New York to Nairobi: Recap of #CFKNY2018

IMG_8271.jpg


I didn’t know an email and a small goal to cover fashion in Africa would lead to curating a workshop and press trip in Nairobi Kenya. As vague as that reads, here we are, three months later, flying to Kenya on Kenya Airways first direct flight from New York to Nairobi. I was tapped to host The Core Fashion Kenya’s inaugural cross-continental collaboration with a handful of creatives in the fashion industry. What materialized was a network of passionate people supporting each other’s craft, dozens of mentorship opportunities for Nairobi’s fashion students, and a fabulous travel diary for everyone on the internet to view at #CFKNY2018. It was more than a dream to experience what fashion culture is really like on the continent of Africa alongside my favorite professionals.



Palm trees and lush plant life provide the ultimate getaway for the paved and dirt roads that make up the vibrant city of Nairobi. As I stepped out of the plane on to a red-carpeted runway, I breathed in the summer air of the motherland. I was greeted by dozens of smiling Kenyans and airline officials, eager to welcome me and my colleagues to their country. Little did they know, we were so much MORE excited to be there with them.

IMG_8570.jpg



Like I said, I was in Kenya to celebrate Kenya Airways inaugural direct routes from Nairobi to New York. I want to say that again because it’s PIONEER TALK.  I knew this day would be filled with colorful banners, picture taking with dignitaries and lots of food and wine after getting a taste of the airline's party skills at a gala hosted a few weeks prior to this day in late October / on the eve of November.  Because of this, I made sure to handpick a list of New York’s top creative forces in the fashion and media industry who were not only enthusiastic about their job but also sharing what they know with young Nairobi creatives. Including editors and media influencers Tanya Christian, Claudia Rondon Torres, and De’von Johnson, photographer Bellamy Brewster, fashion producer Mariana Cantu, branding executives, Natasha Roberts, Suzie Wakobi and Diana Opoti, as well as fashion designers and Stylists Anyango Mpimga, Mi Mi Plange, Brian Babu and Iris Barbee Bonner.   Confession: I went in thinking we were going to be giving history lessons about fashion and quick tips on using proper SEO words. You know, workshopping. The experience turned out to be truly unforgettable. It was an exchange in culture, a connection to our roots, and reawakening of our own mission to what we want to go in life. We were much more than the "Americans" in Kenya. We were a vessel of inspiration, confidence, and proof that if you are passionate enough about your goals and have a plan, you can accomplish anything. This is what the students at the workshops valued the most. The overall mission was Collaboration Not Competition.

IMG_3015.JPG



At first glance, the city of Nairobi is eaten up by tons of traffic. There are cars, buses, and matatus going with the flow of traffic but it can be consuming. Especially after a 14-hour long flight. There's the city's metropolitan vibe and then around the corner,  the dirt roads and fruit markets make it feel like the Caribbean. Which may explain why there's an economic campaign to built up the city of Nairobi by 2030 so the entire city is literally under construction. It’s #8 in the continent’s ranking for most developed countries. Fashion presents an opportunity for entrepreneurship and this city has countless ways to get involved. Is it just me or was I the only one who naively viewed developing countries as a no man's land for business? This is definitely not the case in Nairobi. In retrospect from my week long experience, I can vividly see the potential.

Day One  - Nairobi

Linda Murithi was our group leader, a Kenyan who has established her fashion roots in Nairobi and is the founder of Core Fashion Kenya. Hours after our flight landed and not quite over jetlag, our adventure with a local began at Capital FM Nairobi radio station.  Capital FM is located in the business district of the city and occupies the penthouse space with a dope view of Nairobi's cityscape. We gathered in the conference room to have coffee and tea before chatting with the host of the Morning Show live radio.


The radio is still a powerful means of communication and in America, podcasting and playback TV totally devalues this medium. Going on air was like talking to all of Nairobi, saying a million "Jambo" to the people. I don't know about the rest of the group, but I felt like a celebrity. LOL.

