Without models and fashion designers there would be no fashion shows. Every runway model has a future and every stitch has a past. On July 15th models and designers packed the Carnegie Museum of Art to flaunt everything they had and I was blessed with the opportunity to cover this glamorous Levels Entertainment Event in such a gorgeous venue. Sure, it was jam packed with people wanting to see what all the buzz was about but I was more focused on getting to know the women and men behind the fashion forward runway looks and the models that graced the catwalk with the meanest struts I had seen up close. It was interesting to see the different perspectives from the models and designers and quite frankly it surprised me. These designers and models pushed through unforeseen obstacles and motivated themselves to continue chasing their dreams despite society’s perspective of who they should be. No one wants to be objectified and society sees models as objects who stereotypically have it easy because of their looks and the models expressed everything but that stereotype. From lifelong injuries to late life career changes, everyone has a struggle no matter how gorgeous they are.
For example, Jo’Rey graced the runway and she never actually wanted to be a model growing up. As a classically trained ballerina she always wanted to be a dancer and after one fashion show led to another she ended up as a model. It was more serendipity and persistence when it came to her modeling career. Growing up and seeing dark skin women on the television she knew this generation needed someone with her complexion. She didn’t see girls like her and she knew representation was important because modeling isn’t just a hobby for her it’s a confidence builder and that representation inspires people to be themselves. She has the look and the drive to not be in the same spot in the next few years. With her modeling career on center stage she sees print ads, commercials and even acting in her future and modeling gave her the confidence to go for it. “I have to get out there and push myself,” she spoke with so much determination in her eyes when asked what was in her way to getting to her dreams.
Modeling can be intense, magnificent, fun, and exciting but it’s still a job at the end of the day. And the work starts way before the day of the photoshoot or fashion show. Model and singer Raheesah knows that even when modeling is fun it’s still work. “It’s like being a public figure. You just don’t put on clothes. You represent models as a whole everywhere and it’s all in the way you hold yourself.” She spoke so candidly about her job description. That pressure of being under a microscope pushed the model to do her best at everything she does. Being born with a birth defect didn’t stop her from chasing her dreams of making sure people know her name. She hopes to be an inspiration to people who feel like an outcast and wants the world to know that there is not just one type of model despite what the industry leads people to believe. “It takes courage to do this and I never thought I would end up here but I enjoy it,” she beamed explaining how she just fell into modeling while chasing her musical dreams. She hopes to be very far in the next two years to the point where she’s able to sustain herself from her job and chasing her dreams and to get there, drive will not be in her way. “Everyone won’t want me to walk on their catwalk and that’s okay because someone will.”
Sometimes when chasing down your dreams your biggest obstacle can be yourself and no one knows that any better than model Alyssa Douds. After beating the odds and recovering from a brain injury Alyssa still deals with balance issues, headaches from the lights, and the pain from the heels but she pushes through because many people didn’t even think she would survive. After such a traumatic experience, she knows the value of life and modeling is the very thing that helped build the confidence she needed to walk in fashion shows Years from now she hopes to be happy and continue doing things that makes her happy as life is precious and just like modeling it can be intense and fun.
Confidence is a must for any aspiring model and Mindy Jo oozed it backstage. She started modeling later in life and instead of easing into it she leaped. She wanted something out of her comfort zone and it was definitely everything she expected it to be. In the next few years she wants to push herself to be better today and coach other models in the industry. She was the only model that confidently smiled and expressed she had no obstacles to make her dreams come true as her walking on that runway was proof. “Time management,” she finally thought of one thing that could get in the way of her determination after admitting she doesn’t have all figured it out just yet. She realizes she’s her biggest competition and hopes to coach others in the industry in the future.
Being backstage I heard so many stories of models who “fell into modeling” with no aspirations of going into that direction that it was interesting to hear the story of Shequaila who landed the job by networking her butt off. Growing up modeling is what she always dreamed of doing. She would see colors and patterns on clothing and just knows that one day she has to make this her full-time job. That’s not her only big aspiration because with a big personality comes big dreams. Shequaila hopes to one day have her own group home and train aspiring models on how to get into the industry. Her biggest barrier is the same thing that got her the job, networking. Sometimes it’s not just what you know, it’s who you know and she totally understands this.
