Fleuri Paramita, Indonesian businesswoman and entrepreneur, traveled to the US for the first time this past weekend for the International Muslimah Fashion Week (IMFW), from her home country 28 hours away. Looking forward to her weekend of fashion and sisterhood, as well as debuting her label, FLEURE, in the USA, she traveled from the far east to NYC, then drove 3 hours to Hershey, Pennsylvania along with IMFW organizer Shea Bates and top UK blogger/fashionista Dina Toki-o. She arrived 2 days early for the event, and spent the time meeting new sisters, and even shared a hotel suite with Bates in the days before the event was set to begin.
It is now well known that IMFW was infamously cancelled and abandoned by Shea Bates, who was formerly convicted of "Theft by Taking" in Georgia in 2008, in a scandal that rocked the entire world of modest fashion. In fact, IMFW is known to be the third such offense by Bates, who also organized an event in Atlanta, in which guests arrived to an empty warehouse, and in Philadelphia (Show me How to Cover), where logistical personnel and designers report that Shea still owes them hundreds of dollars.
In the case of IMFW, any evidence of actual event plans are absent, and the Hershey Lodge hotel personnel report that they never received any payment from Bates to book hotel for the event, only hotel rooms were reserved. Bates now owes thousands of dollars to vendors, designers, and ticket holders around the world. Many had traveled from far and wide (Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sweden, Switzerland, and beyond) for a revolutionary weekend of sisterhood, fashion, and for some, an opportunity to advance their careers, only to be left stranded in a new country, with no explanations and feeling hurt.
Our sister Fleuri reports, "I was one of the last to know as I was in my hotel room when the announcement was made. I felt so hurt and confused, it was really one of the worst times." But Fleuri quickly sought a resolution, and looked towards a possible positive outcome. "Alhamdulila that IMFW was cancelled. If we were all at IMFW, there would have been smiles and pictures, but no one would have gotten together to really talk, bond, and get to know one another. We would have been concerned with other things. But now that IMFW was cancelled, I had the opportunity to make real friendships with so many in Pennsylvania, New York, and now Washington D.C. This is what really matters."
After connecting on Instagram, Fleuri and I made plans to meetup in DC. Little did I know, Seema Sahin, designer at Modern Mary, was also in contact with Fleuri and, along with Farah, blogger at Greater Lengths, we decided to join forces and create an event to feature Fleuri and her designs. We set up an event to network with local designers, bloggers, and fashion enthusiasts for a "meet & greet" to engage our minds in discussion about the aftermath of IMFW, how we can unite and aid one another as professionals, and begin looking beyond the scandal.
Fleuri shared with us her inspiration for starting her fashion label (FLEURE). " I am not a designer, by trade. I am a chemical engineer, and my country is full of impoverished people who are skilled and hard-working. I knew that the fashion industry was one that was relatively easy financially to get involved in, and I could provide jobs for the poor people in my country." A true businesswoman, Fleure purchased one sewing machine and employed one man to begin creating the designs she sketched.
"Since my launch in September, I am happy to say that I have 17 employees and I now manufacture for other designers internationally. My goal was not become a designer, but to help my country to increase job availability. Alhamdulila, I am able to do that."
Her line is incredible. Her collection is full of decadent textures and rich colors that invite the fingers to touch and engage with the garments. While the cultural influence on the garment designs is apparent, it only adds to the intrigue of the apparel, making the collection one-of-a-kind, truly an experience to behold. Below are photos of my favorite picks from Fleuri's collection: A shimmery, one-piece gold gown with rich texture about the neck and wrists, a full rosette maxi skirt in black that made my heart skip a beat, and a lovely rouge gown with lovely tulle petticoat.
The evening began with refreshments and introductions, and I soon realized I was in the midst of a community of beautiful women from all walks of life, who united in a small room in DC for nothing else but to support one another. In attendance were Salma Zainab, the founder of the handbag and accessory boutique Tarb, sports sideline broadcaster and host of USA Islamic Fashion Week, Imani Bashir, fashion blogger at Modern Majesty, Fahima Abdul, founder of MDIFC, Romana Muhammad, editor of Azizah Magazine, Aziza Kahera, my colleague for Areej Fashions and DC Fashion Week's Haute and Modesty show, Nisa Muhammad, professional photographer, Aminah Elbanayosy, and many more!
With so many intelligent minds, creativity, and unique perspectives, we embarked on discussions about what we can learn from IMFW, what the impact has been on modest fashion businesses as well as consumers, and how we can better ourselves through education and mentoring. But first....we had to take a group selfie ("groupie!") on Fleuri's amazing Selfie Stick!
Special guest Ian Williams, executive producer of DC Fashion Week, which hosts the Haute and Modesty Show, dropped by to give his professional perspective on the situation of IMFW and provide his sincere advice.
"Always do your research. I have done fashion shows internationally and I am the owner of three fashion brands, and I travel to promote my label. I would suggest not getting involved in international events that are being done for the first time. Always wait for the next year, and ask the important questions: As the organizer, how are you measuring success of your event? Can you provide proof of your ticket sales? You have to know what you're getting into. You can always use Google to research the organizers."
In a room full of women, he also knew how to appeal to our feminine senses. Remember when you first found out about IMFW? Did you see an unprofessional website, inflated ticket prices, or 'hear something' about the organizer, Shea Bates? "Trust your gut," says Williams. "Women have this amazing sense of intuition, and you're usually right. If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. "
The take home lesson of the night I believe was simple: We are all bonded not by fashion, but by faith. We unite upon the single principle that we are Muslim sisters before anything. We should uplift one another, have compassion for each other, not engage in competition, insult or abandon each other, we should accept one another's advice, and be careful to only influence each other towards good, and support and protect our fellow Muslim.
I am so honored to have been in the presence of such beautiful minds and gorgeous smiles for an evening I will not soon forget. Thank you Fleuri for inspiring our burst of sisterhood and for spending the evening with us. You gave us the opportunity to become a part of your story. May Allah bless and protect us all and forgive our shortcomings. Ameen.