It was exciting to speak about my background in content and why I chose to collaborate with CFK to produce a three-day workshop. Of course, I didn't expect anything less than amazing from onlookers, but bringing an idea into fruition would also be thrilling.  And it is was.

I didn’t know how exhausting it would be to answer questions and speak comfortably about fashion and editorial to people who are genuinely curious about what I do and how it can be beneficial to Kenya’s fashion scene. Gratefully, though, this is why we are all here. Which made the trip as it progressed even more meaningful. After a day, we were comfortable with navigating the foreign, yet familiar, landscape thanks to Uber. Besides the workshops, the itinerary included attending some sponsored dinners but for the most part, we had a lot of free time.  In the evenings, we went to dinner at places like The Village Market’s Local Grill and went for a nightcap and chill bar scene at a popular spot called Mercury Lounge.

Day 3 to 5: Workshops


IMG_8267.jpg


Day three to five included a mix of workshops, travel and fashion collaborations. On the days leading up to the workshops,  I got to know designer Mimi Plange on her profession as a designer in the corporate space and also an owner of her own atelier in New York. We were going to be on a panel together so this unscripted 1-1 time made our forthcoming conversation natural. Plus, I got the tea on what it was like working for some of the hottest brands of the 2000s.  She spoke candidly about her time working for Rocawear and Beyonce’s iconic denim line House of Dereon, as well as what it was like to have a 6-figure salary at 24 when all your friends are still broke. My motive wasn’t to expose the dramatic parts of her career but find ways to educate others on her journey that ultimately provide career intel for people who are also trying to make it.

One thing Mimi shared is that salary negotiation is a HUGE factor with women asking for more. For her roles in executive positions,  she hired an attorney to liaise on her behalf for her salary, contract guidelines and intellectual property. Another career insight she expressed is to never burn bridges because the fashion industry is small. By the time we got to talk on our panel in front of an audience, we were like best work wives. I was able to reference our side-line conversations about negotiating your worth as a designer, the lifecycle of a garment and the struggles of a small business owner. My panel was followed by a native Kenyan and young business owner Diana Opoti, who gained popularity when she announced on social media that she was going to wear only African designers for an entire year.  That publicity stunt landed her on the Business of Fashion’s Top 100 People in Fashion list and drive to open her own store selling products from various designers in Africa.

IMG_8423.jpg



Day 2 of the workshops included lessons on photography, branding and carving your niche with Natasha Roberts, Suzie Wakobi and Bellamy Brewster, and others. While these two young dynamos gave the audience lessons on advertising and branding, the majority of the group went on a Safari and to visit elephants and giraffes in their natural habitat. Everyone met in the hotel lobby at 6 AM dressed in devastatingly chic as fuck safari outfits. How could this fashion group disappoint?!  Regrettably, I didn’t put much thought in my own Safari outfit. It was too early for me to think about what to wear from the two suitcases I schlepped across the world. But my go-to black wax leather pants, white tank top, olive green trench coat, and Chelsea boots were perfect! I was grateful to have traditional safari bucket hat from KQ's merch and basically, the whole group wore the same hat that day too. So I was in trend after all. Although our wildlife excursion started with a heavy downpour of rain, I was convinced it was a prelude to the perfect "This is Africa" experience. By the time our huge bus rolled through Jurassic Park, the roads were hella muddy and well you probably can guess the rest.  

IMG_6758.JPG



One minute we were gawking at water buffalo, the next I'm praying I don't have to use the emergency top secret number in my phone. Our little fashion adventure got kicked up a notch when our driver took a turn for the worst! He’d been doing a great job until he tried to bust a u-turn on a narrow and muddy pathway in one of the back parts of the national safari park.




