That’s a loaded question.😂 I am the owner/director of the Dayton Emerging Fashion Incubator (DE-FI) LLC, a volunteer-based community outreach organization that works with area designers in building their brands, establishing their clientele, learning runway production, and editorial shoots. We also develop aspiring models by providing them with world-class runway experience, tearsheet quality images, and put them in front of the world’s top modeling agencies.
In regards to why I do what I do, it’s both simple and complex. I sometimes refer to myself as the supermodel that never was. At the age of 12 back in 1992-93, my self-esteem was beneath the gutter. I was tall, thin awkward, had bucked teeth, 4 eyes, and a 5head. 😂 I was teased mercilessly, and as a way to improve my self-esteem Mom worked 3 jobs and enrolled me in Bette Massie modeling school in Centerville.
After the first session, the instructor called me and my mom in for a meeting and told us that out of all of the models registered in the school, she believed that I had the most potential to actually become a model and waived the remaining tuition. Fast forward 5-6 weeks later. After attending “free” modeling classes, Bette Massie discovered that there was no money on the books for me and called my mom and me in for a meeting. Long story short, the instructor had not received Bette’s approval to waive my tuition, and Bette basically said we either pay or leave the program; we left the program.
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However, later that year, I came across a casting call for an agency out of Cleveland that was scouting in Dayton and out of the 100+ models that were in attendance, I was the only one selected and offered a contract with the agency. We signed the contract. Shortly after, my mom was involved in an auto accident, and then later was diagnosed with Multiple-Sclerosis and could no longer work. So with my mom unable to work, we could not afford to travel to the agency or seek out work as a model.
Fast forward several years later to 1998, I attended a modeling convention in Columbus, where I was scouted by the president of Click Models for their Atlanta agency. At the time, I had braces on so they wanted me to travel to Atlanta and start developing me while waiting for my braces to come off. However, I had just started working at General Motors, Truck and Bus in Moraine, just started my freshman year in college at Wright State on academic scholarship, and on top of that I was the caregiver for my mom and without having any additional support. I never made it to Atlanta work with Click.
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In 2001, after attending a casting call at a mall in Cincinnati for the world’s top agency at the time, Elite, I was selected as regional semi-finalist in the Elite Model Look Competition, and the Scouting Director for Elite in Chicago offered me a contract. Aside from the fact that my braces were off, nothing had changed in regards to the load I was carrying on this time, I was flunking out of college, battling depression, working 50+ hr/week at GM, and still serving as a caregiver for my mom and I never made it back to Chicago to work with Elite.
I said all of that to say this, I know what it’s like to have a dream and be so close that you can feel, taste, and see it and then have no support to help you obtain it. I do what I do to be the support system for area fashion professionals that I wish I had when I wanted to be a model and as a result of building a nurturing and strong support system for emerging talent we can say that designers have gained firsthand experience working behind the scenes of some of the top design houses for the former Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York. Their designs have been featured on the covers of Vogue Africa and in the pages of Vogue Italia, and Essence magazines, they have also had their designs featured in music videos, commercial print, and film. Over 70 of our models have been signed to agencies around the globe. They have appeared on Project Runway, in the pages of Vogue, have been signed to some of the world's top modeling agencies including Factor, Red, and Next, and have walked for New York, Paris and Milan Fashion Week for designers like Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu and Versace.
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Cats, dogs, neither or something else?
I’m about to lose a bunch of friends with this one; I’m a dog person. 😂 Most of my friends have cats; they’re just too shifty for me. 😂
What do you love about life in Dayton?
I love the fact that Dayton has the small-town feel yet has big city opportunities. If you want a quick getaway, you’re only a few hours away from at least 8 major cities. Also, I’m a true foodie. I’ve had the opportunity to travel across the country and eat at some of the finest restaurants and nothing comes close to the amazing local cuisine and eateries in Dayton.
What would you do on a perfect date in Dayton?
I’m a pretty low-key person and enjoy the simple things so my idea of a perfect date in Dayton would be to take a long walk at one of the Metroparks, lay out a blanket, have a picnic and enjoy the serenity.
Where do you go for a great time?
I’m a big kid at heart, so I love Scene 75, I celebrated my 35th birthday there with a Ghostbusters cake a few years back. Plus I’m super competitive and I can allow my alter-ego to come out and talk trash while doing rapid-fire rounds in Laser Tag, defending the corner in go carts, and just beating the crap out of my friends and hoping that they are still my friends after I beat them. 😂
Why did you decide to settle in Dayton?
