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!

Christian Arts & Empowerment Network Event

The Christian Arts & Empowerment Network in conjunction with Wedding Weavers professional party planners and decorators, hosted its second annual Small Business Expo And Stage Show this past Saturday at the United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York. The event commenced at 3:00 p.m. and went on well into the night after 11:00 p.m

FOOD, FASHION, and FREE are my three favorite words, and with the clever meshing of a Christian market, fashion show and Gospel dinner all rolled into one, I not only fed my physical body, but my spiritual body as well! At the event’s opening, guests were free to peruse tables of more than 25 vendors. There were food vendors, bakeries, jewelry, couture clothing, high-end makeup, insurance, legal services, Amway, natural body care products, as well as wedding planning vendors. 
Creative Gift’s Model
Among companies in attendance were: Melinda Perez, independent consultant representing Younique makeup line, which was one of my favorite booths! I bought the much raved about 3D fiber lash mascara. 
3D Fiber Lash Mascara $30
This is the “it” mascara in the makeup community! For more info on the Younique product line please contact: 
Melinda Perez at
Also in attendance was Gigi’s Gourmet Cakes. Let’s just say my moniker this night was Fat Girl Slim. Lol… I literally ate my way through this whole event! I bought luscious pastel colored chocolate covered strawberries and cupcakes from Gigi! Each pastry was melt in your mouth delicious! She’s a young woman who just graduated from culinary school and is doing her thaaaaang! Her caramel cupcakes, topped with sweet buttercream frosting and drizzled in mouth-watering caramel was my fav at her table!  
Gigi’s Caramel Cupcake
Gigi’s Gourmet Cakes
Gigi’s Caramel Cupcake
To purchase any of Gigi’s sweet treats, please feel free to contact her at:
Giselle Jacob
Next on the list was A1 Catering Services, who provided an eclectic array of international foods for the event. For free! Attendees got to chow down on free food all night courtesy of A1 caterers! Amongst my favorite were the scrumptiously delectable Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), steamed spinach, and puréed white beans.
A1 Catering Services
That was my first time ever tasting puréed beans, and it was quite delicious! Among other dishes served were baked salmon, beef sliders, Carribean bread pudding, apple pastry, and cheesecake! If you need good food with an International flair catered at your next event, please feel free to contact: 
Chef Rawle Britton
A1 cateres 
Facebook: Chefrawle Britton
A sampling of hand cream from ButterMEssentials, and I was convinced that these products are made with dedication and love! My hands were so soft afterwards, even after I washed them a few times. BME provides a range of products for men, women, and children; including but not limited to: hair and body butters, hair puddings and pomades, elixirs, shampoo, conditioners and skin moisturizing bars, as well as facial and body scrubs. 
Contact ButterMEssentials at:

Next on display was A-Squared Fine Costume Jewelry. A-squared jewelry was mouth watering eye candy to a babe with a fierce sweet tooth for fashion! There were so many exquisite and intricately designed pieces to choose from. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings–all meticulously handcrafted. They also host jewelry parties. 
A_Squared Fine Costume Jewelry
If you would like to buy pieces from A-Squared Fine Costume Jewely or would like to plan your own jewelry party, please visit them at:
A-Squared Fine Costume Jewelry 
Owners Aiesha A. and Aisha D.
347-400-0663 or 718-813-4234
Instagram: @a_squaredjewelry
Creative Gifts’ Models
Moving on over to the lovely ladies at Freedom at Hand, an Amway business brand. It was such a pleasure stopping by this booth. We not only talked shop, but talked Christ! I love the spirit that indwells God’s people. It always feels like you’re reconnecting with family! To my surprise, I learned that Amway is still around! Who knew? If you would like to purchase Amway products from an independent consultant, please contact:
Freedom at Hand
Angela Luna

Some of the many other vendors on display were: My Sweet Confections exotic cakes and cupcakes, they can be reached at 856-357-6415.  
My Sweet Confections


Sweetie Koolture

Sweetie Koolture Children’s wear. This line not only caters to kids, but adults as well! Mrs. Uniquia hand designs all original painted, jeweled, or bedazzled art work. I have my eye on a pair of shi-shi jeweled cat-eye eyeglasses! Yes Ma’am!  For purchases, please contact: 

Uniquia Shukrquan  347-262-2131

If you are in the market for legal advice or services, please feel free to contact:

Legal Shield
Sandra Harewood Fredric
Independent Associate

Worldwide Financial Group
c/o Okoro I. Egwu

Wedding Weavers 
Brooklyn’s best party planners and decorators. Contact:

Culture Vibes
Professional DJ service

There were many more vendors, I didn’t have time to cover them all. Last, for the entertainment segment of the event, the artists that performed represented different aspects of the Christian community: singers, praise dancers, choirs, musicians and a mime. The performers are noted as:
Kenise Etwaru, Little Miss Parkinson, Anhiker Parker-mime, 
R Frasers Give Back Inc, E-Praise, Ashley Nichole, Caroline Labastille, Nassau Tabernacle Worship Team, Fashion by Dr. Pat Jonas. 