The bus literally got stuck mid-u-turn that ended up blocking any other vehicle that had our same plans of venturing off the course in search of animals.  Thirty minutes later and totally freaked out, some dude in a more appropriate jeep pulled up beside our van with a meager 10-foot wire string and a metal shovel. Everyone on the bus thought this wire was a joke and kept saying, "what's that going to do?! Absolutely nothing at all. But A for effort! After several attempts to use this weak wire to pull a full van of us out of the mud, the gentleman kindly left. He muttered something in Swahili to our driver which I presumably interpreted as, "you'll have to dig yourself out." Hence, the shovel. Everyone, including me, laughed at these attempts to get us out of the mud just to keep from panicking as Americans do so naturally. About an hour or so later, another proper Safari jeep came speeding down the muddy road to pick us up and continue our safari experience. Excited to be getting out of the van, We naively stepped onto the dangerous, wet, muddy terrain, ignoring the road sign just meters ahead that read “ Do Not Get Out Of Car.”  For obvious reason, that a lion can sneak attack you! duh! Needless to say, my Zara boots I wore for two seasons in a row were laid to rest after spending less than five minutes walking to our “new” car.



Apres Safari:

I didn’t know I could work up such an appetite observing giraffes, and herds of zebras and water buffalos in the wild. Since the national park is located in Karen, we ate at The Talisman, African and Morrocan inspired restaurant that occupies its own little ranch. The outdoor/indoor restaurant includes seating for at least 150 people and features little private alcoves to host large groups like ours. I couldn’t help but notice the other people also eating at this restaurant.


There were several groups of maybe humanitarians discussing strategy, little Australian families enjoying lunch, as well as a few locals huddled at the bar with sipping on a dark color drink. Although the food and service were to the utmost, admittedly, I got sick (probably from the cheese) and was out cold for the rest of the day. I missed hanging at the private giraffe manor,  dinner at a cool local spot and clubbing at Kizu! ugh! Wizkid was partying in the private VIP space that night too.



On the last day of the workshops, the entire group of mentors made sure to be back on site at The Movenpick Hotel. It was another opportunity students and local fashion enthusiasts could ask questions and request last minute critiques of their current projects.  In general, I was over the moon that over 100+ students attended all three workshops days. They had notebooks full of tips, tricks, and lessons, and most of all they were not afraid to wait their turn to have their own private little sessions with us!



To summarize the magic that took place, I’ll end this blog post with a quote from one of the young Kenyan bloggers who writes about her city from the perspective of a plus-size blogger. In her own recap blog post she wrote, “the creative atmosphere was so relaxed and unpretentious, the mentors were so open to mingling and networking with us, the attendees, that it was an embarrassment of riches the amount of advice and information availed to us! I could tell they were equally as excited and impressed by our offerings. From our fashion expressions to the styles and even caliber of offerings, I knew that it was a truly collaborative space of which I am certain will bear fruits of collaborations, inspirations, friendships and who knows what else! For a peek into their adventures, check out their respective pages for their perspectives!”  As I answered her email hours after I landed back in New York City, I knew that #CFKNY2018 was truly awakening for black culture and necessary for cross-continental relationship building.


























Miron Crosby

This 160 - year - old Dallas, Texas footwear brand is here to school us on all things proper western style and we are here to take notes. Each Miron Crosby boot features eye-catching designs that incorporate intricate stitching , an array of exotic leathers and unexpected embellishments. Catch a vibe with the boots on the mood board. www.mironcrosby.com

 

 Photo Credit: Miron Crosby  ($895-$2195)

Photo Credit: Miron Crosby ($895-$2195)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Sanity Addiction Part 3 is dedicated to domestic violence and the issue that is still taboo in the urban community.

DSC_3879.jpg

Sanity Addiction Part 3  tells the story of a young black girl from Philadelphia named Princess who is at a turning point in her life. She is presented with a new opportunity to attend fashion school in New York so she takes it with the financial help of her boyfriend, who gets sent to jail for presumably selling drugs. Princess ends up ghosting him, quickly adopting a whole new life in New York. And you know that means, the young inspiring fashion stylist starts dating the wrong guy even though at face value he is charming and has a respectable job; he ends up becoming her abuser. I was inspired to tell this story from my own upbringing and having women share their own stories. When you’re in an abusive situation, it’s ultimately a struggle. I’m most interested in the reasons why these individuals stay in the “relationship” until it “gets better” in their own eyes. In general, their strength is as identical to many women in history who have stayed quiet. However, in the #MeToo era enough is enough.

