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Fashion forward

Runway fundraiser celebrates women across the globe

Crystal Ifekoya (left) and Lee Ann Crosby, International Women’s Fashion Show organizers, sport runway ready outfits in downtown Tulsa

Greg Bollinger

Achieving despite the odds is one of our most powerful cultural narratives. When someone succeeds in spite of difficult life circumstances, we recognize the added dimension of their achievement along with the courage and struggle required to make it a reality.

The women behind the International Women’s Fashion Show—Lee Ann Crosby, Crystal Ifekoya, Latoya Rose, Leatrice Parker, and Ellie Hudson—are living examples of this. Despite having endured a variety of horrors and hardships, from sexual assault to homelessness, they are all thriving and connected through their work as mothers, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and activists.

It’s for those very reasons that Crosby, Ifekoya, and Rose united to organize the event as a celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The upcoming event is a fundraiser benefitting local nonprofits Women Helping Other Women (WHOW), Just a Push Foundation, and Tulsa Women’s March.   

As one of three organizers, Crosby explained her motivation behind the fashion show and her work with Just a Push Foundation. “I wanted women to know that they can get through any situation. It was the women at the Madonna House who helped me when I needed it. I’ve wanted to show that little push can empower women to go to the next level, whether it’s going back to school, advancing in their career, or starting their own business.”

The event is billed as an art party, fundraiser, and fashion show—but it is also a political statement about the empowerment of women across the globe. It’s an opportunity to reach across cultural barriers, and it’s an outlet for both burgeoning and experienced fashion designers and hair and makeup artists to celebrate and showcase their craft.

“This event and cause is important to us because we need to mobilize as women. Regardless of background, we need to come together more. We each have our own struggles within our own culture,” Rose said. “Our goal is to facilitate understanding and build a bridge between our diverse cultures.”

On the runway, you can expect to see models selected from Clary Sage and Paul Mitchell schools dressed in traditional culture pieces, as well as custom and adapted designs representing African, Bovarian, Panamanian, Mexican, Indigenous American, Hawaiian, Venezuelan, Vietnamese, German, Scottish, and U.S.-inspired styles accompanied by equally eclectic music and dancing. It will be colorful in every way.

“It isn’t appropriation; it’s inspiration,” said Hudson, show participant and burgeoning young designer. Attendees can expect to see a traditional Scottish tartan designed by Hudson that is cut in a contemporary and edgy silhouette that would look right at home in the repertoire of rockstar designer Gwen Stefani.

At 65, Parker is thrilled to have the opportunity to stay on the cutting edge and finds herself inspired by her younger colleagues. “This is not a job to me. None of this feels like work,” she said. “When I first came up, opportunities weren’t available in my era of the 60s and 70s. Participating in WHOW and the fashion show has created wonderful opportunities for an ‘ol gal like me.

“I’m having fun. I’m so happy that millennials have embraced me and my ideas and my designs. I’m seeing and getting involved in all these different arts opportunities all over the city that didn’t exist before. Tulsa, for me, has arrived.” That spirit shows up in Parker’s multi-colored, 70s-inspired crocheted designs.

Glamour aside, the horrors that these women have collectively either witnessed or experienced and survived to get to this point are enough to cripple anyone’s ambition. They’ve each risen up and out of it all, and found a way to build healing endeavors and nonprofits that reach far beyond themselves. They don’t carry shame in their fashionable handbags.

Glamour builds hope, and these women are proud to be fighters. They’ve taken back their power, and they’re happy to share it by teaching and empowering other women. When they strut on that catwalk, it will be with heads held high, knowing they’re aligned with their mission, succinctly summarized by Crosby: “To create unity in the community.”

International Women’s Fashion Show
March 8, $10
Bernsen Community Center
700 S. Boston Ave.

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