As many of you might know, I am passionate about supporting the fight against human trafficking. I recently became certified as a speaker and advocate on human trafficking at Journey Out and was inspired by a presentation by Kyle Denman about Freedom and Fashion.
I loved the novel approach that this organization takes in tackling this massive issue. Freedom and Fashion helps victims of trafficking and homelessness learn a trade in the beauty and fashion industries in order to empower them and teach them skills of self-love, leadership, character, and so much more.
Denman is one of the fashion instructors at Freedom and Fashion, with an integral role in the project. He has a fascinating backstory himself, he's a 'political scientist with a passion for fashion' who has won countless awards and accolades. We're so excited to interview him for Nylon Pink!
Kaila: Thanks so much for speaking with us! For our readers who are just being introduced to you, please tell us how you got started in the industry?
Kyle: I was originally studying political science and conducting research on the political participation of the millennial generation and their relationship to the advent of social media. I've also advocated for the rights of people with disabilities at the Conference of National Affairs - writing and presenting to thousands of people.
When I was in college I was conducting research with the Scripps Gerontology Center. There, I was testing the effectiveness of Art on people who had dementia and Alzheimer's. During this research, I realized that art was just so powerful. It is completely transformative and it has such a profound effect on a person's life, even at later stages in a people's lives.
This was the catalyst for the next phase of my life. I thought to myself, what is one form of art that exists in everyone's life on a daily basis? The answer is fashion. So with the support of my family and with only a suitcase and a backpack I flew out to Los Angeles, across the country, and that's when I decided I needed to enter this industry.
I have been very fortunate to have the support of my family and I was able to enroll at FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in downtown LA. I actually completed that degree in just one year, and I completed my undergraduate degree in just three years as well. I ended up graduating at the top of my class as the valedictorian and the top fashion design student.
I was later admitted into the advanced studies fashion design program, where they only accept 10 students per year, which was really exciting. Then, I was named the young fashion designer of the year in 2018. I have shown in New York LA and all over. I was also the grand prize winner of the Project Runway - Remake It Work contest in 2016 as well so that was really-really amazing. I designed some of the outfits and was the wardrobe assistant for Beyoncé, for her 2018 Coachella performance.
Interviewer: Those are some heavy duty credits! BTW, what ethnicity are you?
Kyle: I'm Korean I'm adopted.
Kaila: I was going to say, because I have Asian parents and they were not supportive of a creative lifestyle at all. So that makes more sense that your parents were supportive because you had adopted parents! How did you get involved with Freedom and Fashion?
Kyle: So again it was pretty lucky. I was very fortunate that Laverne Delgado-Small, who is the executive director of the organization, was coming in to speak at FIDM and I fell in love with what she had to say. I knew that I needed to be a part of this organization in some capacity!
To me I felt as if it was the ultimate synergy. I had worked with a lot with non-profits when I was working in political science, so to be able to combine fashion and political science would be the perfect blend. So I reached out to La Verne to offer my help in any way.
It happened that their annual fashion show coming up, so I volunteered to help the students design some of the outfits with the students and that's how I got started! After that first event, I was asked by Laverne to come in and lead some of the classes, which I was thrilled to do.
That was several years ago and Freedom and Fashion works out of various sites including the New Village Girls Academy which is an all-female Public Charter School that is designated for girls who are survivors of human and sex trafficking and domestic violence and other injustice. We also visit several group homes, foster homes, shelters, and other similar locations. I absolutely love being at the Academy with these students.
Kaila: You've mentioned that you've had some truly transformative experiences with the girls. Could you share one of them with our readers?
Kyle: Definitely, I had one student - when I first met her would not speak to me and she would put her head down on the table during the entire class. She would not let anyone touch her, give her a hug, or even give her a high-five, and it was pretty evident that she did not want to be in school. But throughout the program I saw a huge change in her, by the end of the semester she head become and outgoing and charismatic participant in the class.
Another example is a student who is still with the program and she's one of the students that's been with us the longest. This girl has been through so much but she is such a warrior, she's so strong. She told me, 'thank you Kyle I never thought I would make it to see those days in my life, I didn't think even be alive at this point.'
She had never had the aspiration to go off into higher education or college or anything, but then a couple of weeks ago before the semester had ended, she asked me to sit down with her and look at different colleges. She calls me 'the older brother which she never had', which is really special to me.
Kaila: That's really inspirational! So what's next for you and the organization?
Kyle: We are gearing up to start our fall program, and I am really excited! When we first started this campus site I only had nine girls in the program and this past year I had 23. So it's a huge increase and I expect to have even more students this upcoming semester. So I am really looking forward to that, we also have a really big event coming up in October that I'm really excited about.
I am just so passionate about working with the students and really getting them to open up more and be vulnerable to love - teaching them how to love themselves is one of my main goals, and I want to continue to share their stories with the world.
Kaila: I love that! How can people be more involved?
Kyle: The way that people can help the most is through donations. We are constantly looking for more sponsors, whether that be private donations or corporate sponsorship or anything we always need money. These donations are used for our student's supplies or to fund their field trips, we need money for all sorts of different things to help them out.
Also, a lot of these girls don't always have clothing or shoes, so sometimes it will be up to us to go out and buy them. We do so much for these students and that's where people can help a lot is through donations - in particular financial donations, we always need more money for the organization to remain sustainable and to keep growing.
Some donors also donate fashion supplies and other tools. We also love to provide new experiences and connections to the students, such as tickets to fun events or field trips. Also, we are always looking for volunteers.
Kaila: Great! Is there anything else you want to share?
Kyle: I just wanted to end with the fact that Freedom and Fashion is an organization that utilizes the arts of Fashion Beauty and Styling to educate and Empower young women.
We are not only teaching them the technical skills of draping, sewing, drafting, making their own outfits, and applying makeup. Fashion, beauty, and styling are simply the vehicles through which we are able to teach these girls how to be vulnerable how to be empathetic, how to love themselves and take care of themselves.
We are teaching them how to be grateful for what they have and for the people in their lives. The goal is to teach them so much more than just technical skills. We want to show the world that these girls have a story to tell and that they are valuable.