for their work in helping us to market, promote, and sale tickets to our events. But our giving didn’t stop there, we’ve been very active in the community whether it’s supporting and sponsoring events for our Official Non-Profit the Circle of Vision Keepers Re-Entry and Recovery program, or sponsoring the Northmont High School Girls Volleyball Team, Fashion Angels by America’s Next Top Model Contestant Laura Kirkpatrick, My Beauty is Priceless Youth Empowerment Seminars, Metaphorically Speaking Poetry Slam, buying ads for the Adams Project, being a sponsor for Team Iris, a local teenager battling Lupus for the Walk to End Lupus Now in Columbus, and sponsoring (DE-FI) Designer Misti Leigh’s very first Fashion Productions Fashion Forward Fusion in Springfield, and many more. (DE-FI) will always take the time to give to those who have given to us!
A lot of people look at me as the CEO and have in mind what they think a CEO should be and how I should act, or how I should handle various situations, and then they look at the industry in which we work thru tunnel vision or narrow minded views and they assume that I or other member of the (DE-FI) leadership have no experience in a “legitimate” career field. Personally, I like to think that (DE-FI) is a reflection of who I am as a person—I’m comfortable in my own skin, I have a heart of gold, I’m willing to help anyone who asks for help, I have a creative vision, I’m open, transparent, eager to learn, eager to teach, vocal, outspoken, intelligent, fun, and witty, a ta bit stubborn at times, not afraid to fail but determined to succeed, flawed, and when crossed…well Hell hath no fury! lol Truly living up to the name (DE-FI) pronounced “defy”.
We use the moniker (DE-FI) to dare people to challenge the odds and the status quo; on our Facebook page and website we say (DE-FI) Style and (DE-FI) Trends and in this past year sadly we’ve had to use (DE-FI) Stereotypes. Again, the Dayton Emerging Fashion Incubator (DE-FI) LLC is a reflection of me and my life which since the age of 5 has been diverse, I grew up in an inter-racial family, I’ve always had a diverse group of friends, and in an Industry where diversity isn’t always celebrated in terms of the standard of beauty (DE-FI) took a stand and once again did something unprecedented, on the cover of the first issue of (DE-FI)ance Magazine I put a 60+ year old Dutch-Indonesian Model on the cover of the magazine, she was join on the cover by a Haitian Model, a model of Hispanic Descent, an” All-American” Model, and an Iranian model all appeared on the cover. With well over 100 copies sold, the first issue of (DE-FI)ance was recently nominated, voted, and won the Best Emerging Media Award from the Posed Fashion Awards in Columbus, thousands of votes were tallied from across the country.
This cover not only represents me and (DE-FI) but it represents Dayton, and the United States as a whole. Yet, racism and bogotry reared its ugly head. For those of you who don’t know, I am African-American, I was never raised or taught to use the color of my skin as a crutch to limp through life on, or to be reduced by my stereo-type, I come from a family of Civil Rights activist who shoulders I stand on and whose memories I reflect on, and whose sacrifices I will not forget. As I look back over the past year and all of the memories, friendships, and partnerships that we have formed most bring a smile to my face but in January of this year I was told by Marty Smallwood of the Priority Board after A Taste of (DE-FI)ance that the only way (DE-FI) will grow and be successful is if I “Diversified” my team and my audience. Marty saw way too many black faces on my staff, on my runway, and in my audience for his liking and apparently having that many black people in one place is not a good thing and there is no way we could ever be successful.
But it didn’t stop there, upon finding out that I was black a week prior to A Taste of (DE-FI)ance, the manager of Therapy Café Jospeh (lastname unknown) where the event was being held yelled and shouted obscenities at me during a scheduled rehearsal at Therapy telling both myself and an African-American Advisory Board Member of (DE-FI) that “he’s tired of hosting black parties and that black parties are the reason that the City of Dayton is trying to put him out of business”. Please keep in mind that the majority of Therapy Café’s patrons are African-American events and parties that range from Professional, Artistic, Cultural, and regular parties, so just to be clear African-Americans are the reason that Therapy Café is in business. For the record, there wasn’t a single fight, stabbing, robbery, or shooting at our event or any of our events for that matter. But I’m not here to dwell on the negative or give ignorance and bigotry a platform but for the first time in my life I was ready to pack up and leave Dayton, felt discouraged and questioned whether or not I would be able to do all of the things that I had envisioned. But then I was quickly reminded of the hundreds of people that I had standing beside me and behind me cheering me on and lifting me up and made a conscious decision to not allow anyone or anything block my/our blessings but no matter what obstacles come our way we will continue to stay the course.
