It’s 6:15 on a Saturday evening in December that only Angelinos would, or for that matter, could call “chilly”. And I suppose that if the temperature ever did dip below 50, one could reason that people may actually understand what cold is. It’s rough out here, and for many who have found 2016 to be less an outlier of doom and gloom, and more of the same; the shadow of homelessness and other life obstacles has made simply staying alive in an atmosphere wrought with difficulty, that in many ways mirror the foreign lands in which some American citizens have been given medals for surviving, an achievement all it’s own.
High above the street, inside a swanky loft that sits atop the intersection of 9th and Spring in Downtown Los Angeles’s historic Fashion District, a party is taking place. The vibe is cool, and without pretense. All of the music appears to have been uniquely engineered for the moment it finds itself. The bar is fully stocked, and all of the beautiful people kiss each other on the cheeks. But no, this is not your typical “let’s put on our nice tuxes and throw money at the thing we write-off at the end of the year” type of shindig. The party is for Freedom and Fashion’s Los Angeles 2016 REIGN, which in partnership with Covenant House L.A., has helped young men and women of various backgrounds – designers who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves the victims of various forms of abuse, trafficking, and other injustices by giving them the necessary tools to bring their fashion dreams to life. The youth best served by this partnership are 18-24 years old, are young men, women and transgender youth with talent and an eye towards the runway who would in most cases, not be given a chance to design a designer coat, hat or blouse.
This is where Laverne steps in.
Laverne Delgado-Smalls is a passionate activist, philanthropist, speaker, artist, and Executive Director of Freedom and Fashion. She is an alumnus of The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and has spent many years working in the fashion industry, with her experience encompassing everything from mass production to couture for the runway. Beyond fashion, Laverne has a love for at-risk young women and has built her life around serving them with her talents and resources. She’s lead many teams and has served as a women’s pastor at Mosaic, a community of faith that has been named one of the most influential churches in America. Throughout the years, Laverne has activated generosity in thousands of people, which has lead to providing resources to people in need around the world. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband Smallz and cat Graceland.
DTLA WEEKLY: Tell us about how you got this mentorship program started.
Laverne Delgado-Small: Reign started out as simply wanting to give back in some way to the youth in this city in the only way I really know how. Somehow giving back and incorporating fashion. I’ve always had a lot of passion, a lot of drive and this belief that how you dress and how you feel are very much tied together. So, when it came to forming this mentorship program, I knew that I wanted it to be fashion-centered, with the end goal in mind that young people could change their outlooks with an idea. A design, or even just a dream.
DTLA WEEKLY: You mentioned the bible in our earlier conversation. You say there are connections between that book and fashion.
Laverne Delgado-Small: My faith has definitely formed my life in such a positive way. I think about the leaf. You know, Adam and Eve. This is really the first oppression – having to hide yourself. We (humans) sort of took off from there. And you see people begin to drape themselves in gold and then animal skins. The furcoat became a symbol for freedom.
DTLA WEEKLY: In your mind, is there a difference between fashion and identity?
Laverne Delgado-Small: Fashion is identity. You see it in people all the time. They wear active wear, and then they start working out, and then they’ve lost weight. Dress for a particular job and soon you might be offered it and suddenly your mindset is more clear. Your path sort of opens up once you’ve defined your identity as far as what you wear, and how you present yourself to the world around you. You’re telling people that this is how you are to be seen.
DTLA WEEKLY: What kind of challenges did you face during the mentorship?
Laverne Delgado-Small: These kids have some of the craziest schedules you will ever see! My god, it’s eight hours at Starbucks, school for five hours and then working on designs for another amount of time and they are really the best damn hustlers. This all works because they are so driven towards a goal. So, in a way, the schedules has been tough on them, but on my side, I would have to say the toughest part is wanting to be there for every life event for every single kid, and that’s just not humanly possible. But I’m going to show up at some of their weddings and graduations, invite or not. We are friends for life now. I’m the aunt who won’t leave you alone, but you love her.
DTLA WEEKLY: The clothes are really incredible. Now that the show is over, are you a little relieved?
Laverne Delgado-Small: Thank you. We strive really, really hard to make sure the students always have the best materials available to make their ideas come to life. As far as the fashion show aspect; Yes! But on the same hand, I can’t wait for the next show. Covenant house has been amazing to work with. They’ve helped us bring inspiration to these young people.
DTLA WEEKLY: Lots of people helped put this together tonight. How do you organize something like this while remaining sane?
Laverne Delgado-Small: Everyone here – over one hundred people, have done so out of the kindness of their heart. No one is here to make money. Even the bartenders are here because they want to be. A lot of times people say “Oh, i can’t help that cause yet until I do this thing or fix this thing in my own life”, but the truth is pain can be an amazing unifier of people. You don’t have to be “healed” to help. You can give what you can, and you may find your own grief or sorrow or whatever it is in you that was holding you back is gone.
Chris Go is the leading event planner at CTRL Collective and has proved instrumental in the planning of tonight’s big event.
DTLA WEEKLY: What’s your favorite part of this process, Chris?
Chris Go: I love hearing about the heart behind the event. When people tell me about how this big event that I’m planning for them all started with a very simple idea. In this case, the idea is helping homeless and struggling youth fulfill their dream of not only designing clothing, but seeing their designs worn by models on stage at a fashion show in the heart of Downtown L.A. I can’t describe how that feels.
DTLA WEEKLY: What is your mindset when you go into the planning of something like this?
Chris Go: I look at it from the perspective of the participants, and in this particular case, the students themselves. This is their Super Bowl at the end of the year, and proof that a lot of the sleepless nights Laverne spoke of have paid off.
DTLA WEEKLY: Tell me what your favorite part of working with CTRL Collective is.
Chris Go: This entire campus, everyone at both locations really loves to give and have put themselves in position to help with so many different causes and organizations here in Los Angeles. I went to school not far away in Arcadia and now as an adult call this place home, so there is definitely a lot of pride in how we treat our community and surrounding cities.
DTLA WEEKLY: Laverne, how do people get involved if they want to help out?
Laverne Delgado-Small: Any and all information is at freedomandfashion.com/donate
Maybe you have a lot of money you want to give, maybe it’s time, and maybe it’s vodka for an event! Whatever it is, don’t be shy.
Before I called it a night, I was able to pull aside one of the stars of the evening, designer and student, Zayhim. Zayhim is a twenty five-year-old native New Yorker, Brooklynite to be exact and says he feels a little homesick.
DTLA WEEKLY: How long have you been here in Los Angeles?
Zayhim: I’ve only lived in California for twelve months so far. This may sound strange, but I’m still adjusting to busy life here in La La Land.
DTLA WEEKLY: What’s helped make the transition easier?
Zayhim: Oh my God, the weather, of course. I love it. I was born in the snow, and I’m not a fan.
DTLA WEEKLY: Your designs got some of the biggest reactions from the crowd. Tell me what influences you.
Zayhim: I’m very garish when I design something. It has to stand out or why bother at all? I’m very much into Avant Garde things in all aspects of life really. Think about Alexander McQueen or Anna Wintur.
DTLA WEEKLY: So there is a lot of your own personality that goes into what we see on the catwalk.
Zayhim: I don’t know any other way to do it. I’m a rebel. I’ve always gone against the grain. I have to be who I am.