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The BKLYN Fashion Academy had its first fashion show. The looks are fierce.

"The diversity in this program allowed the work to speak for itself and shows that talent has no color."

The BKLYN Fashion Academy had its first fashion show. The looks are fierce.

A new fashion academy in Brooklyn is focusing on designers and models of color.

All photos courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library.

The BKLYN Fashion Academy is a 12-week intensive program that provides 15 aspiring womenswear designers with the necessary tools to succeed in the fashion industry.


Leading the charge on the program's design and curriculum is Brooklyn Library Outreach Specialist Lynnsie Augustin. She developed the program not only to create a space to feature the designers' work, but also to provide them with the business knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in such a highly competitive industry.

"The BKLYN Fashion Academy became a way for designers to learn all they needed to know to go into business for themselves, as well as provide a space where they could work on their designs and have a stage where they could show them off," writes Augustin in an email.      

Organized by the Brooklyn Public Library, the program has truly taken off. In addition to providing students with education and tools, the program culminated in the stunning Mode En Couleur Runway Show at the historic Brooklyn Library.

Bklyn Fashion Academy Mode En Couleur Runyway Show

We do not own the rights to this music.

Posted by BPL Business & Career Center on Friday, May 11, 2018

Designers showcased all their hard work on the runway to a packed house.

The result? Incredible designs.

The show was inspired by "Les Sapeurs," a Congolese subculture in which individuals committed to the cult of style amid widespread poverty walk the streets dressed to the nines.

"When this program was created, I wanted to incorporate an aspect of fashion that people may not know about," says Augustin. "It gave the designers a chance to do some research on Les Sapeurs and learn about another area of the world that is dedicated to innovative fashion and creativity. It was a chance to bring awareness and to inspire more creativity."

Designer Sharufa Rashied-Walker believes that this theme could've only happened at a program like the BKLYN Fashion Academy, where diversity and art that reflects people of color are championed.

"There was a sense of security and safety in that space, and it was definitely noncompetitive and loving, and you felt the support," says Rashied-Walker. "[The leadership] definitely made it very clear that they were here to support and to cultivate what we needed and what we wanted. And I think that that was something very special. I've never personally experienced anything like that before, and I think it definitely was indicative of the fact that it was a majority of color collective."

Rashied-Walker, who switched to fashion after a corporate career, found a place of creativity and freedom of expression when surrounded by students that largely looked like her. Yet the students were selected simply by the contents of their applications, not by what they themselves looked like.

"The BKLYN Fashion Academy was open to all residents of Brooklyn and the selection process was made based on applications and sample garments, so we never got to see the designers' faces until after they were accepted and came to orientation," says Augustin. "I would say the diversity in this program allowed the work to speak for itself and shows that talent has no color."

Judging by the incredible designs, it's clear that the work speaks to the talent and brilliance of the students — a welcome shift in the fashion industry.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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