Profile: Anya Ayoung-Chee-Project Runway Finalist

Anya Ayoung-Chee Project Runway WinnerI’m really hoping that Anya wins on Project Runway tomorrow night.  Voting ends in 20 minutes and right now, Anya’s in the lead for Fan Favorite.  I’m a recent Project Runway groupie.  But I met Anya in NY at the WIE Symposium and aside from admiring the jacket she was wearing, I discovered how interesting and thoughtful she is.  For those of you who haven’t heard of Anya, she’s currently a finalist on Project Runway, but before that she was involved with beauty pageants as Miss Trinidad & Tobago and as a Miss Universe contestant.  When we spoke last week, she shared about beauty pageants, the pressure of the show and her plans after Project Runway is over. Here’s part of that conversation.  The rest of the interview is on The Huffington Post.

Deborah: I wanted to ask you on a personal level, how do you handle the pressure?  Coming from doing beauty pageants, the energy backstage must be so intense.  And then going into Project Runway is not a cakewalk either so how do you keep your cool?

Anya:  Although I wasn’t able to do this every day when I was on Project Runway, I meditate every morning.  That really keeps me centered.  I have a very deep sense of spirituality and what is the whole purpose in being here, you know, what it’s all about and I think I always remind myself of that.  When I was doing Miss Universe, I don’t think I was quite as aware of it, but particularly doing Project Runway I was much more aware of how to stay calm.  It’s really keeping things in perspective.  I was very happy to be in the competition and continue to be in it.  I was happy to be learning and I think a lot of why I stayed centered was because I really focused on what I was learning and being grateful for every step of the way.  I know it sounds a little corny, but it’s just very real to me to be in that space all the time.  It kept me very much in a positive space and I think generally I was able to stay there and it really changed the way I approached each challenge.

Deborah:  I would imagine that’s something you really carry forward in anything you do.  In your next venture—you already have the Tallman Foundation—and you want to set up a microfinance fund for young people.

Anya:  I grew up in a way that very much discouraged a career in the creative arts.  My father’s a doctor.  My friends are very established in more conventional fields and I felt a lot of pressure to follow a more conventional path, but I luckily had parents who supported me in becoming a designer versus a doctor.  But not everybody has that.  Something viable like a fund, a loan program could assist young people in starting small and fueling their imagination.  Not only their imagination but providing a foundation and a way, a bridge, a physical bridge to really making a viable career out of being a creative person.  I particularly want to encourage young people who want to do something in the contemporary arts.  And so my foundation is a charity that’s geared toward transformation of youth through the arts.  It focuses more on the fine arts—dance, drama, string instruments. I supported it from the time I became Miss Trinidad & Tobago and I will continue to, but I would like to gear it even more towards arts like fashion, event planning.  These are areas that in more developed parts of the world are seen as viable and encouraged as career pathways, but for us in more developing countries, it’s still something people think you should do maybe after school or as a project, a hobby.  But not in place of a “real job.”  I really have a lot of faith that this is a way to build a bridge between ideas and real business and give young people that idea that it’s possible.  I think that’s what I’ve been able to do.  I’d like to follow through with that.

Deborah:  Are there any specific mentors that have helped you along the way?

Anya:  I have a very tangible mentor in Meiling.  She is probably the most established designer in the Caribbean.  She kind of took me under her wing three years ago and I decided to start my own line.  She has been, not so much a design mentor, but in how do I make this work for real, in real life kind of mentor.  Simple things like, this is where you go to have this made and this is the person you speak to if you want to do this kind of technique.  She facilitated me and she’s been integral to my growth and evolution and, on many levels I couldn’t have done it without her.  So I very much value the power of mentoring and I’d like that to be part of the fund that I want to set up.

You can find the rest of my interview with Anya on The Huffington Post.  And tune in to Lifetime Thursday night to find out if she wins.


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