Bronx Fashion Week Fashion Chat Q&A

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By Nicollette Samuels

Bronx Fashion Week presented a live Q&A panel with industry professionals via Zoom on Sunday, October 25th for those interested in fashion to inspire them to pursue their dreams.

“Our panelists plan to give great advice, personal stories, and honest opinions,” said Bronx Fashion Week (BXFW) founder and CEO, Flora Montes. The event’s purpose was to shed light on the amount to talent that comes from the Bronx and provide an accessible way to share information and network with fashion industry insiders.

Montes’ idea for BXFW started in 2013 when she approached her team members with a dream. Montes was proudly born and raised in the South Bronx and she grew up during its burning in the 1970s. She started her career working in publishing and marketing for 18 years before she lost her daughter during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

During this time in her life, her experiences, including her tough childhood, the loss of her daughter and unsuccessful marriage, finally made her hit rock bottom. However, her faith and her courageous attitude would not let her stay down.
Montes decided that it was time to reinvent herself and evolve. After putting herself through culinary school, she took her last $200 unemployment check and started BXFW after falling in love with Latin Fashion Week.

She went to her first Latin Fashion Week on a Saturday afternoon as a chef and she instantly fell in love. “I loved the ambiance, the models, the design wear, and I realized that the Bronx did not have a fashion week yet, and I wondered why,” said Montes. She never understood why she had this immediate passion for fashion because she intended to be a chef, but by Sunday she was researching everything she could on various local fashion weeks in the effort of creating her own. Montes used the network she built through catering around the Bronx for free in order to connect with the people who helped her turn her idea into a reality.

When trying to enter a cutthroat industry such as fashion, it is important to be dedicated and almost obsessed with it in order to be successful. Hip-hop artist, poet, and BXFW official show host, Caridad De La Luz shared similar sentiments, “You also have to find your passion, the thing that you are passionate about because if you are going to be in it just for the business, I would say don’t do it. You have to do this because nothing can pull you from it,” De la Luz said. De la Luz’s start in fashion begin with her passion for poetry. She went to audition for a Levi’s Jean campaign that was looking for real people that were passionate about something. She went into the audition and told them her story and why she had this strong attraction to poetry, and it landed her the job. Although her interest was not fashion related, her enthusiasm shined and lead her to be a part of the BXFW team.

The fashion business can be financially taxing, but in this industry, connections are the biggest asset. Montes is a great example of how to start with virtually nothing and still end up on top. She believes that money is not an important factor when starting a business, but it is the relationships that people have. She recalls her bank account having a negative balance after investing into BXFW. Networking is how she was able to get in contact with the right people to give her opportunities and help fund her goals. “Sometimes people think it’s about money, but sometimes your network is your net worth and that means so much more,” Montes said.

In today’s day and age, social media is a great way to build one’s network because people are becoming more accessible as technology advances. “Build your own brand and social media account,” said Montes’ assistant, Isabella Cordaro. “DM people, constantly reach out to the people you want to get in touch with and you will eventually get a response from someone and they might lead you to someone else.”

Another tip is to use a bartering system. Bartering services is one of the best ways to start any business and get ahead, especially if one does not have the finances. “Word of mouth and referrals are the quickest and most profitable way to grow any industry or business,” said entrepreneur, makeup consultant, and stylist, Jessica Velez-Benito. Designers in need of a model can allow the model to keep the outfit. Photographers can offer to take photos for free in exchange for publishing rights. Makeup artists can volunteer for no pay, especially if they are just starting out and create looks for models because there is no telling where those pictures will end up and it will create a great networking opportunity.

There are many elements that make up the world of fashion, but the clothing is the main attraction. Designers can take their visions and bring them to life, unknowingly creating fashion trends and statement pieces. To become a fashion designer, it starts with conceptualizing one’s creativity into a sketch. Once that is done, Montes recommends finding a mentor in another designer so that they can guide aspiring designers through the process. BXFW offers designers mentorship and experience as they have brought many designers to life through their work, passion and resources.

Cordaro has had experience in the world of fashion as a design assistant for Zac Posen. There she learned how fast paced the design department was and how important it is to be quick on your feet. Although design can be challenging, she claims that creative people are the best teachers.

Models are another important element in fashion. They are needed to truly bring the designers clothing life and give an example of how the piece will fit and flow on the human body. Although the job might seem easy, a lot of effort is put into it. Fashion photographer & BXFW marketing director, Raymond Chaksingh advises finding a photographer who is willing to work with and guide you in a way that is respectful to the vision of your brand. Building a relationship with a photographer is a very important step since you need to create a portfolio consisting of about a dozen photos to show to agents and casting directors. “You have to find that right team. You have to network with designers, photographers, people up and coming, meet with the right people and pick their brains, ask if they need help,” Chaksingh said.

BXFW prides itself on being inclusive and diverse. They have been able to pull local and international designers and models. Models of all shapes, sizes, and ages have walked down their runway. They are currently looking for models, designers, and anybody that wants to work in the business. They encourage anyone who is interested to write them an email at bronxfashionnyc@gmail.com.

The BXFW team’s best advice is to become the master of your trade. Learn as much as you possibly can from books, videos, and mentors. And, most importantly, be fearless in putting yourself out there. Expect rejection and embrace it because there are going to be people who will say “no” along the way. Learn to love the word no, and experience failure as a blessing and an opportunity to grow and learn more. Whether it is fashion, beauty, or photography, there is a critic for everything. Go in it knowing that it’s an opportunity to put yourself out there to pose yourself as a brand and an individual.

This pandemic has become the perfect time to focus on creativity and perfect one’s craft. During this time, BXFW has been working on the launch of the Bronx Fashion Incubator. This fashion incubator was born from talking to designers during the pandemic and realizing that some were going out of business. It will be able to help designers that don’t have the means to build their clothing lines. They will be able to connect with BXFW networks, help small businesses during this troubling time, and bring manufacturing to the Bronx.

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