Trying to shine a spotlight on Dayton’s emerging fashion industry has been no easy task, whether it’s dealing with people who don’t take the industry seriously and dismiss it simply as vanity, to those who watch shows like Project Runway or America’s Next Top Model which just give a slight glimpse into how the industry really works, and those who simply don’t understand how embracing the fashion industry can be a huge boost for the local economy. Yet for the past 2 years, there has been a core group of area professionals, business owners, community leaders, and fashion insiders who have been working diligently to educate the community about the positive impact the fashion industry could have on Dayton, from producing quality events and products to showcase local talent, and helping those who have dreams to be a part of the fashion industry to reach their goals,and together this network is called the Dayton Emerging Fashion Incubator (DE-FI) LLC also known simply as (DE-FI).
Since our official Launch Party in July 2013, we’ve grown in numbers, reach, and we took on a more direct approach and by direct I mean, we went straight to the fashion capital of the world New York City. While I’m not at liberty to share the details of my work and experiences during the past two fashion week seasons, I can say that the Dayton area was blessed when Wright-Patt Air Force Base welcomed the family of Joshua Ladner to the area. Not only, has his presence had an instant impact on the growth of Downtown Dayton with the opening of the very popular #HairJourney at Salon J Ladner but he also brings with him additional experience in the world of fashion!! As a part of the Adam Project, Josh has spent the past few years being a part of almost every aspect of the production of New York Fashion Week from casting models for major designers, to show layouts, to working one on one with designers, and blogging.
Two weeks ago, Josh dropped a bombshell on me when he informed me that several high profile designer from NYC and London have committed to being a part of (DE-FI)ance Fashion Week taking place in May. Well, last week Josh and I hit the streets of New York City during Fashion Week and while we were there, he introduced me to Anne Agoren, designer of Izzi Bags, Shorty Award Finalist, and Fashion Writer. Over dinner at one of NYC most posh restaurants the Rogue Tomate, Josh and I shared the vision, direction, and work of (DE-FI) with Anne and colleague Sony Loren. To sum up the night, it ended with Anne and Sony saying they are all in and committed to not only showcasing during (DE-FI)ance Fashion Week but assisting with the of planning events!!
I wanted to give Anne a proper introduction to the people of Dayton and the Miami Valley areas and what better way to get to know someone than a Q & A session? So without further ado, introducing the newest member of Team (DE-FI) Anne Agoren!!
Q: Who is Anne Agoren? You came from humble beginnings and you are now a well-respected designer who takes the time to give back, why is giving back so important to you and why is it important for notable people like yourself to lend a hand to organizations like (DE-FI)?
A: Every day I get up and am thankful for who I am, where I am, and the opportunities that have been given to me. It has not been an easy journey, I have struggled through much heartbreak from two divorces, but been blessed with 3 fabulous boys, moved continents 3 times, had to learn another language just to survive. I had it all, lost it, and now trying once again to rebuild. When you suffer a knock back you just have to put on your big girl panties, put on your lipstick, and carry on.
Failure is not an option for me. Don’t think for one minute I am a hard faced business woman, I cry all the time when I am frustrated, when I am sad, when I am happy and that’s not a bad thing. I get very hurt by other people’s opinion and I wish sometimes I could let it run down my back as they say, but I am human, have feelings and can’t. The most important thing is to pick yourself up, brush yourself down and carry on to fight another day.
I really believe I have had the most amazing opportunities given to me, I have traveled all over the world and I want to help those that are less fortunate or who need a break. Let’s face it without a little bit of help from others the world can be a difficult place to be.
Q: How did you get your start in the fashion industry?
A: When I got divorced I went to live in Cyprus, the Northern part which belongs to Turkey, I could not speak the language, I had no family or friends there and so I took a job working for a large European Design House overseeing the design, pattern making, cutting, stitching, packing and shipping. Can you imagine how hard that was when I couldn’t even communicate for over 6 months with a factory of over 300?
I went to school to learn to speak Turkish and I could actually say ” these buttons are not lined up” before I could order a glass of wine. This experience gave me the basis of what was to come in the following years. I owe a lot to the patient Turkish people who taught me well and as you can imagine I still have difficulty in keeping my hands by my sides because this was the only form of communication I had during the early stages of my fashion years. I also tend to talk loudly when I get excited about something, for some reason I believed the louder I spoke one day they would understand me!
Q: Who were your influences personally and professionally?
A: Professionally, I want to say the biggest influence over my career is probably Coco Chanel, she was a chic, sophisticated lady who never let the outside world get to her, she believed in what she did and ignored those that doubted her. I learned that lesson from her, one of her most famous quotations stands out for me “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”.
Personally, the person that has influenced me the most is my mother, when I was a child I would sit in her closet, with the door closed, in the dark, I would hold her leather handbags, I would caress them, smell the leather and I would dream that I was walking along Bond Street in London carrying one of her bags that they were in fact mine. When I used to leave the closet I would always mumble to the bags… “One day you will be mine”.
But the one person that has kept me going is my son, Steven, He had a rare form of cancer that only hits men, when I got the call from him, there are no words to describe that feeling for a mother and I can’t even begin to tell you what we as a family went through. But today I am so blessed, Thanks be to God that he is now cancer free, for that reason I get up every day and know that whatever is thrown at me I can get through it.
Q: What is Izzi Bags? Who is your target market, and when people think Izzi Bags what is the image that you want people to see or represent?
A: Izzi bag was created because like most women, I had and still have a great passion for handbags and every single woman I know looks for something different when buying one. I know that when you purchase your first Izzi bag you will come to understand how much love and respect we have put into each and everyone’s creation. As they are all hand crafted using a woven technology, from the finest leather available every single piece in the collection becomes slightly individual. My target market? Well, my answer to anyone that ask’s me that question is quite simply this “I had you in mind when I first put my pencil on the sketch pad”.
