A calling is a powerful way to phrase ones job. It connotes a desire by none other than God to see you succeed in order to help others. Rarely is that ever used in fashion. But when Brandice Henderson, chocking up with tears, describes her role as founder of Harlem Fashion Row this way it makes total sense. The Memphis native has dedicated the last three years of her life to helping designers of color show their collections during New York fashion week. She’s sacrificed her time, energy and remarkably – her own money -in order to see this vision manifest. Now, what began as a modest attempt at throwing a presentation in Harlem has morphed into a full on incubator for minority fashion designers. Along the way Henderson has gone from working solo to collaborating with a talented team which includes show producer Randal Jacobs and runway coach David Melton. Her Herculean efforts have caught the eye of Target which generously donated funding to help offset costs for Harlem Fashion Row’s Spring 2011 presentation. Hours before the latest installment of Harlem Fashion Row debuts, we caught up with Henderson to find out more about the woman and her movement. ESSENCE.com: This is the second presentation from Harlem Fashion Row. How is it going to be different? BRANDICE HENDERSON: We’re actually not doing a runway this season. Instead, we are holding four different art exhibition. One room is like a New York City type of street. You will hear city sounds and you will see models walking on what looks like a cross walk. Another room is like a salon where a designer will be draping a dress out of muslin. Another room will have a Tahitian theme, which is going to be really beautiful. And another will look like a page out of a catalog, so the audience will get the feeling that they are stepping into it. ESSENCE.com: The whole production sounds elaborate. How did you get to this point in your career? HENDERSON: I always knew I wanted to be in fashion. I got my degree in Fashion Merchandising from University of Tennessee and became a buyer for Charming Shops in Memphis. From there I moved to New York City to work for one of our vendors and pursued a second bachelors from F.I.T. I always loved fashion events and fashion shows, so I started out just wanting to do a fashion show in Harlem. ESSENCE.com: How did that modest vision expand into the full blown reality of what it is today? HENDERSON: After talking and meeting with the designers it changed everything for me because I started to understand the designers. I took my time to see how many designers of color were selling in stores and I was shocked and its been this one thing leads to another journey. I started researching a lot of new designers and I realized that a lot of them were coming out of the CFDA fashion fund and most of them were finalists. And I started looking to see if they had any African Americans, and there was one (Monique Paen) – but no others. Its been like a scavenger hunt trying to find designers of color. I get one clue and it takes me to the next and as I’m talking to these designers and understanding them, I’m called to action. ESSENCE.com: What do you see as these designers greatest challenge? HENDERSON: It mostly boils down to resources. I mean financial resources. As well as just connections. A lot of these designers don’t know anyone in the industry and how are you going to get an article written about you or gain exposure if you can’t afford PR. It’s just super tough for them. There are several designers I’ve met who’ve quit their jobs! They spend all the money they have on fabrics. They are super talented, but they just need help. For some reason part of that responsibility has fallen on me and I just took it. ESSENCE.com: All these elements sound expensive. How are you paying for them? HENDERSON: I have been self-funded. ESSENCE.com: You are paying out of pocket? HENDERSON: Yes. But fortunately a lot of people have volunteered their time to help me, including Danita King of PR Noir. But as far as the production, venue, supplies, makeup, whatever – I’ve self-funded. ESSENCE.com: That’s a very personal sacrifice. Why? HENDERSON: (Goes silent) You are going to make me cry. I can’t… I actually can’t not do it. That’s the only way I can explain it. Whatever that means for me, so far as paying myself or using credit cards or getting loans from friends and family, I do it. I can’t not do it. so far as getting loans from friends and family and getting loans from friend and family. I can’t not do it. ESSENCE.com: What are some challenges that we put on ourselves? HENDERSON: It’s true and I’m realizing that a part of my responsibility is in the mentoring capacity. I don’t think some designers understand the sacrifices I make to put this on, and they don’t really know what it takes to put on a full scale production. But I don’t get frustrated, I recognize it as a teachable moment. They only way they are going to know is if someone shares it with them. ESSENCE.com: What is your ultimate vision for Harlem Fashion Row? HENDERSON: The ultimate vision, there s a huge niche when it comes to people of color in fashion and presented in a really beautiful and professional way and there’s also a lot of really talented people that need an opportunity so i wanna create different platforms for that. eventually I want to do a magazine. i want to do a trade show. i want to do seminars and workshops. My next step is going to be an awards dinner which I’m hoping to launch next year. And that’s going to be about bridging the experienced and the new. ESSENCE.com: Is all this worth it for you? HENDERSON: It is. I get so much fulfilment out of it.
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