Miami native Merline Labisierre made her mark on the hit fashion competition show Project Runway Season 14 and Project Runway All Stars Season 6. The SCAD alum lives in South Florida where she works from her studio in Liberty and also mentors youth from the surrounding community.
Labisierre talked to NBC 6 about what inspires her and what she thinks the fashion industry is missing.
When were you first introduced to textile art and design?
Labisierre: “I remember there was this one teacher [who] was crocheting and I asked her ‘can you teach me that?’ She said ‘yeah, just ask your mom.’ So, I asked my Haitian mom and she [the teacher] taught me how to crochet. From there, I went to high school and I was selling my crochet bags. For me that was a symbol of one person taking their time off to teach me an art form and how that sparked so many different opportunities – so many different of layers of what art is. Now, I’m on a mission to give back.”
How are you giving back to the community?
Labisierre: “Through my company, I started a non-profit where I get to mentor the next generation. The non-profit called Provoke Style Fashion Camp. I get to basically teach them [children] everything I’ve learned, from sewing to drawing, even showing their work down the runway. I’m very passionate about evoking the eyes of the next generation.”
“One thing I’ve learned in watching my students is a lot of people come into the inner city and they make promises. They don’t keep those promises. So, for a long time I kept saying ‘we’re gonna have a fashion show. We’re gonna have models’. And, they were like ‘yeah, whatever’. But, when the show happened and the chairs happened and their parents showed up they saw their clothes come down the runway – it was such an emotional experience because they were like ‘wow, she was for real.’ So, I think just showing up made a big difference. And, also keeping my word – just really impacted them.”
How important is mentoring inner city youth to you?
Labisierre: “I feel like I’m leaving a legacy. I’m not just an artist – just creating dresses – which is awesome. But, I think when you’re impacting the next generation, you’ll leave a legacy that you don’t even see for a generation. When my students walk out the door, they have their drawings as a portfolio, they have their work and also their logo to take them – to let them dream. I think that’s what I love about me as an artist cause of the possibility. Just giving them that gift of dreaming is the reason why I do it is because I wish someone who’ve done it for me.”
What’s your favorite part about being a fashion designer?
Labisierre: “The creative process. I think I have that foundation because of architecture. I went to Miami-Dade [College] and got my Associate’s in Architecture. I love the idea of merging fashion and architecture. The creative process helps me dream. One thing that I love about my brand – my brand is just not creating garments, but my brand is giving back to the next generation. I want to people to see my brand and say ‘wow that brand made an impact in the community’ – ‘that brand moved a culture’ – ‘that brand moved the next generation to be great artists.’”
What influences your designs and your mission to give back?
Labisierre: “I feel like my [Haitian] culture has a lot to do with it. My mom came to the U.S. from Haiti on a boat. My mom is always like ‘You’re crazy. How you just do this and start your business with no money?’ I’m like ‘No Mommy. You’re crazy. Who gets on a boat from Haiti to America and risks their lives?’ That’s insane to me. I think having that foundation…. gives me that drive every morning to wake up at 4:30, hit the gym, go to my studio and impact people.”
Describe your brand.
Labisierre: "I love merging architecture and fashion and bringing couture. I want my brand to redefine what beauty is in fashion. I design for the modern woman. That modern woman that dreams. I want to provide that modern woman – even in my ready-to-wear line, every-day garments – that can satisfy her every day work as she’s a businesswoman, an entrepreneur and an artist.”
How has Project Runway changed your life?
Labisierre: "Being on Project Runway – giving me a platform to go back and to teach these kids. To go back to get those resources. It helps me to accomplish those big dreams."
What do you think is missing in the fashion industry today?
Labisierre: “I feel like what’s missing in fashion is impacting and giving a voice to the next generation. As designers, we can consume. We can create beautiful garments. I think sometimes in the industry we don’t take time to take someone along with us and say ‘hey, I can help you with this. I’ve done this. I’ve been there.’ Fashion by itself rocked generations, but what I think what’s missing is going back to our communities. I think when we do that we build another generation of designers that is impacting their communities and the world also.”