It has become increasingly important to talk about issues that are affecting all of us as more of us go public. It is these stories that I feel most empowered to write about in Sanity Addiction, which is published in Violet Summer Zine. According to a report released by the Hotline.org, “females ages, 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced the highest rates of intimate partner violence.” Just this year, I knew it was still a big issue because of the many young women in my network have either experienced or know someone closely experiencing violence in their personal lives, me included. I have also connected with women who have created nonprofits like BMoreLoved.Org, founded by a young woman who is passionate about helping women navigate the complex legal system when dealing with domestic violence situations. She, too, has also experience domestic violence and was able to escape the situation before it was too late. TIME IS UP. The more we talk about this nasty truth currently plaguing our community, the more it will help put an end to misogyny.

Lastly, domestic violence is ultimately ruining and limiting women to live up to their full potential at home and in the workplace.  4 in 5 victims are females experiencing abuse from their male intimate partners. We already know that it is a huge issue but why isn’t anything being done to stop it? It’s a cultural phenomenon. And more importantly, I would like to know why this issue isn’t serious until someone dies or someone’s life is on the line?? Rihanna is one celebrity I admire because she went through a very public domestic violence situation and she never went back to her abuser. Sadly, a large percentage of women do go back due to financial reasons as well as a mental block disguised as love.

Yes, statistics show that nearly 33% of women killed in U.S. workplaces between 2003-2008 were killed by a current or former intimate partner. Growing up in Philadelphia,  I knew a woman who was murdered by her supposed boyfriend at a nightclub. I was at her home the night her life was taken by a jealous boyfriend. She left behind a small baby and a 6-year - old daughter who became very angry at her mother who was not around anymore. So it’s not a joke when other people’s lives are involved and there needs to be stricter laws that deal with not only the abuser but also provides mental counseling for the victim.


For more information please visit https://www.thehotline.org to get involved and learn how to approach and deal with various domestic violence situations.

Read Sanity Addiction for Princess’s story.







Mel Writes Exclusive: Black Owned Nail Salon Junie Bees & Teyana Taylor Hosts Press Conference For Women Attacked In Flatbush

eyeglasses-eyewear-facial-expression-933456.jpg

Let me start out by saying black women are killing it! There's been a lot of encouragement and support in the #blackgirlmagic community because it's needed. Next month, we will reach another heighten sense of inclusion in the world with over 10 black women gracing the covers of high fashion magazines.  I am so excited to see Beyonce on the cover of Vogue US, Rihanna on Vogue UK's cover, as well as Tiffany Haddish gracing the cover of Glamour. I'm also happy Actress and Director Issa Rae is bringing the youth back to Ebony Magazine. That's what they need. And of course, I'm on the cover of Violet Summer Zine.  It's a domino effect.  That's what I hoped would happen for the magazine industry if anything else is wrong in the world when it comes to politics. Well, at least Omarosa is having her share in the media trying to overthrow Trump. 

IMG_0396.jpg

 

 The summer is coming to an end. No one died - thank god. For me, we can all be grateful to at least celebrate life in a brand new way with a sense of accomplishment. If you're reading this, grow up and be the bigger person. 

What's giving me life right now is my passion for writing merged with making money and collaborating/working with other passionate people. What's giving me life right now is the support from my friends, colleagues and also new relationships. 

IMG_0358.JPG

But even if some of us are experiencing a good time, black women are still at risk of hate crimes with an unjust outcome. This week I attended a press conference at Junie Bee's Nail Salon hosted by Singer Teyana Taylor to raise awareness to the horrible attack of two black women at an Asian owned nail salon in Brooklyn. The women spoke to the local NY news station about how they were beaten with broomsticks and sprayed with acetone. It was heart-breaking to hear these women speak about the situation all because they didn't want to pay $5 for a shitty eyebrow service. I'm sick of hearing this shit, especially from places that I have also been discriminating against even when I spend my hard earned money on poor services!  What's even more maddening is that the women racked up charges for fighting with the employees at the Asian salon.