We have had nearly 30 of our models that we have scouted signed to Modeling agencies around the country and world. Some have ripped the runway during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, some have modeled for Abercrombie and Fitch, and they’ve appeared in national campaigns for GNC and Graeters Ice Cream. They are working in major motion pictures; they’ve appeared on the covers of Vogue Africa and in the pages of Vogue Italia. Our designers are being requested nationally, other fashion weeks from around the country are requesting information on our designers and models all of which are from right here in the Dayton and surrounding areas. I’ve been invited to serve my third season with the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s High Competitive Volunteer Program to get hands on experience during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York. Our designers have had their designs purchased right off of the runway, so needless to say the positive far outweigh the negative.
Like every organization we’ve added people to our team to help us reach the next level and we’ve removed people from our team who didn’t quite live up to their own hype or fulfill their duties. We’ve dealt with the stage mom and dad who were upset that “Little Timmy” wasn’t the super star that they thought that he was. We’ve had the ego-manic designers that thought that the earth revolved around them. We’ve dealt with the people who only showed up for the glory of the success but were nowhere to be found during the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the process of reaching the success. We’ve faced the nay sayers, the doubters, the coat-tail riders, and we’ve silenced them all by just being ourselves
Our biggest challenge is again changing the perception of the industry as a whole; we still have event coordinators asking where do you want the “T” for the runway and the microphone set up for the emcee to talk about the outfit the model is wearing. We have people shocked to see that we don’t use industry standards for models; we have 5’1 models and brace yourself we have models that range in sizes from a 0 to an 18!! We challenge the way things are done here in Dayton, you know the exact same faces, doing the exact same things, the exact same way, but maybe their titles have changed. We have created new leaders in the community and empowered hundreds of people through the entrepreneurial spirit to promote themselves and their dreams; all growing our network and net worth in the process.
(DE-FI) is made up of local business owners, community leaders, and Fortune 500 Business Executives who are working together to help make others dreams come true and that alone speaks volumes of this organization and why I love it and the members who have stood by me through some major trials and tribulations personally and professionally. One year later through the mostly good sprinkled with a few bad times, the core leadership that helped me to launch this organization are still all together and still standing strong ready to move forward with making Dayton, OH a fashion destination for emerging and established fashion professionals!!
So what’s next for the Dayton Emerging Fashion Incubator (DE-FI) LLC? Well, now that we have a clearer vision and a more (DE-FI)ned mission; we have launched the Art of (DE-FI)ance Fashion Fund LLC which is Non-Profit company that is currently in the process of becoming a 501 (3) (C) Tax status. While (DE-FI) will continue on as an event planning Fashion Organization giving emerging and established Designers and Fashion Professionals a platform to showcase their work and talent; the Art of (DE-FI)ance Fashion Fund LLC will serve as a means to support designer, photographers, and models financially in the pursuit of their dreams, be it scholarships to Fashion institutes, covering registration fees into influential fashion weeks across the country, the purchase of fabrics or equipment, or covering the cost of gas for models going to casting calls or jobs that can have a positive impact on their careers this is just a sneak peek of what in the near future for us. Most importantly, we are still going to continue on our grass roots path meaning there are no big “I’s” and little “you’s”, we are going to continue to promote our organization through network and giving people a #FashionExperience that they never thought possible coming from “Dayton”, and above all we will continue to give back.
Some people may not understand why I run (DE-FI) the way I do which is kind of loose and free spirited, I step up the pressure on my staff and team when and where it’s needed, when I’m struggling with an issue or have questions I go to my staff and team for their assistance, and yes I’ve even called several of them crying my eyes out. We laugh together, we pray together, we cry together, we work hard together and when it’s time for Lights, Cameras…Action, we put on one hell of a show! From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of everyone from (DE-FI) thank you to each and every last one of you who have supported us and our mission since day one or contributed to our success over the past year. There are too many of you to thank individually and many of you who we may not even know, please know that we couldn’t do any of this without you and it’s your faith in us that serves as the driving force behind everything that we do!!
For more information on the Dayton Emerging Fashion Incubator (DE-FI) LLC and the Art of (DE-FI)ance or how you can purchase our Designers clothes, please visit our website at http://www.daytonemergingfashionincubator.com or text “DEFI” to 55469. #TakingItToTheNextLevel #FirstFlightNowFashion