“The most important part of a tree is the root” says Tandra Birkett, who is not only the executive producer of Harlem Fashion Week, but she is also a historian. And as a historian she recognizes the importance of Harlem’s cultural roots… Africa. As a result HFW donates a portion of its proceeds to the Senegalese American Bilingual School and their initiative The Big Goree Project. The goal of the Big Goree Project is the restoration of the The House of Slaves, the originial slave fortress into a Slave Museum on Goree Island in Senegal, West Africa. “We believe that it is integral to maintain a productive connection with Africa and the arts, more specifically fashion, is an avenue that we used to sustain that connection.” As a result, one month after the historic grand opening of Harlem Fashion Week in the fall of 2016, Tandra and Yvonne were on a plane to Senegal, West Africa. “We did not want to just give money but we wanted to personally connect with our roots ”.
The creative director of Harlem Fashion Week, Yvonne Jewnell is also the lead designer and co-owner of the fashion design company Yvonne Jewnell New York LLC. As a designer, the culture, texture and history of Africa are the inspiration for her design aesthetic. “Fashion is art and my art must reflect my heritage. I have always been drawn to creativity and story of African culture and I want my designs to reflect the interconnectivity of an African in America. Actually going to Senegal was not only a personal transformation but it was also a design inspiration that will be reflected in my new collection, showing on February 12, 2017 on the main stage of Harlem Fashion Week.” Yvonne Jewnell.
While in Senegal Tandra and Yvonne visited the Senegalese American Bilingual School, it was a refreshing experience to visit with Stephanie Kane and the students of SABS. Tandra shared, “As an educator I was so excited to meet the children, I had to jump in on their lecture about Christopher Columbus, it was a great experience!”
Tandra and Yvonne also had the pleasure of visiting the mayor’s office at Goree Island and meeting with the Chief of Staff Mamadou Adama Diop, we discussed ways of building a stronger relationship with Goree Island and the African Diaspora through the arts and education.
Tandra shared, “The last part of our pilgrimage to Senegal was bittersweet, it was time to visit the slave fortress on Goree Island and stand at the “Door of No Return” the place where the ancestors stood before they were stolen from Senegal forever”. Tandra said, “As I approached the The House of Slaves, Le Maison des Esclaves I literally broke down in tears, I could feel the pain of my ancestors.”
Tandra and Yvonne came back to the states with a new sense of vision and purpose. Harlem Fashion Week will once again be donating funds to the Big Goree Project, your ticket purchase to the February 12th Runway Show at The Museum of the City of NewYork will help to restore La Maison Des Enclaves into an Amazing museum and the Door of No Return Will become “The Door of Return” for the African Diaspora.
Harlem Fashion Week hope that you will join us on February 12th, knowing that your ticket purchase helps to not only build a female-minority owned women’s business in the United States but HFW is also helping to restore relationships with the African continent and financially support the children and institutions in Senegal, West Africa.
“Special Thanks to:
Eugene Adams, the Director of Collaborative Education at Bronx Community College, the American liaison of the Big Goree Project,
Stephanie Kane, Founder and Director of the Senegalese American Bilingual School
Mr. Sandaro Fame, our guide and educator at SABS
Mamadou Adama Diop the Chief of Staff for the mayors office at Goree Island”
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