 

 The disturbing footage of the fight was actually released by the Chinese Nail Association and the circulation of it is raising awareness on social media. However, NY City Officials need to crack down on these dirty ass nail salons that are constantly robbing predominantly black communities. Most of them are cash - only establishments which is also problematic. Also, many of them still use horrible chemicals that can be deadly. Re: MMA, and they don't warn customers of the materials they are using in the first place. You have a right to know why your nail beds are thin, cracked and yellowing under that cheap nail polish. At the end of the press conference, Teyana announced the women can come to Junie Bees and receive FREE services. 

 

  Now, I don't usually talk race wars but this video is horrible considering the number of legal issues the nail industry has been in over the years for spreading unsafe sanitary practices to their employees and customers. 

The National Action Network team has put their forces behind the women and have organized protests in Brooklyn as well as participated in a press conference at Junie Bees salon early this week. But what we really need is the charges to be dropped. Ultimately, black women shouldn't shop or support at these places. 

Here is a list of places owned by black women that you can purchase your beauty services: 

SKINCARE PRODUCTS:

YOUR SKINCARE SPOT owned by Detriot native Bianca Townsend. I wrote about her black-owned online business here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/need-beauty-advice-text-an-esthetician-on-your-skincare_us_5a04e571e4b0cc46c52e6938

 https://yourskincarespot.com/

CLEANSE BY LAUREN NAPIER: New York-based makeup artist has developed these amazing facial wipes for a face that glows. I love to have them in my bag when traveling or need to wash my face with something clean. https://www.laurennapier.com/

BEAUTY SUPPLIES

CURL BIBLE is owned by Dana Chanel. She's an entrepreneur currently residing in Philly. The idea came about when she was sick of giving her money to businesses that did not look like her. Plus, her FAITH leads her to create a brand that was reflective of her own morals and also beauty rituals.   www.curlbible.com

Zine Update: Journey So Far

zine update.jpg

Update on Zine

Violet Summer Zine is in a different place than it was in 2015 and even eight months ago when the team started to form on weekends and on holidays.  Each year I allow myself to be vulnerable as I write what I think is a reflection of the culture - even if it’s a small percentage. There have been over 14 collaborators who really contribute to the overall all vibe of the zine. They always take the topics so seriously and really do their best work! That’s SO rewarding for me as a creator -- for others to also put their passion into your passion. Many of them, I met up with for coffee or drinks to discuss their pieces which make it even more personal and fun.

At the end, VSZ aims to inspire through stories told in an urban chick-lit perspective. I love the Dressing Up & Normcore story ( in issue 2) , A Glamourous Nightmare ( in Issue 3) , I also love our biography about Meghan Markle in Issue 3 as well! Each year the content gets really robust with information.

Also, did I mention it’s very personal? Sanity Addiction is all true. Some of my friends read it and be like “Damn Mel I can’t believe you want through that.” Well, I’ve been through a lot of disappointment that … blah  blah and some of it is my friends and colleagues stories. So that’s why I like Sanity Addicition to be like super honest. Aramide helped me edit Sanity Addiction Part 3… I felt like I had to write at least part of the story. I am thinking about doing like meet up with all these characters in a story.  They all work or have aspirations to be in the fashion industry but like their careers, things get fucked up on the way to success. That’s what I’ve been dealing with and so I just felt like why not tell the story. In 2018, black women and women of color are experiencing a heightened sense of representation in the media community. I hope it stays like that.

And speaking of Black women, I'd love to do a cover shoot production with someone super fierce. So far, it’s just been me on the cover. But I’d love to shoot someone dope for the cover and really plan for it! Issue 5 I’m gonna do it. Someone so devastatingly chic ( Laina Rauma) , she’ll snatch your edges. Either that, or I definitely want a HOT dude on my cover with me in a thong bikini. he he

One area of the zine I’d like to improve is our “research” section. I want to conduct and report on studies about of the moment topics and then compare them to the millennial lifestyle. I get emailed survey results all the time! So I want to look into having a sponsor help me with researching.

