Models are often viewed as human hangers on which designers place their couture garments, as human canvasses on which makeup artists paint exotic faces or as life size dolls for which hair stylists create elaborate updos. Yet, models are far more than what we see on the catwalk.
At Fashion Fete NYC’s third annual event held two weeks ago, models represented a plethora of vocations and aspirations beyond the normal “pretty face.” From dancers like Wendy Hobbie to social entrepreneurs like Darius Brown, many models’ stories are hidden behind the designs they wear.
Case in point was Dr. Marie Ojiambo, who is actually Miss Africa USA-People’s Princess 2013. Not only is she a pageant winner and a doctor of pharmacy, she lives with sickle cell disease.
“I have my medication with me, I stay hydrated and rest when I really have to. I don’t over stress myself,” she said. “Fashion has never been a challenge and my condition has never hindered me from doing what I’m doing.”
Currently pursuing her graduate studies in Industrial Pharmacy at St. John’s University, Ojiambo’s discipline is what influences her to speak about her disease.
“It’ll be easier to talk about by knowing about it and knowing how to treat it,” said Ojimabo, who used sickle cell disease awareness as her platform for the Miss Africa USA pageant. “My background [in the field] gave an extra boost to talk about the disease awareness.”
Her journey in fashion dates back to her undergraduate studies the University of Nairobi School of Pharmacy in Kenya. She modeled part time on the weekends and always dedicated separate time for her studies.
The 26-year-old confessed that she’s much more comfortable with pageantry because she’s more able to be herself. However, Fashion Fete NYC gave her an opportunity to interact with people of different backgrounds, spiritually and culturally.
“…We all come together in the body of Christ to share a common thing and that’s why I really like the idea of Fashion Fete NYC,” said Ojiambo.
A straight runway model at Fashion Fete NYC, Ojiambo shared the first timer title with models like Diannah Sparks, Wendy Hobbie, Lucille Robles, Jasmine Green, Cherise James, Clara Johnson and the show’s youngest model Jenny Norbert.
First-time participant male model David Thomas concurred that it was the integrity of the event that gave him the green light.
“I love the fact that it’s about expansion of Christian businesses and making them expand in different areas of the world,” said the Barry University graduate.
Thomas has modeled on two different occasions while pursuing his studies in advertising and has since explored other platforms of expression. For five and half years, he has been involved in mime ministry and also teaches Sunday school to teens at the Queens Church of the First Born.
“[I expect] to get a call from Tyra Banks,” he said jokingly during the rehearsal on July 22. “And I also expect this to be something that represents the kingdom in a different kind of way aside from church.”
Only the latter of his expectations were met, however, he rocked the runway in designs by B. Nathaniel of BeSpoke and The Lewis Butu Collection.
In fact, Fashion Fete NYC welcomed a great many male participants this year including designer Karl Brown of Khalil’s Hatitude who wore several hats that night, pun intended – runway model being one of them. Other male models included Andre Harrison, the author of From a Fatherless Father to his Sons and Darius Brown, founder of Employed by My Vision.
Eric Salvary, also a first timer to Fashion Fete NYC, says that it isn’t a challenge for him to gain modeling opportunities.
The 29-year-old has modeled in college fashion shows, for various department stores and independent designers showcasing mainly men suits.
Salvary is currently a personal trainer, photographer, and freelance journalist. He has written for local newspapers including the Amboy Guardian in New Jersey. Additionally, he works in social media brand management, helping companies get web and social media presence.
Delving into various paths and choosing a career that one loves is always beneficial. It is even more so with the support of loved ones.
Robin Kurian, an aspiring actress, knows all too well about having the affirmation and support of family. From an Indian family, she knows her career strays far from the beaten path.
She has done a lip gloss cosmetic advertisement by Kimberly Roley titled FSL (Feel good, Smell good, Look good) and has leaned more to commercial print; however, acting is her primary pursuit.
“I’m very fortunate to have parents who are cool with it,” said Kurian. “There are some Indian parents who are like no way, maybe as a hobby but not as a profession. There’s a lot of stereotype that if you’re Indian you must be a nurse or doctor. [My parents] are not as traditional.”
Currently working as a full time receptionist, she continues to scout opportunities to submit her head shots and move forward in her acting career.
Defying traditions is something that Techla Nesbitt has done consistently as part of the plus-size community in the fashion industry.
“The plus-size community is small but building and getting more recognition,” said the New Jersey resident. “The year, New York Fashion Week will have plus size designers and models, as well.”
Present from Fashion Fete NYC’s inception, Nesbitt has been modeling for 6 years. She noted that she definitely felt “celebrity status” this year and would want to be part of the networking and fashion event in the next few years.
Her fierceness was contagious, as she rocked the runway with plus size models including Aissatou Diallo, April Gordon, Sierra McCarey, Adrienne Sherard, Kim Mitchell and Zuumah Gayemen
As for the plus-size community, Nesbitt is confident that it will gain shine sooner rather than later.
“The majority of the American population isn’t a size zero to six,” said Nesbitt. “I’d say within the next five years, the plus-size community will be more visible in the fashion industry.”
Fashion Fete NYC hopes to be one of the platforms that allow visibility, not only for the plus-size community but also for budding participants in the fashion industry and faith-based businesses.
In 2014, Fashion Fete NYC will extend its brand from a one-time event to include a variety of workshops that aid participants in entering the industry, wellness, self-esteem and ripping the runway.
Fashion Fete NYC is powered by NEWDMagazine/NEWDradio and The Vision 3 Group.
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Photo Credit: Imran Tannis and Kori Raishon