Being raised by immigrant parents in multi-cultural London, I have always been passionate about the fusion of cultures and what we can learn from each other when we "Collaborate". I'm also passionate about leveling the playing field in the creative industry by supporting talent from all backgrounds, whether they be a weaver in Ethiopia or a talented young designer from Harlem. The LDNY Foundation and our Legacy Collection initiative does precisely that. We are truly honored to be working with the UN, London College of Fashion and Parsons.
In 2013, I went on a trip to Ghana, the purpose of the trip was to see how I could do something to "give back", the country of my parents birth. Forty years ago my Mother and Father came to the UK separately but with the same dream to create a better life for the children they would one day have. They east end of London the UK's answer to Ellis Island, Walthamstow home to a diverse range of people, which is where they would indeed raise the children the eventually did have.
Walthamstow or Wilcomestu as the Anglo Saxons called it means place of welcome (coincidentally the Ghanaian greeting for hello is "Awaakba "which also means "Welcome"), so being welcoming is literally part of both my British and Ghanaian origins. During my early years Walthamstow more or less lived up to its name, we had the longest street market in Europe where you could get anything from anywhere. The older generation of market stallholders was mainly white working class survivors of Second World War. They were community minded and would call out to you if they knew your mum and chuck you an apple or bag of sweets, nuts or a random item off their stall. My school was like a blue-collar version of the UN and believed diversity was an asset. All the main religious holidays were celebrated, my Indian friends always brought in the best sweets on Guru Nanak day (Founder of the Sikh Religion). I was well liked, being an inquisitive soul I often found myself at my friends houses celebrating Shabat, Eid and Diwali. My best friend Levan Trong was Chinese so this meant free Mandarin lessons and amazing New Year parties.
This multicultural upbringing served as a great basis for my media career connecting with people from all walks of like. I started off as an intern at a Kiss FM a vibrant fresh radio station uniting the young people of London through music. So where ever I went it was a given for me that difference was never a problem in fact it was cool and what London was all about. I carried this belief with me from radio to television to my first presenting job. I was getting to do what I had enjoyed doing my entire life meeting and talking to people from any and everywhere.
My initial thinking when I arrived in Ghana was to help develop entertainment talent and somehow try to support it's burgeoning media industry. However upon further investigation I soon realized that what was more urgently needed was jobs and particularly jobs for women from low-income and low skilled communities. There's old theory in the villages of Ghana, which is no self respecting village girl should marry a man who can not afford to buy her a Singer sewing machine. There are a lot of married village girls in Ghana, armed with this data I decided fashion and manufacturing was probably the route to take and thus the LDNY Foundation was born.
Over the years I have worked extensively with different UN agencies on various initiatives including "UnGrounded" where I helped create a collaboration between the UN ITU (International Communications Union) and British Airways to turn a aircraft into an innovation lab and have some of the best minds from Sillicon Valley solve UN poverty related issues. I wanted to do something similar with fashion, so I approached Professor Frances Corner at London College of Fashion who immediately said yes and then I stalked Simon Collins the then Dean of Fashion at Parsons and after months of harassment eventually said yes. Then came the ITC (International Trade Centre) who selected artisans from their "Women and Trade Programme" to join our programme.
LDNY formed a partnership with LCF and Parsons to create a competition that would be imbedded into their curriculum, where students from both institutions would design with the ITC artisans. This first time collaboration was a year long programme that would eventually showcase winning designs by students from both LCF and Parsons interwoven with traditional crafts by the artisans to enhance and energize the overall designs with inspiration for the collection celebrating the energy and talent of the two most exciting and iconic cities in the world: leaders in creativity, culture, entrepreneurism and originality. I'm blown away by the phenomenal pieces the students and artisans "Collaborated" on together.
We've had some phenomenal industry support and a stellar panel of UK & US judges who chose the winning pieces including: swimwear designer Melissa Odabash, Laura Weir, Fashion Features Editor at Vogue and Scott Mackinlay-Hahn, CEO of ethical fashion brand Loomstate. David de Rothschild, Supermodel Cameron Russell and Designer Charlie Casely-Hayford all came on board as advocates.
The collection has been ethically manufactured by London-based social enterprise 'Fashion Enter'. In September, we were able to open the 69th UN General Assembley External Calendar with the first-ever fashion at the UN.
The cherry on the cake has to be Liberty coming on board as partners, I still pinch myself that Liberty will be showcasing the winning designs in-store.
Ed Burstell, the Managing Director of Liberty has been a phenomenal support, his quote expresses the commitment and passion he and his team have for this project.
"Liberty is delighted to be supporting Women: Inspiration and Enterprise and the LDNY Foundation initiative which firmly puts sustainable fashion on the world stage. In our continual bid to support new and emerging design we look forward to raising funds through the sale of this collection in-store for educational grants and scholarships to LFC and Parsons."
This collaboration with LCF and Parsons students interwoven with crafts by artisans from the ITC's Women and Trade Programme is a first and we are excited to able to be part of this inspiring initiative to support the next generation of design talent whilst promoting female artisans from around the world.
Our London show promises to be as exciting as our New York show at the UN, and will be Co-Hosted by: Caroline Rush (CEO British Fashion Council), Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, Professor Frances Corner and Aldijiana Sisic (Executive Director of the UN Trustfund). We're also thrilled that the show will be live-streamed on Huffington Post UK.
This project has been a true labour of love and the team I are very much looking forward to phase two which will be a factory in Ghana full of many self respecting village girls making a fair wage out of their Singer sewing machines.