Interview with Irina Shaybayeva, Project Runway season 6 winner. 

Couture meets charity was the ongoing theme Saturday night at NY Bridal Week Fashion Show 2015, held at the Holy Apostles Ballroom in downtown Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in New York City.
April 25, was an evening of style, elegance and advocacy as Irina Shabayeva, Project Runway season 6 winner and human trafficking awareness organization, Freedom Ladder, teamed up to showcase beauty and the beast: Shabayeva’s beautiful bridal collection and the beast of modern-day slavery.

The Church of the Holy Apostles, designated a NYC landmark in 1966, and added to the National Register of Historic Places, juxtaposed perfectly with the event adding just the right touch of grandiose with its high ceilings, geometric stained glass windows and Romanesque Revival architecture.

Guests were in full fashion and benevolent mode looking fresh off the runway stylish, while generously contributing to a raffle held by Freedom Ladder. Participants stood a chance to win swag from: Tyeakia Designs, VU Hair Designs, and Charlotte Jones Opticians among other prizes.

Did you know that the average age of child sex trafficking victims in the United States is 12-14 years-old?

Thomas Estler, founder of Freedom Ladder; a nonprofit sex trafficking awareness organization, says this is exactly why he is so passionate about spreading this message because many people are in the dark about the sex trade industry within the U.S. I got a chance to talk to Mr. Estler about Freedom Ladder’s imprint in the community and the harrowing statistics of this growing pandemic. Mr. Estler stated that “this is not just an international problem,” but one that is vastly encroaching American soil. According to the U.S. Department of State, between 14,500 to 17, 500 human beings are trafficked into the U.S. annually.

I was very shocked by these statistics as this is a cause that I am very vocal about as I too am a victim of sex crimes. Asked what inspired Estler to found Freedom Ladder, he responded, “I was in my 40’s and had asked myself what do I care about?” And the answer that lie strongly on his heart was commercial sex exploitation. Although, he said it wasn’t until after speaking with a trafficking rescue agent who informed him that rescued teens read a lot of comic books that, “a light went off,” and he put two and two together and thus the birth of the comic book, Abolitionista! was born! The irony is that these trafficked children are forced into an adult lifestyle, but their affinity for comics is a stark reminder that they are merely kids. There is no rose without a thorne; out of something that causes so many pain, came something that will prevent this evil from happening to other children!

The artistry, detail and craftsmanship of Abolitionista! is superb! It is terse with fluid pictorials and a realistic story line, with artwork created by Delilah Buckle and Lizbeth R. Jimenez. What better way to engage children in the sex trafficking discussion.


Mr. Estler informed me that anyone who wants to read the book or purchase copies for their loved ones can download it for free on his website: A hard copy can also be purchased online for $7.50.

Moreover, Estler says his mission is to teach children how to protect themselves against sex traffickers. He spreads this message by hosting workshops at “schools, churches, events, homeless shelters and any other organization that would like me to come and speak!” He stated that the workshops teach kids preventive measures; to be aware of their surroundings, learning the signs and language of a sex trafficker, and what to do if they encounter a sex trafficker, among other topics. Mr. Estler is based in New York City. If you would like him to speak at your school, company or event, please contact him at:

In tandem with the bridal runway shows were a surfeit of wedding themed companies on display! Ladies, if you are getting married soon, you may want to take notes!

In attendance were:

Janet M. Florindo
Origami Owl Custom Jewelry

Laura Marie
Wedding, creative and fine art photography

Jane Noriega
Fashion Stylist and costume designer

Delicate Raymond Jewelry Bar

Brooch Bouquets by Nicolasa Cicero
Creator of Nicole “Snooki” Lavalle’s (Jersey Shore TV Personality)
crystal brooch

Dazzle Me
Sandra Senior Creative Director
Multifunctional jewelry and scarves

Lauren Chisholm
Fine Art Jewelry

Kallemeyn Press
Letterpress business cards and invitations

Avianne Jewelers

Among other designers were:

Tyeakia Miles of
Tyeakia Miles Designs
Facebook: Tyeakia Miles Designs

Kristin Costa Designs

The night’s musical guest was: Encypher.


At the event’s end, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Irina Shabayeva, Project Runway season 6 winner. And the conversation went as follows:

Irina! Finally I get a chance to catch up with you tonight! You’ve been so busy throughout the whole event!

Yes! It is a very exciting night!

Shabayeva sounds Jewish. Are you Jewish?

Yes! I’m originally from the Republic of Georgia, but I grew up in Brooklyn!

Are your designs inspired by your Jewish background?

No, my bridal collection is actually inspired by the Victorian and Romantic Era! It is a mix of European and Puritan influence.

Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

I love couture (laughs)! I love art … art is my first love, it’s how I design! I love details, colors; I love craftsmanship! I’m ultimately inspired by glamour, decadence … I love femininity!

Has winning season six of Project Runway opened many doors for you?

It was great to win but I still have to work hard! It was a stepping stone, but you just keep on going! Like they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day!’

How did you get connected with Freedom Ladder?

Through The Set NYC. It’s an event planning company. They organized the joint venture.

Where do you see your designs in the near future? What would be your ideal platform regarding your work?

I would love … love to show in Paris next season and be featured in Bergdorf Goodman’s windows.

Thanks Irina for taking the time to speak with me! I love your aesthetic eye! Good luck with your line!


Stay tuned….I will be posting pictures of the event soon!

%d bloggers like this: