While finding homes for 60 acrobats, preparing an order of 900 cupcakes & scheduling an opening (in 6” heels), Aba Kwawu let us hijack her office.
By Hilary Adleberg
Founder of the D.C.-based integrated marketing, PR and special events boutique The Aba Agency, Aba Kwawu always knew what she wanted to do but detoured into neuropsychology first. Born in Ghana, her family’s heritage was not the only thing intended to be passed down to her. “My dad is a geneticist. He wanted his kids to follow in his footsteps,” she shares. The turning point? While working at Lombardi Cancer Center in Georgetown, the fashion-lover read a Vogue piece on designer Lawrence Steele. “I felt so inspired by him. I packed my bags, and I moved to London.” She was the only person coming from the U.S. to get into the graduate marketing program at London College of Fashion.
After moving back to the U.S., Kwawu taught fashion merchandising at Howard University while building her business, which promotes esteemed brands like Rag & Bone and Cirque du Soleil. Kwawu says, “What we do with our clients goes beyond the event. We look to elevate their status; we look to create this feeling of excitement where people think, ‘I want to be associated with that brand.’”
One benefit of Kwawu’s influential work has been witnessing the fashion evolution in D.C. “We did the opening of Intermix … they brought the brands that a lot of people were craving right into our backyard.”
Each month get behind the scenes and find out what everyday life is really like for local VIPs.
Lake Braddock Secondary grad Ryan Charchian makes a name for himself in the fashion world and brings a youthful perspective to the industry through blogging.
By Lindsey Leake
Fashion enthusiast and lifestyle blogger Ryan Charchian established himself as an up-and-coming style reviewer, forged personal relationships with high-profile designers and fashion industry figureheads (Tim Gunn is a personal mentor), and became a regular at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week—all before he graduated high school in June. Though he’ll be studying at Manhattan’s renowned Fashion Institute of Technology in the fall, Charchian will continue to serve as executive editor of his fashion blog, Cashmere & Tweed, and be a style resource for hip teens and young adults.
What sparked your interest in the fashion industry?
“I first got into fashion, really, when I was 13. One day I picked up my sister’s “Teen Vogue” … I was reading everything, and I had an Andy Sachs moment from “The Devil Wears Prada”—I was like, ‘Dolce and Ga-boo-na?’—I couldn’t pronounce anything, didn’t know anything. And I was like, what’s this thing, fashion? There’s all these magazines, but do they do anything for our country? I sent an email to the then-PR lady [at “Teen Vogue”] and requested to speak to their editor-in-chief. When I look back on that email, I can’t believe I scored the interview I did [with Editor-in-Chief Amy Astley]. We chatted for like half an hour, 45 minutes, and I started to understand that, wow, fashion has such roots in the history of the world, and then I started to go further.”
How did you get started blogging?
“My first venture was called MSGFT: Military Style Guide for Teens. I was like, ‘Oh, teenagers need to become fashionable,’ but then eventually that didn’t work out. Then I evolved, had a personal blog. Again I was just like, ‘I haven’t found my thing yet.’ So eventually it all came to Cashmere & Tweed. Janice Wallace—she runs the Capitol Fashionista—she helped me develop the name and the first logo and things like that. From there, once I had a perfect name, I just felt better with my writing.”
What is the mission of your blog, Cashmere & Tweed? What do you hope your readers will get out of the blog?
“I really want it to be from our perspective, the youth. I don’t say it’s ‘for teens, by teens,’ it’s more for teenagers and young professionals. We do review things, but sometimes we just leave it open-ended [for comments]. My goal is, I want people just to make it a hub and discuss topics that are more from the teenager/young professional point of view; and I do want to start a young professionals’ corner: resources, tips, tricks, how to get into the industry, how to start blogging, how to start a website, that kind of thing, so it’s like a mix-mash of everything, but with a fashionable, chic standpoint.”
Do you see yourself keeping a young target audience as you get older?
“As I get older I’m gonna want to adapt. My fans now will be getting older, so I’m still going to want to keep in touch with them. But I had a few people there for me who took a chance on me, who graciously let me spend time with them and talk. I really want to be there [for my young readers]. I want to be that advocate. Fashion is a little bit elitist—it can get hard to get in there—but I feel like everyone deserves their fair shot.”
Do designers directly send you products to review on your blog?
“We get things sent to us; also, I can request them for review. I already have it arranged with Theia Couture and Dior to send us some products, and we’re going to do our first editorial, and not many blogs do that. I can show you pretty things—my editors sometimes do the look of the week and they style themselves—but we [also] want to bring some of this to life. We want to not be a fashion magazine, but at least have pretty pictures. Press images that get released get so circulated, and you see them everywhere. So that’s why I want to show other things … I didn’t know where this was gonna go when I started. But now it’s all come together; it makes me happy.”
Does any of the content on Cashmere & Tweed overlap with that of your other blog, Fashionisto Diaries? How do the blogs on each website differ?
