Fundraiser fashion show, Inspiring Edge, are in their sixth year. We got an exclusive interview with Haylee Venus, the founder of Embrace U Empire, and the brains behind the event. DT also got the chance to sit in on their final rehearsal before the show which is on 11th November.
29 year old Haylee Venus was born and bred in Tottenham. As well as running Embrace U Empire and Mek Ah Step CIC, she is a talented singer, dancer and performer. DT were lucky enough to have her perform at our first birthday party in September.
Embrace U Empire is a network of creatives that collaborate on various projects. They run events including Inspiring Edge, Soul Free, an open mic night, and Spoken, a spoken word night. Haylee also works with her business partner Lana Alfred who manages the models and works on the creative direction and the choreography for the show.
Can you tell me a bit about what you do?
I would say that I’m a social entrepreneur or creative. Most of the things that I do are for the benefit of my environment, my community and that’s my drive. A lot of the time it involves creative areas.
Inspiring Edge is in it’s sixth year, how did you come up with the idea to do a fashion show?
The initial idea came from wanting to bring people together. We learn so much creatively from other people and we don’t even realise. I could be admiring something about you and I’m inspired to draw or I’m inspired to write, or that thought kicks off something else in my head, maybe a song. That was the heart of it. Bringing creatives together, bringing together different social backgrounds and giving them the platform to showcase. Inspiring Edge is supposed to inspire you to want to be you. No one else, nothing less, your true authentic self.
The first person I went to was a runway choreographer, Reuben P Joseph. I always say to him ‘I thank you so much for believing in me’. He’s phenomenal on the runway and, when I first came up with the idea, somebody suggested that he might be able to help. I remember having that first initial meeting and he always says I came in so nervous. He was so professional, he just said ‘tell me about your vision’, writing as I was talking. I had no idea if I was saying the right thing. Eventually he said I think your idea’s really amazing and I’d love to be a part of it. He motivated me and said he would help wherever he could. He worked on the first three shows to help get me off the ground.
You’re launching your own label, how did you first become interested in fashion?
When I went out to parties as a teenager I always used to revamp my clothes, change things on it or add things. My friends used to ask me, can you do that or can you put this on my top. I always used to have a creative outlook on how I dressed and liked dressing out of the box so my clothes were never predictable.
When it came to the second year of Inspiring Edge, I was really inspired by the designs and I put together a small collection for the children that were involved in the show. Everyone said it was gorgeous. I went home and I thought these ideas have been in my mind for so long. I thought, I’ve got somebody to sew the garments, all I’d have to do is design, source the materials and so forth so I started to design my own dresses for the show. They are high fashion, couture, abstract designs. I had a few clients that came to me afterwards and ask ‘can you design a dress for me?’
My label, Beautifelt, will be launching next year. It’s all about feeling your inner beauty, but on an external level, whatever you’re feeling inside is exuded through your garment.
What can visitors expect from Inspiring Edge this year?
If I could sum it up without saying too much, I would say expect a vibrant, colourful and inspiring evening.
There’s going to be nine fashion designers. Three children’s designers and six designers for the adult lines. We have about 15 adult models and 18 children.
Each year we have a theme, this time it’s candy, and people dress accordingly. This year has been quite hard for a lot of people so I really want it to be a bright, exciting environment. I don’t want people to come dressed in black and sit in a black mood. I want it to be vibrant and colourful, and people to leave there thinking: yeah I wanna live my dream, I want to do something.
Can you tell us a bit about the competition element of the show?
We award best female model, best male model and best designer. This year we’ve also got best teen model. I think that competition brings out the best in people. It entices you to want to improve and to do your best.
There are three elements to the judging. Firstly, the rehearsals for the show – some of the models haven’t ever modeled before, so we provide a space where they can learn and master the techniques and routines. In the rehearsal they are marked on how they take in information.
We have a Facebook voting system, based on number of likes, where we upload the photos of the models and people vote on their favourites.
On the day of the show, we have three industry creatives on the judging panel who give each model marks on a set criteria. All three scores are added up on the day and we award those with the most marks at the show.
Who’s on this year’s judging panel?
Riva from BKChat, Ola Kemi, a plus sized model, and Manpreet Singh, a fashion designer who also runs different businesses around beauty and food.
Are there any special guests?
The mayor of Tottenham will be in attendance. He’s supported for the last couple of years and at one show we honoured a couple of people for the service they did abroad.
Who can attend?
You can bring your whole family. It’s an evening out and you can all dress up. There’s also an option to eat.
This year you’re raising awareness of metal health and supporting Mek Ah Step CIC. Can you tell us a bit about the fundraising element?
Each year we support a different cause. These have included lupus, sickle cell, leukaemia, diabetes and children with cancer. This year we are supporting Mek Ah Step CIC, a community interest company, which is our own project.
Mek Ah Step work with 5 to 16 year olds delivering creative arts and sports workshops that help individuals to develop socially and personally. We usually run the workshops in London and the profits go towards our international projects.
Our international projects have included two orphanages in Jamaica, schools in Gambia and two schools in St Lucia. In December we’ll be going with some volunteers to Jamaica to work in a youth facility in Mount Salem in Montego Bay. When we go abroad, we tend to work with communities that don’t have access to creative facilities and help them to build skills in those areas.
Inspiring Edge Fashion Show is on 11th November at Haringey Irish Centre from 6pm. Tickets for the show are available here.
If you’d like to vote for the models on the Facebook page, you have until EOP Thursday 9th November.
Here’s some exclusive behind the scenes photos we took at the rehearsal.