BK Fashion Weekend benefits local students and charity

From the classroom to the catwalk, the hallways of fashion require passion, creativity, skill and, of course, great design. All of these qualities and more were on display at the annual BK Fashion Weekend (BKFW), held from March 29 through April 1 in its new home at Bush Terminal in Sunset Park’s Industry City.

Not only was BKFW a showcase for the newest and trendiest fall/winter collections from an international array of designers, it was also a chance for students from Brooklyn’s William H. Maxwell High School to get a taste of the real world of fashion design and production.

“It’s very important because it gives them a really great concept of what’s going to happen in the real world of work, right up close with deadlines, having to get things done and the order it’s done in,” said veteran Maxwell fashion teacher Kendall Overton, who brought 17 student designers plus student models to present on opening night. “It’s a great experience and a good foundation. We’ve been doing it for several years and every year it gets better.”

The Maxwell designs were based on “Phantom of the Opera.” Students created pieces in black and white, with dark treatments and fitted torsos, some coupled with red feathered masks. For three months, they researched, sketched and sewed, bringing their designs to life with skills taught to them by their teachers as well as by established designers from the SMARTER Clothing Project – Trudy Miller, Bridget Artise and Iliana Quander – who also presented their eco-friendly collections at BKFW.

“I love the competition of fashion; it takes the stress off of me, even though it’s also very stressful,” said Ashley Crossman, 17, a Maxwell senior who will attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in the fall. Junior Brianny Middleton, 17, agreed, noting that she loved the experience at BKFW.

The event also served as fashion for a cause. BKFW, which is presented by the Brooklyn Style Foundation, donated 40 percent of its proceeds to the non-profit Soles4Souls

The Tennessee-based charity was started during the 2004 Asian tsunami, when its founder, Wayne Elsey, who was in the shoe industry, saw a single shoe float ashore. He got the idea to donate shoes to the victims, rounded up some friends, and planned on sending a dozen or so pairs. They ended up sending thousands.

The same sort of thing happened during Katrina. Elsey donated 750,000 pairs of shoes to the hurricane victims, took a step back, and decided to dedicate his career to giving shoes to those who need them most.

To this day, Soles4Soles has donated 17 million pairs of shoes in 128 countries around the world. “It was fast moving and all from a simple idea: taking unused product from the general public and putting it on people’s feet,” explained David Graben, executive vice president of Soles4Souls.

Graben said that events like BKFW are crucial to their cause. “For every dollar we collect, we are able to distribute one pair of shoes,” he said. “We process 60,000 pairs of shoes a week, however it is difficult to get funds. It’s as important, if not more important, when companies like this make events so we can continue our mission to give free footwear around the world.”

Graben said he receives donations from all walks of life – from Girl Scout Brownie troops, to a 40-year-old mom collecting from her kids’ classrooms to a 75-year-old in Colorado who has collected 100,000 pairs of shoes.

“It’s warm, it’s great, it feels good,” Graben said of receiving the donations. “Donating shoes is an emotional experience. A five-year-old has the same experience as an 89-year-old. When they walk to their closet to donate a pair of shoes, they get the same great feeling.”

Graben urged those interested to check out the website, GiveShoes.org. “Please investigate and see if you can do something in your own great way,” he said.

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