After many months of planning, we finally pulled off this event on May 25 at The Garage on Manhattan’s West Side! In the days since, we have gotten a lot of positive and encouraging feedback. My foremost feeling right now is that of gratitude to and amazement at the number of skilled and committed volunteers who came together to make this happen!
The initiator and mastermind of this event was Steven Cutting, professor of design at FIT. When he heard about Kota, then just a project under the auspices of Finland Center Foundation, he volunteered to arrange a fashion fundraiser with his students. At the same time, Mari Malek, whose organization StandForEducation became a Kota member organization a year ago, was thinking about doing a fashion fundraiser for her own organization. Mari came to the US as a child refugee from what is now South Sudan. She eventually became a supermodel and established her organization to help educate rural children in South Sudan, particularly girls. Since our missions are aligned, and Kota is all about collaboration, we decided it would benefit both of us to have a joint event and share the proceeds.
Kota being an organization with a focus on global issues, we wanted to showcase designers from around the world. Steven lined up a few, and enrolled 9 design students from three schools: FIT, Kingsborough College, and St. John’s University. As we discussed the theme of the show, we started thinking hard about how fashion and the fashion industry affect women everywhere. The theme of sustainability came up as it is receiving increasing attention. Also the Swedish designer Gudrun Sjöden has been producing items from organic cotton since the 1970’s, and donated many yards of organic cotton material. The students were given the task of creating a design for 1930’s Art Deco inspired eveningwear, with at least 40% of the outfit consisting of this particular material (which happens to be a bright green and yellow striped fabric in organic cotton). Gudrun Sjöden and EILEEN FISHER provided funds for the student prizes. Mari Malek was featured as one of the faces in Kenneth Cole’s spring 2016 #thecourageousclass campaign, and Kenneth Cole generously agreed to host the event at his space The Garage.
As Kota has no full-time paid staff, volunteers handle most of the tasks. In the end we had over 70 volunteers in different capacities both planning and execution: backstage and front of the house. All the models were professionals, some provided by IMG models and Red Models, and worked pro bono. April Barton’s Suite 303 did a beautiful job providing hair styling, and Maria Licari and Nina Mua provided makeup artists. The show was emceed by Tituss Burgess and Karine Plantadit. Karine was outfitted by Leonid Gurevich in a gorgeous yellow gown. The professional designers came on the runway first. They hail from around the world: Gudrun Sjöden from Sweden; Lovia from Finland, Raif from Togo , Kristiina Salminen of Bela NYC from New York (originally Finland); Cesar Galindo New York; Junghee Kim from South Korea. All contributed to the silent auction with their products. Kota gave Mari Malek an award for her work with StandForEducation and handed over a small statue by sculptor Anne Stanner, appropriately made out of found metal objects. Mari gave an impassioned speech about the need for education in South Sudan, where 90% of the women are illiterate, and advised the audience that it only costs $30 to send a student to school for a semester, and $5000 to build a classroom.
The student competition was next. All the designs were inventive as well as beautiful, and the judge panel, led by supermodel Millen Magese, had a difficult task. First prize was won by Adela Hruskova, a student at Kingsborough Community College, second prize went Lindy Fox and third to Utkarsh Shukla, both FIT students.
In addition to the contributors mentioned above, we want to thank Le Paris Bistrot for appetizers and wine donations and lots of help during the event; Fleurs Bella for the stunning flower arrangements; Zlata Kolomoyskaya for the handsome body painted male models; Sarah Martinez for tasteful silent auction setup; and Matthew Imhoff and Liz Frino who designed and executed the stage design beautifully. Henrik Tala flew over from Finland for the event and handled the music and audiovisual presentations during the entire evening, assisted by Worldstage. Photographers, including Nicola Bailey documented the entire event. We are also grateful to Sasha Korbut of Korbut Productions and Tina Michelle Chen worked extremely hard on PR and publicity in the very short time available.
During the long preparatory arrangements, many volunteers and interns have given much time and effort to realize this event; Caroline Cantone, Ria Ratia, Iira Vilkko, and Jenni Kotovaara to name a few; Eliot Blane contributed with website creation and updates. Event coordination overall was handled expertly by Liz Brown. It is impossible to name everyone or add up all the volunteer hours that went into this event!
We are also grateful to the other contributors, whose donations of food, goodie bag items, and exquisite jewelry, art, and experiences found satisfied buyers at the silent auction. All of our generous sponsors are listed here.
Lastly, a big thank you to Professor Steven Cutting for his vision, tenacity and calm under pressure – and seeing this plan through to the end!
Overall what you saw was the result of the fashion, beauty and arts community stepping up for sustainability in fashion while providing support for the mission of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. And without you, our ticket buyers and donors, we could not move forward with any of our plans, so we are in awe and gratitude for your trust in our mission!
And the result? At the time of writing, we are still finalizing the income and expenses. Our gross income was about $35,000, but as New York is a very expensive place, we know the expenses are higher than we wish. However, we are pleased to have pulled this off for the very first time, using essentially volunteer labor; raised awareness of many important issues relating to the Sustainable Development Goals; and convinced funders that Kota can be trusted also with the larger responsibility of organizing its own space.
Please stay with us! There are some Silent Auction items still available for sale, and ongoing donations accepted here!
Founder and President