Model Rih doesn’t just want to walk the runway she wants her designs to one day be featured on the runway. She sees modeling as a foot in the door when it comes to fashion. She’s always been intrigued by fashion and how it affects the world. Whoever said it’s not on the outside that counts never met a fashion designer because Rih has been rolling up her sleeves, learning how to sew and how to find funding for her dreams. Aspiring models don’t always have that burden of funding the fashion and it’s nice to see someone who sees both sides of the fashion model and designer perspectives. She intends on pushing through all the obstacles in her way and finding the resources to make her dreams come true. Hopefully in the future when we see her on the catwalk she’ll be confidently following behind the models in her stylish designs.
One person who knows about confidence and is no stranger to the catwalk is North Hills designer Elaine Healey. She’s all about marrying opposites in her fashion and enjoys the creative freedom of being a designer as opposed to the “different kind of crazy” that comes with being a model. She’s not afraid to let her imagination run wild and when her models grace the catwalk that is definitely apparent. She’s not afraid to admit that she’s always finding ways to improve her collections as she aspires to make each collection better than the last. In the next few years she wants to be doing fashion full-time and wants the world to see her vision through dressing confident and vibrant people. With the way she mixes prints and textures there’s no doubt in my mind that her clothes will be doing all the talking on these vibrant people. Right now, Elaine’s biggest obstacles are self-imposed and with the drive she has behind her I’m certain she’ll push through those obstacles. If this is your first-time hearing about Elaine Healey, after one glance at her designs I’m certain it will not be your last.
Yottis Tinsley isn’t out to just grace the runway with every day style. What can only be described as fashion to intimidate Sittoy does just that. Watching her designs on the runway stunned the audience and brought her quite the applause. Every stich is calculated and after hearing that at one point she wanted to be an accountant, it all makes sense. Frustration after not finding the dress she was looking for led to her making her first dress and that dress sparked the motivation to make more. That one dress led to fashion school and that drive led her to modern day Sittoy. In the next few years Yottis hopes to see Sittoy everywhere. She not only wants storefronts in the top cities but she also aspires to start a mentoring program for young women who also want to break into the fashion industry. It’s great that she knows the obstacles but she also realizes that patience is the key to success. “Being consistent 24/7 and not giving up on your goals,” is what pushes her to continue to do what she loves each and every day. She’s not the type of person to let the pressure of the fashion industry intimidate her. She lets her fashion do all the talking.
Designers get to be a bit edgy and that’s exactly how Rach Cannon describes her style. “I chose designing because I didn’t want to be a display. I love the reaction I get from people when they see my clothes.” Rach isn’t just designing clothes because she’s passionate about fashion but she’s building a brand. She aspires to have a physical location and is pushing to meet that goal even if it means leaving Pittsburgh to make that dream come true. She’s a gem amongst the fashion scene in Pittsburgh as she puts her personality into every stitch and it was obvious that fashion wasn’t just her job but this was something she was raised in.
Interesting enough Malcolm also known by his designer name Willie Gees, was born into fashion. His mom used to design and it wasn’t until he finished his first garment that he had his “I made that moment,” and he was hooked ever since. He started his own fashion shows and would even teach models self-respect and confidence knowing designers and models work hand in hand. Willie Gee’s futuristic approach to fashion wowed the crowd at Fashion at the Foyer and besides funding for his expensive dream, he shouldn’t run into many problems getting his own boutique or even getting into big name fashion departments. He understands that fashion makes a difference and it’s how you rock what you’re rocking that makes all the difference when it comes to fashion. He’s been designing for well over a decade and his hard work isn’t going unnoticed. The crowd at Fashion at the Foyer had plenty, he made that moments. It’ll be interesting to see how he continues to tie the past and the future together through fashion that comes off as more than fashion, Willie Gee’s is art.
The show wouldn’t have been able to go on without Levels Agency behind the event. Elisha Hill, Elijah Hill, and Duane Davis all put together an event that was stitched together perfectly. From the vendors to the cash bar, to the variety of designers featured at the event, every detail had its purpose. Just like every person on the runway had a story and every designer put sweat into every stich Fashion at the Foyer was sewn together with a quality that only the most seasoned seamstress could put together. This event showcased that not only are models more than walking billboards but they all have stories just as great as the people who clothe them. People don’t become models and designers because they think it’s easy, they do it for the love of it and as Elaine Healey put fashion is definitely a different kind of crazy and without each other’s support and respect designers, models, and event planners would just be fabric on the floor waiting to be put together.