I was born and raised right here in Dayton, and as my mom always says, “I’m Dayton born, Dayton bred, and when I die, I’m gonna be Dayton dead.” 😂
How did you get involved with your business?
That’s another loaded question. 😂I never planned to start a fashion organization. I was essentially left holding the bags from the failed Dayton Fashion Week in 2012. A lot of people — self-included — were hurt, deceived, ripped off, and taken advantage of...
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Several months after Dayton Fashion Week ended, I was approached by Lisa Grigsby and Billy Pote from Dayton Most Metro. They asked me if I would be interested in creating my own fashion organization, and if I did, they would back me up. After thinking about it and reaching out to a few friends and those who had been burned by Dayton Fashion Week, together we created this grassroots fashion movement called the Dayton Emerging Fashion Week (DE-FI) LLC; a lot of people think that we just renamed the company because 99% of the people who quit DFW after I walked away joined me in creating (DE-FI).
We launched in July 2013, and invited all of the designers, sponsors, and talent that was burned by DFW to participate free of charge in our event; the businesses who had taken out ads in the Dayton Fashion Week magazine FIQ where all of the images were pixelated and of poor quality, we offered them a do over at our Fashion in the Mystic Garden Launch Party at SunWatch Indian Village, which was a sold-out event with 250+ people in attendance and gave them free ads in our magazine (DE-FI)ance. I went on to get about 5 seasons of behind the scenes experience at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York. We now own the rights to the name Dayton Fashion Week branded as Dayton Fashion Week by (DE-FI), and the rest as they say is history.
What should people know about Dayton’s fashion community?
The vast majority of the designers that we work with are self-taught, a few had to leave the city to receive a formal education in fashion. My ultimate goal is to have an accredited fashion design program right here in Dayton; the closest program is at Miami University, who rolled out their program about two years ago, we’ve had the pleasure of partnering with them on several occasions.
Dayton’s fashion community is more than just models, designers and fashion shows. This is a $900 billion dollar a year industry that every major city in Ohio and across the country has embraced. There’s a need for photographers marketers, business managers, investors, writers, social media experts, legal advisors, accountants, hair and makeup artist, boutiques, wardrobe stylist, textile makers, sewist and seamstress, and so much more and (DE-FI) has made a place at the table for them all and we have people traveling from around the country to work with us. Every door that opens for me, I hold it open for the rest of my (DE-FI) family to enter.
Dayton has the eyes of some of the most influential people in fashion watching what’s going on here because we’ve essentially taken every aspect of what makes New York City the fashion capital of the world and we are re-creating it right here in the Gem City, slowly but surely we are establishing a market that allows fashion to be a viable way to make a living in Dayton.
In February of this year, I was invited to New York Fashion Week as a journalist for our magazine (DE-FI)ance as a fashion influencer by one of the most influential fashion producers in the industry. That alone was a game changer for our organization and we’ve been working on revising our strategic plan for the past couple of months to align with this heightened level of exposure that our talent is receiving. Last month we quietly rolled out our sewing and micro-manufacturing team to assist with our designers production of their lines as well as meet the needs of other businesses and boutiques that need sewing assistance.
What is Dayton’s best hidden gem?
Aside from (DE-FI) ;-) I’d have to say SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park is my favorite hidden gem.
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What inspires you about Dayton?
There’s no quit in this city. Things don’t always go as planned and we’ve had more than our fair share of bumps and bruises yet we have some of the most persistent, innovative, and empowering people that go hard for not only the city but their causes every day, and thanks to platforms like Dayton.com we have an opportunity to meet those hidden figures.
If you could change or bring one thing to Dayton, what would it be?
Sometimes, I think we play it too safe as a city. We embrace what we understand and all too often recycle the exact same people to do the work leaving a lot of new talent disenfranchised or if they are included, it’s more or less of a symbolic gesture vs. a sincere attempt of embracing diversity of thought and growth. I’d love to see Dayton let down its guard, kick in a few doors and make a place at the table for everyone by creating a blue print as a guide for others to follow. Competition is not a bad thing.
What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years?
In 10-15 years, we’re going to have Generation Z running things in Dayton, this is a generation that knows no limits and has already made its mark on the culture. It’s going to be an exciting time to be a Daytonian, I’ve got my running shoes on and ready to keep pace.