Of course, we’ve heard of New York Fashion Week and fashion weeks around the world, but breaking up fashion weeks which are defined by their borough is becoming pretty popular in NYC. We have Brooklyn Fashion Week and now Harlem Fashion Week which is celebrating its third season. It is produced by two talented women whom happen to be mother and daughter, Tandra Birkett and Yvonne Jewnell.
What sets Harlem Fashion Week apart from the rest, is the creation of a team of celebrity judges known to the Harlem community, who sat on a panel during the Emerging Designer Competition this year. This past season the winning Emerging Designer award went to boBETTE eIZA and we took a moment to sit and speak with the Jamaican-born designer on her experience with Harlem Fashion Week and how she got started.
How did you learn of Harlem Fashion Week and what made you apply?
“My friend works with Tandra and was always my motivator and introduced me to the website. He was always telling me do this, do that, and he knew all about Harlem Fashion Week. I had auditioned for another show and I met Ms. Jewnell and she said to; you should totally do Harlem Fashion Week and I said to myself what the hell? I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time and the opportunity is here.”
Have you always been in fashion?
“Actually, no. My father was always a dressy man and cared about what he put on. Not being a trained artist and we didn’t have a lot growing up, so I used whatever we had and that helped me to start putting what I wanted on paper. It all started in 2012. I registered the company and that was it. My sister was actually the one who was into fashion”
On the process of participating in Harlem Fashion Week and benefits:
“The process after the application is done, the logistics is sent out and then it’s a pretty simple and straight forward process. Ms. Jewnell made it a pretty easy platform to get all the information you need to be apart of the show. The benefits of winning are the interviews I’ve done so far including Vainstyle Magazine and photo shoots that I’ve done. There is also a television program that they are setting up for me to do that will give me some exposure for my brand, so that will be a great experience and I would love to have that done. The people behind Harlem Fashion Week are so supportive and in terms of the exposure, the media that was in the audience, it would be great to get me out there!”
On living in New York and how it impacts her designs:
I love the colors I see, the energy and the people in New York. I’ll spend a whole day just walking around and looking at just the fabrics. I love how people are always moving and those fabrics and colors and the vibe gives me energy.
On what made her decide to create handbags and not apparel:
”Initially I wanted to do apparel but I was always a handbag person. No matter what I’ve done even if I did do apparel, I would have gotten here anyway. So I thought this is my first love so I’ll go ahead and do this. If I did do apparel, I would focus on couture. My first thought was to do a coat line and that is what I was planning on doing but I could not find a pocket book that I really liked and didn’t see anything in stores that I liked either. Then I said to myself, I’m going to sketch something and have it made. I went to church and someone decided I wasn’t going home with my bag so she took it and I went home with a plastic bag. From there I started doing small pieces for people and then I realized it was costing me too much to just do one, so that’s where it all started.”
On her next endeavors for the brand:
“I want to be a designer who pushes the envelope and be outside the box. I don’t want to do regular everyday bags for people. I want to force people to see fashion, color, texture in a different unknown way. In terms of putting them out there in the market, I don’t know if I want to be in a department store. I want to go the new way and do my online store. I do have a website up and working on getting a shopping cart done as of maybe next week. That’s basically what I ‘m working on right now. I’ve been reaching out to PR [contacts] in Atlanta and trying to do product placement on television shows. I don’t want my stuff just in New York City. I want people anywhere to see my products. I want to have stuff women can relate to.”
Her advice to other up and coming emerging designers:
“I’ll say my father taught me a very simple thing. Be humble, keep your eyes on the ground and be focused. Always, always, always be true to yourself and your designs. And be patient. Being patient really does work. There are days I would say to myself, nothing is happening. What am I doing this for? I didn’t see all this now then. So I would say know your brand, know what you want for your brand and go with it because this I couldn’t even see 4 years ago.”