E. Jaguar Beckford, founder and CEO of dapper clothing company Jag & Co., recently celebrated the launch of her brainchild – Rainbow Fashion Week (RFW) – in New York. RFW ran from June 20 to June 27, and celebrated LGBTQ and straight allies in beauty, fashion, entertainment, philanthropy, and other industries. Events included the “50 Top Media Moguls” kick-off event, a children’s fashion presentation (“Rainbow Tots”), and a celeb-driven fashion show, “Inside the Celebrity Closet.”
RFW was an incredible success, and a proclamation from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio recognizing the celebration means Beckford is already planning next year’s festivities. In an exclusive interview with Examiner.com, the designer and entrepreneur discussed how she got her start, her commitment to social initiatives, and what’s next for Rainbow Fashion Week.
As a former entertainment attorney, my experience has afforded me several opportunities to be up close and personal with celebrities in a plethora of ways. I’ve flown on jets with B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, Rachelle Ferrell, held long conversations in first class with Arista Records’ Clive Davis, dated a few high-profile publicists, and from many aspects learned a lot about “what to and what not to wear,” the art of styling, pitching stories, covers in fanzines etc. I took most of that experience and went to work in branding my company. First the name had to be sophisticated. Second the font had to be elegant, and next the clothing had to blend in first-class travel to Milan.
Rainbow Fashion Week was birthed in February of last year. I realized that I was being asked to do shows to present my clothing, but I was really just starting out. Several people and organizations sought out my publicist with opportunities to do New York Fashion Week shows. At first I thought it was because I was dope (LMAOL). But then I realized it was what I was designing—my androgynous models and their actual styling—that was a draw. I’d created a complete package, so that when Producers who were doing Fashion Week Shows saw the whole kit and caboodle, they wanted “my look,” and not necessarily my clothing.
Once I realized this I knew that new designers could not really compete in the two New York Fashion Weeks. I also knew that models of many types would be denied the opportunity to display their gift on the catwalk. I was inspired by a petite, yet very short model that has one leg slightly shorter than the other. To compensate, she sort of leans into her walk. To see her at a distance, she would never make the cut. They would also not cast the chubby butch girl, or the fine ass androgynous girl who preferred to wear inspired apparel for the men’s lines, so I took a chance and let the world see what I saw…They were naturals and everyone should know about them. That’s what Rainbow Fashion Week is all about: giving inspiring photographers, models, designers and producers a vehicle to jump start their careers in the world of fashion.
The [Mayor’s] Proclamation rubber-stamped that we are officially recognized by the City of New York, that Rainbow Fashion Week is now an annual Pre-Pride Fashion/Entertainment Event. This was the mark of our accreditation in one of the greatest cities in the world. That was worth all the time, money, energy, lost relationships, growth, anger, hurt and pain I experienced trying to launch this event.
In 2008, I was hired to produce the Ghana International Music Festival. I flew out one week before my team and ended up in a place called Hohoe (pronounced [ho-HOY]). It was there that the idea of social responsibility was created. We spoke with our sponsors and incorporated a strategic plan that had each [RFW] producer concerned about the environment.
When I launched the RFW Model, I hand-selected eight producers for each night of events. Everyone was tasked with selecting a social responsibility message that would be passed onto his or her market. At first they did not understand what I was trying to do. I told them that anyone can put on an event, but many don’t give something back to the very market they benefit from. So I found 10 themes and asked each producer to select one such as: Marriage Equality, Anti-Bullying, Transgender Violence, and Health etc.
Our aging LGBT population is something that’s pretty important to us, and we are working with some organizations called JAG “Just Aggressive Girls” – pairing up aging, aggressive women as mentors to young AG’s or Studs, helping them with self-esteem issues, and gender identity issues. [We are also working with] Metamorphic Transitions Coach Annette Brent and colleagues regarding creating “safe environments” for our LGBT youth within their LGBT Community.
Next year we are excited to add a few new youth events, food events, film and entertainment. However our biggest plan is to launch the Rainbow Fashion Week Dream Academy: “Where Dreams Are Realized Whether You’re 7 or 77.” RFW Dream Academy will create internships, mentorships, scholarships, and opportunities for people looking to follow their dream. Want to be a designer, we’ll help mentor you. Want to do set design, we’ll create micro opportunities to draft, sketch and build stage designs. Looking to model, we’ll teach you how in our Model Academy. Always wanted to be a photographer, we’ll create opportunities for you to intern, assist, and once you’ve been with us for a year, award you your first camera starter package.
RFW could never have happened with me alone. It took the skills of experienced industry professionals such as Native Elianor, Bonnie Sandy, Donna Chan Valentin, Toy, Chrissy Bryant, Eric “E-stylz” Santiago, NaturallDay, The Media Model, AzizaPR, 1st LadyRed, Dayschia Sledge, Diemen, aTruLee Photography, Sabrina Jeffries, Transparent Styles, and many more staff behind the scenes to make it the great success it was. Regardless of all the pitfalls that we had, these individuals are credited with assisting me in making Rainbow Fashion Week 2014 a major success.
-E. Jaguar Beckford Founder and CEO of Rainbow Fashion Week, edited by Brownie Marie