Where are we Going:  

VSZ has grown into this urban literary magazine that is read by a millennial to mature audience. When I say mature, I’m speaking of 40+-year-olds that are young at heart or really curious about the millennial interactions and experiences.  Some white dude who is a veteran tweeted me about how he read my piece in Issue 1 and on my huff post column “Black Girls Tan Too” He loved it. VSZ always gets good feedback on the content. It’s still shocking. I want it to always include long realistic fiction articles to advice and pop culture short features that are both trendy, intellectual and feel-good. It is STILL a beach read!

On Social Media:

Our Instagram is definitely growing and videos still are the most engaging thing online right now. That and memes.  Social media in general though is overwhelming. I never know where my audience is coming from and feedback is everything. That’s why it’s important to be like on every platform. It’s exhausting. However, I have so much content from previous issues that didn’t get much play.

On  ISSUU we have 30,000 reads and over 7 million impressions so people are definitely tuned in, ya dig??  When I started I don’t think I had anyone reading other than my family. So keep spreading the good news.

Follow up on new and old relationships

 I get a lot of compelling emails each week that I don’t answer or I am not attentive to. There are literally free products and interview ideas in my inbox, but I just forget or get too lazy to respond. It’s so bad.  I need to stop being super picky about it and realize that it’s an opportunity that other writers may not have, so now I make it a point to answer all emails. A collaborator told me this so thanks Kipenzi.  Even if it’s saying “hey! I’ve love to run a contest!” to “yes, I’ll sample the product for my publication.”

Being Honest makes me totally vulnerable but it’s worth it

 Another reason why I started the publication is I wanted to be honest. But sometimes, I have to be so honest it’s literally nerve-racking to push publish. If you’ve read my work you may have cringed at some lines, but that’s what makes a good story. When I started writing highly suggestive content, friends, family and even dating prospects couldn’t understand my work. Sanity Addiction Part 2 garnered the most press and helped me legitimize my brand and it was also the most controversial. It’s about revenge porn, drugs, sex and out of control relationships. A lot of people could relate but it’s not a story with a fairytale ending. But not all stories end horrible. So SA is written with "a light at the end of the tunnel."  And that’s why I felt so passionate to put it out there because most of it is true. It was a period after I released SA, that I toned down my work. I regret that because the momentum slowed down. I was caring too much of what people would think. That’s until I had another awakening when I realize that people will have their say, but what I say matters.


Dealing With Shitty Relationships  

Since forever, I had to cut off people and people have definitely stopped talking to me for their own reasons. GREAT, SEE YOU AROUND. People don’t ever really disappear especially when you’re in the same industry. So the one thing I’m good at is NOT burning my bridges.  My mentor says, you’ll go farther if you carry less baggage.  


 

Violet Summer Zine Issue 4 Live

 I am so excited to present Issue 4 of my annual summer zine. This year's zine is on Ego and Truth. It was a "light bulb moment" that came to me after a months of cleansing my own ego while observing the ego's of some very public figures, re: Kanye and Trump. Today's culture is obsessed with catering to their egos that their own truths get lost. They keep feeding their egos like it's going to lead them in the right direction but in reality the truth always surfaces in the most unlikeliest situations. Read our collaborator's take on Ego and Truth... Plus, Sanity Addiction Part 3 explores a young black girl's journey to the New York fashion scene while violating trying to navigate relationships... 

I am so excited to present Issue 4 of my annual summer zine. This year's zine is on Ego and Truth. It was a "light bulb moment" that came to me after a months of cleansing my own ego while observing the ego's of some very public figures, re: Kanye and Trump. Today's culture is obsessed with catering to their egos that their own truths get lost. They keep feeding their egos like it's going to lead them in the right direction but in reality the truth always surfaces in the most unlikeliest situations. Read our collaborator's take on Ego and Truth... Plus, Sanity Addiction Part 3 explores a young black girl's journey to the New York fashion scene while violating trying to navigate relationships...