On Wednesday, October 9th, United Colors of Fashion (UCOF) held their annual gala at the historic Lexington Avenue Armory. Fashion industry leader and renowned creator of New York Fashion Week, Fern Mallis, was the Honorary Chair for the event. Legendary supermodel Pat Cleveland, who has made invaluable contributions to the worlds of fashion and the arts, was honored with the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award. UCOF put on an exceptional International runway show featuring top models and seven acclaimed designers from around the world, including Marc Bouwer (USA), David Tlale (South Africa), Naked Ape by Shaldon Kopman (South Africa), Ron & Ron(Haiti/USA), Kosibah by Yemi Osunkoya (United Kingdom), Sukeina (USA) and Carmen Marc Valvo (USA). The show was made possible in part by Industry veterans including: Show Producer, Jan Malan; Casting Director, Sandi Bass; and Stylist Christine de Lassus as well as a host of other UCOF supporters and volunteers. Supermodel Devyn, the first official winner of “The Face” reality TV modeling competition, represented the gala as the International Fashion Ambassador. This year’s gala theme – “FAITH. HOPE. FASHION.” was a true celebration of what UCOF believes in: Remaining faithful that the organization’s mission will launch the careers of its interns, while providing hope for their futures and for the children in South Africa through the transformational medium of fashion. To date, UCOF has impacted the lives of over 200 under-resourced youth in New York and New Jersey.
The highlight of the evening was when gala attendees witnessed first-hand the progress UCOF has made through the first collection of Sade Solomon, UCOF's Fashion Education program’s top intern. It was an especially proud occasion for UCOF President Ciano Clerjuste and the entire UCOF team when Sade received the "Achiever of the Year" award for her outstanding performance for the last three years. “I have learned so much in the past three years of working with UCOF,” explains Sade. “I have also grown as a person and as a designer. UCOF to me is people helping people: helping children in South Africa with AIDS and HIV, and also helping emerging designers like myself.”
When explaining what inspired him to create United Colors of Fashion, founder Ciano Clerjuste said: “At age 12, I knew fashion design was what I wanted to go to school for and get a degree in. I started paying attention to what local seamstresses and tailors were doing and learned the basics from them. Unfortunately, at age 17, my mother was hit by a car, which left her paralyzed. Shortly after, my father died, and I had no choice but to go to school to major in Business and Finance in order to make a stable living. At under-graduate school, I often wished I had someone who showed me how to make it in fashion. It never happened." He went on to say,“normally, under-resourced youth do not have access to the opportunities to dress supermodels, learn about trends firsthand and attend shows like Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week." That is the opportunity that he wants to bring to the youth. “Each year, we select two top students who are in high school, and we assist them with getting into a fashion school,” he said. With the entire staff at UCOF working for free, including Mr. Clerjuste, 100% of public donations go directly to the Fashion Education and South Africa Charity Care programs.
Ciano further explained, “My main goal when I started UCOF was to provide resources to emerging designers. The fashion industry is largely about who you know . If you want to launch a collection after graduating fashion school, you usually need someone to guide you and or give you the funding. It’s not just about designing; you need to know the industry inside and out. This is where UCOF can help: the business and technical sides of fashion. We are able to teach and mentor youth through the whole process to make wise decisions, so by the time they do launch their first collection, they are ready for the industry.”
With the funds raised at the annual gala, UCOF is able to continue to organize internships and educational opportunities for under-resourced youth in New York and help expose them to the many exciting career opportunities in the fashion industry. In addition to fundraising, the gala provides scholars of UCOF’s Fashion Education program with the opportunity to practice the skills they have learned and work with top international fashion designers, stylists, hair and makeup artists, fashion show producers and publicists.
Today, there are many young people who may give up on their dreams of pursuing a degree in the arts and fashion. UCOF works passionately to turn dreams into realities. “We believe in investing in our youth,” explains Ciano, “I hope during your journey on earth, you create a significant and positive legacy. That’s my goal, and l am optimistic you will join us as we invest in our youth, as they are the future leaders of our communities.”
About United Colors of Fashion (UCOF): UCOF, which Vigore! Magazine calls an “epidemic of hope,” is a New York City-based non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization with a mission to educate and mentor under-resourced youth about the fashion industry through hands-on training. In addition, the organization provides financial assistance, food, and clothing to youth living with HIV/AIDS, sickle cell anemia and paralysis in South Africa.
The organization was founded in 2010 and is supported by an international team of philanthropically-minded skilled professionals with backgrounds in fashion, the arts, and business. Every member of the team donates his or her time and expertise. UCOF’s focus is on improving the health and education of youth as the foundation for happy and fulfilling lives. UCOF raises funds for these causes from its annual gala and international fashion benefit, corporate sponsors, grants and generous contributions. Learn more about UCOF online at www.unitedcolorsoffashion.org and friend on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UCOFINC