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T&T’s latest Project Runway star off to Italy

Published: 
Monday, November 20, 2017
Ayana Ife

T&T’s latest designer to make an impact on American reality fashion design series Project Runway, Ayana Ife, is now off to Italy to take up her place at the Milano Fashion Institute, where she will start her master’s degree.

Ife was accepted into the programme prior to Project Runway, but chose to suspend attending in order to focus on the opportunity to participate in the 16th season of the reality TV programme, where she was the runner up to Kentaro Kameyama.

Her Caribbean roots, creativity and stance to not compromise modesty in dress dues to her Muslim faith, were some main ingredients that helped Ife, 28, stand out among the final four last Thursday at New York Fashion Week, where the top four displayed their final collections.

The designer’s moment of glory once again put her parents’ homeland T&T on the world map. Her success was reminiscent of Anya Ayoung-Chee’s win back on the show’s ninth season, when as a T&T forerunner Ayoung-Chee made it clear she was Caribbean through her designs.

Ife also made history as the first Islamic woman to make it to the finals on the popular reality television brand. Formerly, one other Islamic woman had entered but did not make it to the finals. It was her Islamic identity that enthralled the media during her time on the show, making her one of the more popular entrants.

Ife credited her stylish dad and seamstress mom for the invoked talent. She described her father Hakim Muhammed as quite the dapper man who always dressed to impress and mother Ayana as the ‘go to’ seamstress for tailor-made suits and curtains.

From taking the scraps of her mother’s work to make doll wear, Ife graduated in years to making clothes for her school friends as a teen. She took a short sabbatical from designing to pursue nursing, a desire of her parents, but her passion kept calling. She eventually enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in apparel design.

Ife is the niece of the University of T&T’s Programme Leader and Senior Instructor for the Caribbean Academy of Fashion and Design, Sandra Carr. Speaking to the T&T Guardian, Carr said she was happy her niece beat the odds and stayed true to her aesthetics without compromise.

“Ayanna has given a voice and confidence to many Muslim women and especially young ones who think they have to compromise their values to fit in,” Carr said.

On fashion becoming integral in T&T’s economic diversification, Carr said, “Fashion is not a new to T&T. Citizens are now paying attention to the value of many local creatives that are giving T&T international recognition. We need more investments from private sector and individuals to really see the true potential of our creative young people.”

She said there are many graduates from UTT being showcased and appreciated for their talents and crafts internationally. But she noted it was only in situations like these with Ife that locals pay attention.

“We do not show appreciation enough for our local talent until they get international recognition,” Carr noted.