Five talented designers. One award. The prize? An all-expenses paid trip by Fashion Group International of Dallas, to study abroad in the land of milk and honey for all things fashion – Paris. For Brooklyn-born designer Venny Etienne of LeVenity, competing in the running for such a prestigious award was the prize in and of itself. After only 5 years of design, and obstacle after obstacle, Etienne’s accomplishments achieved in such a short span, fuels his thirst for more. While success’s counterparts of fear, failure, and rejection continue to tempt the humble designer — positive thinking, incredible support systems, and a zest for fashion create the perfect recipe for what will propel Etienne forward into an immeasurable drive for success.
FGI’s Paris American Academy Summer Workshop award is one of esteem – immersing the winner into an educational whirlwind of couture techniques, advance pattern making, and draping for a month in Paris. While skills training marks the forefront of this fête, exploration of the best in Parisian art and museums, along with attendance at Haute Couture fashion shows are also weaved into the package.
Taking a deep breath in and admittedly preparing for defeat, Venny Etienne climbed the stage on April 17 awaiting the announcement of another Dallas designer to claim the win. As his name echoed in the silence as FGI’s Paris American Academy scholarship recipient, Etienne was modestly grateful, emotional, and shocked. Catching up with the talented designer, we dive straight into an exclusive one-on-one discussing his current win, the trials and tribulations characterizing his journey, and the future for one of Dallas’ brightest design stars. Read on for some inspirational scoop.
DFW Style Daily: What inspired you to go into fashion?
Venny Etienne: “Back at my parents’ church where I grew [up] in Brooklyn, I volunteered with an organization called LAKAY Entertainment, and they would have local fashion shows where I would be in charge of styling. One day I just went to the director of the organization and asked him if I can design one year. He gave me the go, and I visited local thrift stores and deconstructed men’s blazers, and threw them on the runway. It was at that moment when I realized I really enjoyed styling and making clothes. After researching, I realized the endless opportunities in the fashion industry and that it can be a lucrative business venture to enter into.”
Have you encountered any struggles, disappointments, or setbacks since entering into the industry?
“There were struggles, especially in the beginning. Working a full-time job, going to school full-time, and building a clothing brand at the same time was/is not easy. I try to keep my head level while juggling all three and it definitely puts a strain on my personal life.”
What keeps you going or motivated to overcome these setbacks and obstacles?
“I align myself with the right support of people to be there for me and to help me stay in line and stay focused. I hardly have free time to myself so I put all [of] my joy and excitement into my work. Keeping a positive attitude has also helped me along the way. I am a firm believer of positive vibes and what you set forth to the universe comes back to you. I remember when I was younger, I was always drawn to people who were successful in their passion. It sparked me to succeed as well. I want to do the same for those that feel as though they don’t have what it takes. I want them to look at my life and say ‘Wow! If Venny can do it, so can I.’”
Let’s talk about your recent FGI award. What was your reaction, as well as the reaction from family and friends?
“I was truly shocked and grateful for the win. The first award I won that day was the Best of Sewing award, which was another Grand Prize for the day. So when I went up to the stage along with the other four candidates for the Paris award, I just knew that the Paris American Academy Grand Prize was going to go to someone else. When I won, I just started to cry because I just couldn’t believe it. All of my friends and family were not as shocked as I was though. They were extremely happy for me and felt that my hard work is finally paying off slowly but surely. Both my sisters Carmy and Tasha have been my biggest supporters through my growth, along with many others. I would not be able to do half of what I am doing had it not have been for my partner in crime Zav and my voice, my stylist, my backbone and my assistant, Ashtin.”
Will this be your first time overseas?
“I am blessed to say that this will not be my first time overseas. I have been fortunate enough to have visited many places abroad such as: Milan, Florence, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, London, Sydney, Puerto Rico, Punta Cana, Montego Bay, Naples, St. Martin and Anguilla — all of these places have influenced my aesthetic and creativity.”
What do you hope that this newest Parisian adventure will spark for your brand?
“I hope that this experience in Paris and at the Paris American Academy will take my brand to a more refined level. I am hoping that what I learn, see, taste, hear, and touch in Paris becomes a part of our brand DNA.”
Outside of your worldly travels, you go back and forth to New York quite a bit. What keeps you in Dallas?
“New York is home for me [and] that is where I go to gain most of my inspiration — from the streets and the people there. But there is something about Dallas to where it just clicks for me. I’m able to clear my mind and focus on my work. In turn, I give back to a city that has so much opportunity and promise. I cannot forget to also mention that the level of fashion in this city is amazing as well.”
What does the future hold for LeVenity?
“We have a lot in store for the future. First, I have to finish school which will be September of this year. Secondly, I anticipate showcasing my Spring/Summer 2016 collection here in Dallas, and in Los Angeles during LA Style Fashion week in October. Currently, I design custom-made garments made-to-order. So ultimately we would like to partner with a local manufacturer (whether here in Dallas or in New York) and create a small production run of the collection. We would also like to seek a strong PR firm that will take the collection to buyers and to other industry leaders in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami and Chicago.”
FGI images credit Thomas Garza Photography. Third and fifth images credit Purple Vizion. Second image credit Eddy Tabertus.