Name: Niiamar Felder
Profession: Fashion and Costume Designer
One Word That Describes You: Resourceful
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
This is a major credit to many years of hard work and, oddly enough, an indication of the work that is coming in a BIG way! Since my early teens, I have been in awe of Black Enterprise’s recognition of “movers and shakers” from various industries, prominently featured in the magazine. To be acknowledged by a major black publication that has stood the test of time is humbling as well as a reminder that excellence is expected of me, from my community, as a black man.
What are you doing as a BEMM to help support black male achievement now or in the future?
A black male designer is a rarity in the world of design, and I have been blessed with opportunities to show that black male designers have the education, talent, and skill to compete with our counterparts. It has always been my work ethic to strive to be the very best—to be a source of inspiration, a light for this generation of black male designers, that the work and achievement in fashion and costume design is attainable. I actively mentor young black male and female designers and recently ended a three-year tenure as the fashion instructor at Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
I come from a working-class family and during my process of becoming a designer it was quite unique in that I did not attend nor was I accepted into a traditional fashion school. I was the first from the Fine Arts and Theatre program at Florida A&M University to matriculate with a degree in design. I had to blaze my own path and make my own way, literally creating something from nothing. I recall designing my senior project, which was a mini fashion collection, with limited access to fabric for the collection. Literally, I only had access to Joann’s Fabric; nevertheless, I saw beyond that. I wanted to work with fine silks, fur, and feathers, but had no money for my champagne taste. Ha! I wrote letters to several fabric stores in NYC requesting donations to support my cause. And to my surprise, quite a few stores donated boxes of fabric and one furrier sent a box of 27 Scandinavian mink skins. I also raised money to pay my seamstress, Ms. Joann Campbell, to help me sew the designs. I still have most of the collection to date. They are beautifully made pieces, truly timeless.
What is your Extraordinary Impact?
Simply continuing the work of being me, which means being available as a source of inspiration, being a resource, and to remain willing to impart the life and business lessons I have learned while digging in these “chiffon trenches.” I won’t live forever, so I must pay it forward.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
I desire for my relationships to be life giving and positive. My people must be about a work beyond themselves. One of my favorite quotes says it best: “The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” —James Baldwin
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
Currently designing the award-winning production of The Old Settler by John Henry Redwood starring Pauletta Washington at The Billie Holiday Theatre. In addition to designing wardrobe looks for philanthropist and socialite Loreen Arbus as well as Katrina Adams, president and chairman of the board for the USTA.
What is the best advice you ever received?
A saying from my late great grandmother: “If a job is once begun, never stop until it’s done. Be the labor big or small, do it right or not at all.” These words of wisdom carry me in every aspect of my work.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Be you. Be present. Be passionate. Be intentional. I believe when one applies these principles to their work, no matter your field, you will innately inspire others to be their best.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
A designer’s work is more than style and design; research is paramount too. Whenever I take on a project, whether it is designing for a private client, creating collections, or designing costumes for theater, I thoroughly research my subject via reading biographies, articles, pictorials, breaking down scripts, and being familiar with their history.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation?
Because I am always around people, I enjoy lots of “me” time even when I am unwinding or on vacation. Not necessarily fancy: A glass of wine, sunshine, and a good book is a good time. My best vacation was traveling to Cuba. I always had an interest in the story of the people and the history of the country. The beauty of the old city in ruins and decay was architectural bliss. Not to mention, the countryside, mountains and valleys, just lush, green goodness. It was an amazing and memorable time!
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
The tropical weather and energy of Miami make it a constant destination. The allure of the fashion capitol of the world, Paris, makes it worth calling home! Living and designing in both cities would be perfection.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Let us all continue to stand for justice and equality. To resist hate, prejudice, racism, bigotry, sexism, and misogyny and abide in LOVE for love fulfills the whole law.
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