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The first Quad Cities Fashion Week will show that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, and that it's more than skin deep.

The young women who are leading the cooperative effort have many goals — empowering the community through arts and fashion, connecting consumers with local businesses, boosting the self-esteem of models ages 6 to 60, and raising money for a good cause.

The first QCFW fashion show will take place Saturday, April 27, in the conference rooms at Moline's TaxSlayer Center, preceded by a Comedy Catwalk Thursday, April 25, at Davenport's Village Theatre.

Organizers hope the show will become an annual event.

“All of what our young ones see on TV and magazines are thin, tall models that don’t represent many of us regular folks,” said Justine Sibomana, Rock Island, a 25-year-old clothing designer and QCFW organizer. “We want them to know that they are beautiful. We want them to know that you can make it here in the Q-C; you don’t have to move to big cities to pursue your dreams."

Sibomana, who works full time processing claims for a health insurance company, is among 14 local and Chicago-based designers whose creations will be featured at the fashion show. She founded Kwazzo DesignZ after learning to crochet and sew when she was 15.

Kwazzo is an African word meaning “a go-getter,” and the clothing she designs incorporates the vibrancy of African patterns.

“I fell in love with it. I started creating outfits,” Sibomana said. “I kept going and kept going. I didn't get better until I was probably 20, 21.” She started her clothing brand in 2017.

“She's a go-getter, without wanting the spotlight on her,” said her friend, Jaime Henderkott, 19, of Davenport, a model who's been working for months to choose and train other models for the show.

Sibomana's first fashion show — at Augustana College in Rock Island last June — was attended by over 300 people. “It was surprisingly good,” she said, noting it led to other shows at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport and the California Military Institute, east of Los Angeles.

Henderkott works part time at the UP Skybar in Davenport, and she met Sibomana there last summer. Sibomana took one look at Henderkott and knew she must be a model.

Sibomana asked Herderkott to model her designs and teach others to model, since she's signed with a Chicago modeling agency.

Showcasing local designers

“We got the idea, why don't we put on a bigger fashion show and let our local boutiques put on their own show?” said Henderkott. “Put on a mini fashion week to promote our local businesses and local designers.”

Fashion weeks are a tradition in the fashion industry. Fashion designers display their latest collections during the weeklong events. 

“It was so difficult because we're just a bunch of young people,” Sibomana said, noting she has a board of directors to help her organize the QCFW.

“We have no experience in this part. For me, I've just been the person modeling in the show,” Henderkott said. “I don't really know what goes on behind the scenes, but now I do. It's stressful, but it's so worth it. We're super excited.”

“People will literally go to Chicago to buy a prom dress, and we have amazing places here,” Sibomana said. “We need to figure out a way to connect with potential customers in a fun way, in a creative way.”

“We planned everything from scratch. It was real difficult,” she said. “It was amazing how people were willing to sponsor crazy kids trying to dream about something that hasn't been done around here. I'm just grateful.”

The Quad-Cities designers and boutiques to be featured at QCFW include Aja Styles Fashion & Accessories, My Beautiful Fluff, Moore Divahs, Fashion Forward Kids, Closet2Closet, and Salome.

To recruit models, they held a casting call last November, and 80 people showed up. “A lot of these people have never modeled before, and we've been teaching them,” Henderkott said. “I've been in their shoes so many times.”

“We love our models,” Sibomana said, noting the 75 are a diverse lot, in age and appearance.

“You always see people like her on the screen, or in magazines,” Sibomana said of her thin, 6-foot-tall friend. “It's important to present everyone — especially plus-size models and people of different backgrounds. It's incredible. It builds confidence; it makes these girls feel like they can do anything.”

“It's amazing, and she's an amazing trainer,” she said of Henderkott.

“The looks on their faces from beginning to end shows the progress. It's exciting to me,” said Tanaja Burgess, a plus-size model and owner of Rock Island's Aja Styles, who's also training models. “Fashion and art doesn't have a limit. To each one's taste. Art comes in all different shapes, colors and sizes.”

“I've been in the industry over 14 years. It's evolved,” Burgess said. “In the plus-size industry, we don't have restrictions. To bring my experiences here, it's a lot of talent here. It will be a plus for me, letting the Quad-Cities in on my world.”

In February, she modeled at her second New York Fashion Week, and she will do her first international show in Paris at the end of September.

From Q-C to Italy

Henderkott was first scouted by a model agency at age 14 during a state dance-team competition in Des Moines. She was first represented by SK Models in Rock Island, and she signed with a Chicago agent — Marie Anderson, who discovered supermodel Cindy Crawford — at age 15.

Henderkott has signed with other agencies in Chicago, and worked in Milan, Italy, from January to March 2018.

“I was only 18, by myself, in a foreign country, with a roommate from Ukraine,” she recalled. “It was very scary. I kept myself so occupied. I'm a very independent person. I had very amazing agents who spoke English.”

“It changed the way I perceived the industry a lot,” Henderkott said. “In Italy, they're very strict on their measurements and height. Here, they're more lenient and diverse. In Italy, they're still stuck in their ways.”

“I was blessed to even be there. ... When I came home, I wanted to bring what I learned there over here and into my community.”

She's taking online courses from the Interior Design Institute and also works at Victoria's Secret at NorthPark Mall.

“This is what I was meant to do," Henderkott said. "It's going to be one way or another — if it's training models, or it's modeling myself, or maybe even starting my own agency one day. I love fashion; I love making people feel good.”

Fashion and modeling are becoming more inclusive in body types represented, Henderkott said.

“I see people from all different backgrounds. It's gotten so much better, especially here in the United States and New York,” she said. “I really think it's changing for the better, and I hope it stays that way.”

“I told Justine, when we cast these models, I want everyone — I want plus-size; I want short and tall,” Henderkott said. “This is supposed to be fun; this isn't supposed to be a cutthroat thing. It's supposed to be for designers to show off their work and make a good impact, not make people feel bad about themselves.”

“Walking in the fashion show is more than modeling clothes and strutting my stuff,” said Jasmine Bozeman, a QCFW model. “It’s supporting the dreams, visions and purposes that showcase the designers’ creativity and art in such beautiful ways.”

Giving hope to others

The profits of QCFW will be donated to YouthHope, a nonprofit group with the mission of positively transforming lives of at-risk youths. The models have been practicing at YouthHope, 3928 12th Ave., Moline.

“Me being African, me being an immigrant, I know a lot of people they have literally helped,” Sibomana said of YouthHope. “I know kids who have been involved in gangs and got help.”

She met Mark Drake, executive director of YouthHope, when she worked at Kmart in Rock Island and he noticed her accent. He offered her help, including a chance to job-shadow his staff. “He got to know me, where I'm from, why I'm here,” Sibomana said.

“People underestimate the power of kindness and love,” she said.

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