I thank people to a fault. Admittedly, I forget to be thankful.
I think the two are different. My southern manners prompt me to always be grateful for any and every gesture of kindness or generosity. I'll obsess if I haven't hand wrote a 'thank you' letter, and beat myself up if I downgrade the dinner to coffee or cocktail. It never fails that I forget to take stock in the good when the day-to-day rough and tumble can make pausing to rest in that really good, sumptuous feeling of accomplishment, the kind you get to sigh into, pass you by.
That's why I like Thanksgiving. I get to take a moment with everyone to express what I'm thankful for in our seasonal collective gratitude.
"I can accept failing and pack up my bags and leave NYC if I felt like I was a given that shot to shine and didn't. But without a legitimate chance to show what I could bring to American Fashion, how can I accept defeat?"
This time last year we were celebrating our first international feature in Vogue Mexico, elevating our brand awareness in NYC. The brand was awarded financial support from the CFDA Common Thread Fund via Harlem's Fashion Row's Icon 360 program. That carried us into 2021. With mentoring through RAISE Fashion (in partnership with HFR) and FFA (Fashion For All Foundation) we were able to start offering new product such as our artisan Coder clutch that uses our signature hand embroidered leather technique and ribbed, eco-viscose knitwear (including our magic Alessandra dress that looks as great as it is for sustainability!). Both categories are proudly made in NYC and continue our initiatives to produce domestically and provide entry level opportunities to new customers.
May came, and I found myself at HFR's Designer Summit, ultimately winning their NIKE sponsored design competition. That little boost of confidence was exactly what the doctor ordered to, yet again, take note the universe was saying, "KEEP GOING". In the networking sessions at the summit, I desperately posed to an industry guest from IMG, "I can accept failing and pack up my bags and leave NYC if I felt like I was a given that shot to shine and didn't. But without a legitimate chance to show what I could bring to American Fashion, how can I accept defeat? If I was willing to fund my own collection and show, then what the hell does a designer have to do to be placed on an official calendar the industry pays attention to?" That plea did not fall on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, our most loyal patron asked what was preventing me from producing another collection. I told her what I was navigating. With her understanding of what I am building (and her financing), the collection, its models, and digital presentation you saw during NYFW would not have been possible without her help.
Brandice Daniel, the founder and director of HFR agreed to meet with me when I was feeling out how I might go about offsetting my costs with sponsors for a NYFW showing. A week later in June she would come back to me offering one of four slots to present on the opening day of September Fashion Week. That same week, IMG presented my brand with the opportunity to show digitally on the calendar for New York Fashion Week. I had been pushing for a single showing and TWO manifested!
With the help of my dedicated interns for the season, we took on all the handwork this year. My selfless friends rallied around me providing optimism, excitement, mental health check-ins, and the occasional cup of "pick me up" coffee. We'd cut new styles with my factory late into the night and then through out the next day facilitate the sample making; provide anything and everything to keep the ship afloat and make it to the destination that is Fashion Week. When friends would ask how it was going, I likened the experience to that "point-of-no-return" scene from James Cameron's, Titanic. The one where an iceberg is spotted ahead and all the steps, people, and conversations required to communicate, adjust, redirect, and finesse the ship into safety (a realized collection worthy of industry respect).
THANKFULLY we made it to the show (watch it here, in case you missed it!), the industry came out and the reality of what we accomplished in 6 weeks was so overwhelming at times backstage that I had to breathe deeply, stretch, and hydrate between dressing models. My heart was racing the moment I could hear the opening "bird call" instrumental trills of the show-opening song, composed by Ellen Reid. I was accepting: we had done it. We're here.
During that finale walk I was clutching the muse, my friend's, hand while she whispered to me to, "Slow down!" (another had to tell me to remove the needle and thread pinned through my shirt just as I walked onto the runway!). She was right. Walking slower forced me to make teary eye contact with several familiar faces, new acquaintances, champions that had cheered me on, and supportive friends that had seen how far the brand has come. I felt alive. I had risked it all, jumped off the cliff, tumbled out of the tunnel-vision orbit of that moment and was back down on earth allowing myself to receive the positive reception.
With all the rollercoaster of good that came this year, I have been relinquishing the cynical skepticism that never let hope take root; I couldn't let it derail my focus by growing. And now, finally, I feel myself intentionally choosing happiness. Accepting that I could be and am happy. Thankful, really. And that means I was living on hope whether I wanted to acknowledge it or not.
I am wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. Don't forget that saying "thank you" and being thankful are separate yet intentional. Make time for both.