Q: Where are Izzi Bags currently produced?
A: As my journey in fashion began in Turkey, this is currently where they are made, but we are now working with other manufacturer’s in sampling to try and bring the production closer to home in the USA.
Q: Why is it so important for Fashion to be embraced in smaller markets like Dayton, OH? Why do you think the Midwest in general has gone untapped or overlooked by the Fashion industry?
A: Just because women or men for that matter do not live in Milan, London, Paris or New York should not mean they do not care about fashion and I believe that there are up and coming designers across the world in the smallest of villages who need to be embraced by the industry. I am all for helping, mentoring and speaking out to help these individuals. It does not matter what age you are, look at me I was over 40 before one Izzi bag was ever sold in the market place. I do not think I can generalize and say the “Midwest” has been untapped, I think across the world there are thousands of towns and areas that are in the same boat and it’s about time we opened the doors of opportunity to all.
Q: What were some of the struggles you faced as an emerging designer and what do you consider to be your “Big Break” that took you from being an emerging designer to an established designer?
A: For me the biggest struggle was getting buyers to see me, When I had my samples ready I would go by myself and knock on doors, I would go again and again and again. It was soul destroying when they sent me away. Having worked for a large company that is known worldwide I was suddenly there on my own. I could not afford a branding agent, a publicist or any help. I was the designer, the salesman, the tea maker.
The biggest break for me was when I was nominated and then a finalist at the Shorty Awards in New York. Bare in mind that at the time this happened to me was right at the beginning of twitter and there were only 17 million people on it compared with today 218 million!!!!! There I was a small brand in the final 6, no Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, No Chanel, No Hermes, no Prada, No Gucci…that in itself was a major achievement and the Wall Street Journal even mentioned me in their post about the event.
The next morning my telephone rang off the hook, I was asked to talk at breakfasts, lunches, dinners about how I used Social Media to build a brand. From there I opened my second company that now teaches, advises and executes social media for small brands, large worldwide brands and celebrities. I really believe that you never know what tomorrow holds. My mother always says when one door closes you must circle the house to see which window is ajar.
Social Media has played a big part in building my brand, it has enabled me to have a world platform, how difficult it was years ago to get your name known on the other side of the world. Now in 140 characters or less you can communicate in a split second with someone 5000 miles away or in your own back yard!
Q: There are so many misconceptions about what the Fashion Industry is or what it represents, if there was one myth about the fashion industry that you could debunk what would it be and why?
A: One of the biggest misconceptions about fashion is that it costs a lot to look good…. that is rubbish, you can buy a few staple items and switch them around, add accessories and make the outfit look like a million dollars. These days a lot of the high street brands reel out season after season collections that resemble designer wear. Oscar Wilde once opined that “fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”. I disagree because I have pieces in my closet older than my 28 year old son and they are now called ‘vintage’ and worth more than the pieces I bought last week.
Q: What is the biggest mistake that most people make when trying to get their start in the industry?
A: Everybody thinks they are a designer they think it is so easy to just create a brand and run with it. It takes a lot of dedication, a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It really is not about how much money it takes, it is really about belief. I spent many nights without sleep, worrying would the industry and members of the public like my designs would they believe in me? It is easy to think we can all start our journey as Coach, LVMH or Gucci but in reality you must start small, build your brand and grow.
Q: You’ve had the opportunity to speak one on one with some of Fashion’s most elite designers and personalities(Including Diane Von Furstenberg head of the Council for Fashion Designers of America) , how do you prepare yourself for their interviews and have you ever asked them for their advice or keys to their success? If so what was the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: I remember interviewing Christian Louboutin on the Red Carpet just over a year ago and I have to tell you that nothing could have prepared me for that opportunity. I seriously was like a giggly little school girl, I did not want the moment to pass. Izzi even bought me a pair of shoes to wear for the occasion which cost nearly $1000. I want you to know that was madness but Louboutin was impressed I was wearing them, but to be honest as soon as he passed by I took them off as they were so uncomfortable. I have never asked a celebrity or designer for their advice because I believe we are all in charge of our own destiny.
Q: What are you most excited about in terms of your participation and your role in helping to produce (DE-FI)ance Fashion Week?
A: I am excited for the (DE-FI)ance Fashion Week mainly as it is my chance to help you make a mark on the world’s fashion stage, I am really looking forward to being able to show that it does not matter how old you are, from what background you come from, you can achieve what you want with a little determination. I want to be able to convey my message to the young and old alike it is never too late and you are never too old to make it in life. I am really excited to walk on the runway in the Stylish Mom Show with my son a cancer survivor and I am really blessed that God spared him. He is an inspiration to all of us. Seeing Izzi bags on the runway will reduce me to tears, here I go again!
Q: What advice do you have for emerging designers ready to make their mark in the industry?
A: I have only two things to say to them: Believe in what you do and grow skin as thick as an elephant you are going to need it.
You can find out more information about Anne and Izzi bags by following her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/izzibag , http://blog.izzibag.com , and of course meet her in person during (DE-FI)ance Fashion Week! For more on the Dayton Emerging Fashion Incubator (DE-FI) LLC visit our website at http://www.daytonemergingfashionincubator.com or text “DEFI” to 55469. Tickets for (DE-FI)ance Fashion Week go on sale on March 8, 2014 at Salon J Ladner, American Pi, and Beaute Box. Casting Calls for models, designers, and volunteers take place on March 8, 2014 from 12p-2p at the St. Clair Lofts located at 35 S. St. Clair St., Dayton, OH 45402 right next to Salon J Ladner and American Pi.