“Yes, some content does overlap. Fashionisto Diaries is a Tumblr blog, which has a different layout for posts. Fashionisto Diaries is my personal blog that only I manage and this gives me [an] outlet for extra photos, outfit photos of myself and other items of interest that my readers want to know and see in addition to what they read off of Cashmere & Tweed.”
I understand you have a personal relationship with Project Runway co-host Tim Gunn. How did you two meet?
“I had the awesome opportunity to be at Tysons Galleria and be press for All Access Fashion (AAF) for their first year. I sent [the producer] an email and I was like, ‘I run this small little site and I would like to interview Tim Gunn because he’s going to be your keynote speaker.’ I guess the email got forwarded on; I got an email from the marketing director for Liz Claiborne (now they’re called Fifth and Pacific Companies). She was like, ‘Oh, Tim would love to talk with you!’ I don’t know if it’s my age that’s really helped me, or if it’s just that I’m a really personable person; I just go for it. The best advice anyone’s ever told me is the worst thing people can do to you is say ‘no’ in this industry, and it really is true. I remember I had a great [phone] conversation with Tim. It was only supposed to last 20 minutes, and it ended up being 45 minutes. We talked about everything—his personal life and he wanted to know about me … I said ‘I’d love to meet you in person; I’ll be at AAF,’ and he goes, ‘Yes, we have to meet.’ And we did, we chatted for a little bit.”
Is it true that Tim Gunn later invited you to attend the season 8 finale of Project Runway?
“Cooper-Hewitt of Smithsonian hosted their first-ever DC Teen Design Fair [in 2010] and the keynote speaker was Tim Gunn. Tim had given me his cell phone number and said, ‘Contact me if you ever need me.’ I viewed him as a mentor and as a friend and [at the fair] we talked about personal things and he wanted to know how my life was. I’m here going, ‘Oh my God, it’s Tim Gunn. I love Project Runway,’ and he wants to know about me! He was like, ‘I want to do something I’ve never done before. I want you to come up and be my guest for the Project Runway show.’ … It was so nice. I was second row for that show; I could see Heidi [Klum], and Jessica Simpson was the celebrity guest judge. From there, that’s what inspired me to keep going.”
How does it feel to be a male in the fashion industry? Have you ever faced any challenges or discrimination in a field that has been largely dominated by females?
“Well, I feel males are already in the industry. There are so many male designers, editors, executives and such. I have never been discriminated against; actually, if anything, it has helped me. There are so many female bloggers out there, but not a lot of male bloggers that give a voice for other guys or have a ‘news’ site like I do.”
You’ve already accomplished so much, in a short time. Where do you see yourself in 10-15 years?
“I want to get my bachelor’s in advertising, marketing and communications. I really do want to get my master’s in fragrance and cosmetic marketing. It’s fun, why not? I do see myself in the future hopefully working at someplace like Condé Nast in marketing or special events, because I’m a people person. People are really friendly in this industry, I’ve learned. In the fashion industry life is so like ‘the rest is still unwritten’—from that Natasha Bedingfield song—any day anything could happen. Every day is new.”
Would you say that Northern Virginia has its own fashion sense?
“We do. The D.C. metropolitan area is greatly growing. I mean there’s Nova Fashion Week and then you have AAF; those are the [top] two things in our area that I would say are phenomenal in what they do. And then we have all these little events. Every time a big brand comes here, especially to Georgetown or the District, that’s saying something. All these designers coming here and taking a chance on us means something … It does come down to being political [in an election year]; you want to have a presence. People don’t realize fashion is a politic in its own way and it’s very fun to watch the process.”
Are you involved in the production of any local fashion events?
“Yes, I [recently] hosted the West Potomac Academy Fashion Show with Free from BET’s 106 & Park. That was a lot of fun; that was my second year hosting it. I help with my own high school fashion show, all behind the scenes. I do always try to stay local because I think what’s key, and what some people forget is that you always have to remember your roots. You always have to remember your roots.”
Posted by The Editorial Desk / Friday, October 7th, 2011
What’s better than fashion that is philanthropic? When it’s for those who are a little overlooked in the fashion world — moms. The first annual “Runway Moms for a Cause” (RMFAC) event that was held on Sept. 30 at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria didn’t leave moms out of the fashion world.
Local reporters, fashion designers, business men and women, doctors, musicians and others all joined in for the event. RMFAC benefited the United for Kids Foundation (UKF) who fight against poverty and illiteracy through education and social welfare programs in Nigeria and kicked off the Nigerian Independence Day celebrations.
RMFAC began with a silent auction/cocktail hour that included artwork from orphan kids in Nigeria who were part of the UFK. The kids drew their hopes and dreams for the future. Proceeds from the auction went to these kids to help them achieve those dreams.
Maryland-based designer, Lara Akinsanya, featured her designs from L~Shandi on many prominent DC/Metro moms during the runway presentation that followed the auction. Fezelry Designs’ Christine Hanes provided the moms jewelry to compliment their runway outfits.
As you can tell, these designs were all about bold colors, a huge trend we’ve been seeing for Fall.
How heart-warming and what a great cause for moms and others to join!
– Lexie Ramage