Hosting the event was Wedding Weaver’s matriarch, Joanne Cummings, with whom I got a chance to sit down one-on-one to discuss the event:
PN: How did you come about starting this event?
JC: Wedding Weavers had been serving in Guyana since 1997, and hosted several exhibitions there. We migrated to USA and decided to start our bridal consultation in New York. In an effort to get the word out that we are around, we decided to host the exposition here in Brooklyn. Of course we know there are other small business owner’s ready to start their businesses, we extended an invitation to those interested…and here we are now…our second annual expo. 
PN: How much does it cost to attend?
JC: The expo is free to the general public. It cost nothing to attend and the entire NY community is invited.
PN: What was the overall attendance and what benefits would a future vendor get out of having a table at Christian Arts & Empowerment Network? 

JC: Attendance has been excellent! There were approximately 150 guests that attended. We also got fantastic responses from vendors in NY. This year we had 25 vendors attend, and still had vendors who were happy to be on our standby list just in case someone couldn’t make it! Furthermore, it’s a way for the consumer to taste, then buy a vendor’s product.

PN: What type of vendors do you encourage to participate? Should they be Christian?

JC: Christian Arts & Empowerment Network and Wedding Weavers are owned and operated by Christians, however, we accept vendors from the length and breath of NY. Once the vendor is passionate about their product and crazy about their craft, we are happy to work with and alongside them to help their business grow while we work on ours…it’s about growing the community.

PN: Do you believe this event is keeping revenue in the local community? If so how? 

JC: When the small businesses in the community network with other businesses in and around the same community, the district is inclined to prosper. Providing jobs for the folk of that same community.
PN: Why is it important for Christians as well as minorities to start their own businesses? 

JC: We have Christian vendors who are involved in the music and entertainment industry. What a better way for a recording artist, dancer or fashion designer to showcase their talent and network. It’s important to start our own businesses so we can be in control of where we are spending our money, as well as support fellow Christians and minorities. We in turn, are passing this business model down our family lineage, to ensure our children will be well prepared for their futures as opposed to depending on someone else to give them a job! 
PN: Why did you decide to add the entertainment and dinner aspect to the event? 

JC: The dinner adds a sophisticated atmosphere to the event. It also helps to offset some expenses. Since folk may buy a table or just a seat, they enjoy the same kind of service as if they were at a 5-star restaurant.
PN: How much is the dinner and what type of food and service is provided? 
JC: The cost per dinner ticket is $25 per person. It’s a three course meal. This year we offered Caribbean flavors. The appetizers and main meal were from Wedding Weavers, while dessert was compliments of A1 catering.
PN: What direction would you like to see this event going in the future? 

JC: This event has the potential to become the highest of its kind in new York by New Yorkers! This is only our second year. Last year two of our vendors were able to use the expo as their starting platform. There’s a new record label and fashion designer who launched their businesses since. And we we’re happy to be associated with their start. That’s what we want: to help birth entrepreneurs! Having event sponsors would certainly help us more! We want to empower young people. Gizelle from Gigi cakes just graduated from culinary school. We want to see her and others like her grow!
PN: What information should future vendors, artists and church groups who want to be a part of next year’s Christian Arts & Empowerment Network event know? 

JC: For those who are interested in joining with us for next years expo, we would say spend some time getting prepared. The expo is your pop up store for the day … you want to show you best and be able to offer your best then and thereafter to your clients … professional standards are what we work with. The cost to the vendor to participate is most affordable … that’s the last thing to be concerned about. Know your elevator pitch and educate those volunteering in your booth.

PN: When is the deadline to apply and what are the event fees associated to participate? 

JC: We start accepting applications from May 1, for the following year. The deadline for payment is 1 month prior to the event date. In 2016, the expo is scheduled for April 9. For a first time vendor, the fee is a minimal $100! 
PN: Who is the primary vendor/entertainment contact? 

JC: That would be me, Joanne Cummings. Please feel free to contact me at: 646-464–0835 or 636-737-7443.  
JC: Also, We would like to say a great big thank you to our sponsors:Terrance Barker from Image Audio, Lady Rhonda Fraser from RFrasers Give Back, Dr. Pat Jonas fashions from creative gifts and DJ Sean from CAEN. Wedding Weavers is happy to be associated with photographer Stephen Paul.
PN: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me Joanne! I admire your strength and dexterity! More, your zeal for God and His people! God bless your future business endeavors! 
JC: Puja…thank you! I appreciate it! 
Wedding Weavers set design
%d bloggers like this: