By Je’Don Holloway Talley
The Birmingham Times
When La’Vinnia ‘Vee Monet’ Holliday first took up sewing in middle school she saw it more as fun and not a passion. But that would change.
“We made a pillow and pajama pants. . . I loved that I created something. But when I first took up a pencil and started sketching, that’s when I discovered I had a knack for it,” she said.
Sewing is not only now a passion but a business. Earlier this month, Holliday’s Poze Bazaar Foundation hosted its annual fashion benefit at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex [BJCC] East Ballroom that celebrated and supported Birmingham’s creative arts community, and raised money for the organization’s scholarship and grant fund to benefit under-resourced youth and under-funded nonprofits
Poze Bazaar aims “to give the youth options,” said Holliday.
“You have choices, your only choice is not college… I want [our] programs to expose them to industry professionals they don’t end up taking all these unnecessary classes [in college],” said the self-taught seamstress. “Had I known when I was in school that there were other programs and options besides college, I would’ve pursued them… that’s why you have so many students going to college being undecided [about their major] and going into debt with no direction or real idea of what they really want to do.”
“Since we target middle and high school students specifically, the purpose is to get them exposed and involved in the arts before they finish high school because not everyone is meant to go to college. It’s [college] is not a requirement to be successful. I was told that [it was] my whole life, which is why I struggled with school,” said Holliday, a University of Alabama at Birmingham [UAB] alum, who earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies and minored in business administration and marketing.
Still, she can credit UAB for helping her career.
“I didn’t start sewing until 2011 after UAB reached out to me when they were doing their spring fashion show,” she said. “Till this day I don’t know who recommended me, but they asked did I want to [participate] because they had a designer drop out,” she said.
Holliday had yet to make a single article of clothing but based on her sewing experience from the sixth grade, she seized the opportunity.
“I was honest with myself and my sewing capabilities; I knew I couldn’t make a really detailed jacket and shirt, but swimwear was simple. It’s just sewing a few pieces together,” Holliday said.
“I just went to [a fabric store] and bought a whole bunch of swimwear patterns, and fabric, notions [thread, elastic, liner]…[found a sewing machine on sale for $50] and I got to work,” Holliday said. “I didn’t even read the [instructions on the patterns or the machine], I just followed the pictures. …but with [choosing to do] swimwear, I challenged myself to be creative with what I could do with a basic pattern.”
Turns out, swimwear is a great niche for her within the fashion industry and where her creativity thrives. In 2011 she started her handmade luxury swimwear line, Camille Anthony, and began selling her original pieces through her online boutique.
“I really love the challenge of swimwear. I’m originally from Florida, and I love palm trees, beaches, the water,” she said. “I have done three Camille Anthony Swimwear collections, and I love that swimwear is not seasonal, it’s based on the travel industry and people travel all year round. I got tired of seeing cheap swimwear at ridiculous prices, and how itchy the fabrics were.”
Anthony said her Camille Anthony line is named after her children, Jada ‘Camille’ Holliday, and Jamar ‘Anthony’ Wilkins
“It’s handmade, it’s luxury, it’s made with love,” she said, “I use silky lining and fabrics that feel good on your skin. I want every woman that’s wearing Camille Anthony to feel the love when they’re wearing my swimsuits.”
Obstacles to Opportunities
Once she established her luxury swimwear line Holliday applied to a local fashion week in 2011, ‘12, ‘13, and ‘14, “and was either denied or ignored every year,” she said, “and in 2014, I decided to go to the show anyway, and I didn’t see any representation of Blackness… That was the year I knew I had to start my own fashion show to give Black designers and Black boutique owners an opportunity to represent their brands. … And I felt like if I’m getting denied like this, ‘how many other black designers are [facing the same obstacle]’?
Holliday said the only time she saw Black designers and models were at Black hair shows and local colleges, like Miles and UAB “but I didn’t see any [on larger platforms in the city] and that made me think back to the only time I was invited to present was at a fashion show at UAB [by the Black Student Awareness Committee, 2011], and the time I modeled in a fashion show at Miles College . That showed me that when you’re Black, you have to create your own opportunities and we have to give them to each other.”
In 2014, Holliday established Alabama International Fashion Week,
a show she held at the BJCC, that gave up-and-coming Black fashion designers, stylists, and aspiring models an opportunity to showcase their work.”
In 2017, she launched Poze Bazaar and put on another fashion show at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex [BJCC], which incorporated all of the arts: fashion, music, art, and dance which drew area fashion entrepreneurs and enthusiasts, visual artists, and local performers.
Finding An Identity
Holliday, 35, who was born and raised in Jacksonville, FL. and is now a Vestavia Hills resident, moved to Alabaster from Florida when she was age 9 right after her parents divorced.
“That was a real hard adjustment… and I went through an identity crisis,” she said. “Through their messy divorce, I found out my father (the only father I ever knew) wasn’t my biological dad and that my bio-dad died when I was [two years old]. It made me feel like I didn’t belong, and like I didn’t know who I was.”
Although Holliday’s mother, Lannell Holliday, has been her backbone, and greatest supporter, she remembers having no access to the types of arts programs that she wanted to be involved in, “and mom couldn’t afford to put me in anything…,” Holliday said. “Church and school didn’t have programs or activities I was interested in, and mom didn’t have time or money to take me to where the programs were because it was just us.”
With “too much time on my hands”, Holliday said she became rebellious, depressed, felt isolated, and like she didn’t belong anywhere.”
Attending Simmons Middle School in Hoover Holliday remembers what it’s like to find family in the creative field because they “speak your language, you can vibe off of them, you can connect with them. I went through a lot as a teen, I remember feeling alone and making mistakes, and dealing with those consequences…,” Holliday said.
Taking a look at her own children 18-year-old Jamar ‘JJ’ Wilkins, and 11-year-old Jada Holliday, -she wondered how much more advanced a seamstress and fashion designer she would be had there been someone or a program to steward her interests.
“That’s when it really clicked that I needed to make these opportunities available to middle school and high school students so that they can have a creative outlet that offers more than traditional [extracurricular activities],” Holliday said, “but you need funding to do that and I couldn’t find any [as an LLC, limited liability company] because companies wouldn’t donate to a for-profit business,” Holliday said.
For her collections, Holliday finds inspiration in music.
“I love music. When I hear a song that grabs me, my creative juices start flowing and a collection comes from it. My collections are always based on a song or a person,” Holliday said. “The new collection that I have coming out [that debuted at the upcoming fashion benefit] is sports-related, and based off LL Cool J’s song, ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’,” she laughed, “and I’m so excited about it. When [inspiration] hits, I get an overwhelming feeling of creativity and that’s my confirmation to do the collection. I don’t go off the trends. I may incorporate some of those trends but I don’t design a full collection based on what fashion blogs say are upcoming trends; I don’t find that exciting.”
“I can make other items, but it’s not as fun,” she said. “I’m still learning how to sew more complicated pieces, I have designed some ready-to-wear collections, I just haven’t [produced] them.”
Since becoming a non-profit she’s worked with UAB, and Alabama A&M University. In April, Poze Bazaar facilitated a dance workshop at the Homewood Dance Foundation, taught by award-winning choreographer, Anthony Burrell and a fashion workshop with A&M, taught by Krystal Lewis, a liaison for Black designers and the mainstream fashion world, and in June the Poze Bazaar Music workshop at UAB’s music tech lab, facilitated by a UAB professor of music technology, along with guest speaker, Snipe Young, a Birmingham native, and Grammy award-winning music producer.
“After I became a nonprofit the challenge [with acquiring funding] became how active are you, how much have you done? Finding people that understand what I’m trying to do in the city is hard, and every day it’s pushing past a barrier and taking every brick that’s thrown at me and rebuilding with those same bricks. It’s hard trying to convince people to believe in you,” Holliday said.
Holliday said partnership and collaboration are keys to the foundation’s success.
“Collaboration over competition, always,” she said. “We need funding, we need resources, and as we grow, one of our main goals is to be able to help fund other organizations in the arts.
“I want to help build economic development in the areas of fashion, art, and entertainment in the city that will provide opportunities and a foundation for future generations in these industries,” Holliday said.
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