DEBUT Grad Kyle Denman is Empowering Young Women as Lead Fashion Design Program Instructor at Freedom and Fashion
Advanced Study Fashion Design Graduate Kyle Denman, who showed his first collection at our FIDM DEBUT 2019 Runway Show, wears many hats. The fashion designer is lead fashion design program instructor at the non-profit, Freedom and Fashion, and is a program instructor at the public charter school, New Village Girls Academy.
Where were you born and raised? I was born in Seoul, South Korea. When I was three months old, I was adopted by two loving parents, and was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Where do you trace your interest in fashion to? I have always loved art. In fact, my parents have always said that I could draw before I could talk. However, growing up, this passion for art was pushed to the side so I could focus on a career that would potentially be more secure and profitable. I have always loved politics and law and envisioned myself in law school.
We hear you were once Youth Mayor of Cincinnati? How did that come about? I was part of the Youth in Government program that was run by the YMCA. I was elected during a city-wide conference. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to write legislation and attend national and international conferences. In fact, I had the opportunity to advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities at the Conference on National Affairs, where I presented my findings through a proposed piece of legislation, Daniel's Proposal, that I authored.
You first studied Political Science before coming to FIDM, right? When I was in college and was studying Political Science at Miami University, I was also conducting research with the Scripps Gerontology Center through the Opening Minds Through Art program. While in this program, I facilitated art classes with people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s. I was essentially testing and analyzing the effectiveness of art on people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s.
This is when I saw that art is incredibly transformative and has the ability to impact a person’s life in an extremely positive way, even at a late stage in a person’s life. This encouraged me to pursue a career in which I could impact people in a positive way through art. I asked myself: “What is one kind of art that exists in everyone’s life on a daily basis?” The answer was all around me: fashion. That was the moment in my life when things changed.
I graduated from Miami University with a degree in Political Science in just three years and moved out to Los Angeles with a suitcase and a backpack to pursue a career in fashion. The most difficult part of my transition to fashion was learning all of the technical skills in addition to learning how to truly trust my creative vision.
To what do you attribute your success at FIDM? I tell my students this now: work hard, stay humble, and be kind. I was really fortunate that I had extremely patient instructors, who took time to really teach me the technical skills and motivate me and boost my self-confidence. They really gave me both the technical skills and emotional development to achieve numerous feats in 2016.
I was named the Grand Prize Winner of the Project Runway ReMake It Work Contest. In 2018, I was named the Young Fashion Designer of the Year [by the Fashion Designers and Craft Makers Network], and was also given the opportunity to work on a team of wardrobe assistants for the most powerful woman in entertainment, according to Forbes.
Finally, because of the dedication of my instructors and mentors, I was able to graduate as the Outstanding Fashion Design Student and as the Valedictorian and was admitted into the Advanced Study Fashion Design Program. I really owe this success to those who have continuously shown me support and love: instructors, mentors, and my parents.
What was it like participating in DEBUT? Being part of DEBUT was really amazing. My collection was very personal. It was titled “Broken Angel Fallen From Grace,” and told the story of an angel who lost her wings. It was inspired by my favorite fashion designer, Cristobal Balenciaga, and his relationship with the Catholic Church growing up as a gay man. This is a relationship I identify with very closely.
This collection was something I called, “avant-garde, dramatic, and heartbreakingly honest.” It was really special to tell a very personal story on the runway in front of thousands of people. I was able to share part of myself with the audience. Additionally, I dedicated the collection to my students, who are each young women who have helped me find my own wings.
Being part of DEBUT has also given me numerous opportunities beyond my time at FIDM. After the runway show, I was contacted by DASH Radio, where I was interviewed because one of the radio hosts was at DEBUT and considered my collection to be “walking art.” I am also showing in Palm Springs/El Paseo Fashion Week in 2020, and have also had the chance to show my work in New York City on several occasions.
How did you get involved with Freedom and Fashion? Currently, I am the lead fashion design program instructor at Freedom and Fashion, a nonprofit that uses the arts of fashion, beauty, and styling to educate and empower young women who are survivors of various injustices, such as human trafficking, homelessness, drug and substance abuse, and domestic violence.
I became involved in the organization when I had first moved to Los Angeles about three years ago. I was first volunteering with the organization and then moved into the role of a program instructor at the New Village Girls Academy site. New Village Girls Academy is an all-female, public charter school located in Los Angeles that serves the same population as Freedom and Fashion. In many cases, these girls have high academic and social-emotional needs.
In addition to teaching the girls fashion design (sketching, draping, pattern drafting, design, and sewing), makeup application, and hairstyling through Freedom and Fashion, I also teach the girls as the art instructor at New Village Girls Academy. I teach technical design skills and lessons on vulnerability, self-esteem, gratitude, self-love, and other social-emotional skills and topics.
One student has said that my classes have become part of her and have saved her life, while another student has stated that the classes have taught her how to love herself. Teaching the girls about their own well-being and their own intrinsic value is my main goal; fashion design, hair styling, makeup application, and art are merely the vehicles upon which we reach that goal.
In addition to being the lead fashion designer program instructor at Freedom and Fashion and the art instructor at New Village Girls Academy, I am also the graduating senior class supervisor, the supervisor for the Girls Build initiative and POPs the Club, and am one of the two dance coaches for the students.
Tell us about the recent Freedom and Fashion event, Over the Rainbow. Every year, my students host an annual event. This year, they created the “Over the Rainbow” event, which was an interactive and immersive art and fashion experience that was held at the Second Home Serpentine Pavilion at the La Brea Tar Pits.
This event was inspired by the lyrics to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and was dedicated towards raising awareness for domestic violence. The event was divided into various stations, with each station representing lyrics to the song. For example, at one station, students and guests created a dress out of origami blue birds.
At the end of the program, one of my longtime students sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in front of the entire crowd while the dance team performed. It was a beautiful testament to their hard work, creativity, and value. I’m incredibly fortunate to have met each of these girls. They have each changed my life and I know that each of them will change the world.
Keep up with Kyle on Instagram @kyledenman13.