Winning in Failing

Graduate Judy James-Hernandez receives her certificate in garment construction and entrepreneurship from Lead Instructor Daniel Concepcion and Executive Director Ngozi Okaro. Training Institute Cohort 6 Graduation Celebration & Fashion Show June 27, 2019 at Mara Hoffman.

Graduate Judy James-Hernandez receives her certificate in garment construction and entrepreneurship from Lead Instructor Daniel Concepcion and Executive Director Ngozi Okaro. Training Institute Cohort 6 Graduation Celebration & Fashion Show June 27, 2019 at Mara Hoffman.

By Daniel Concepcion, Custom Collaborative’s Lead Instructor

Some weeks ago, one of my wishes came true. I got to see one of my favorite artists perform live. Bjork held a residency here in New York to promote her latest album. Entitled, Cornucopia, the concert lived up to its name. It was a symphonic performance which she sang against a full choir and a flute ensemble. That sent me into a spiral recounting my favorite Bjork songs.

One of the tracks that I rediscovered and found a new affinity for was “Moon.” In it she sings about the cycle of life, and the risks it entails to live fully:

Best way to start the new is to fail miserably

Fail at loving and fail at giving

Fail at creating a flow then realign the whole

And kick into the start hole

It struck me how much she emphasized the importance of failure in these lines, which is contradictory to the culture of modern capitalist society. Today, success, in its many forms: financial, professional and personal, is the goal of life. But we are human, finite and broken, and we can’t win all the battles despite how much we prepare for them or fight.

In this light, I looked back on my failures. Painful as they were, they allowed me to grasp and accept not only my brokenness but also certain situational factors that were out of my control. And they also led me to the paths of growth.

I dealt with failure as a young fashion design student who lost at a design contest. I was so crushed by the defeat, having pored myself so much into the project, that it made me want to be a better designer by wanting to master clothing construction, which I am able to impart to my students.

I dealt with failure as a teacher who for one reason or another, lost students through the course of the program, This made me reevaluate my mode of instruction, and my manner of dealing with students to some success evidenced by the previous graduates and the six very talented and passionate budding design practitioners we have seated here.

In life, we lose, but in the loss is a chance to rise. And these graduates are beaming models of that truth. In between the sewing and drafting, they would open up to me and share their own experiences of failing, Despite this and what others ascribed to these experiences, they have graduated and celebrated the 14 arduous but joyful weeks of our Training Institute in beautiful creations that they have crafted for each other. They have overcome their own challenges and losses to beautifully succeed in their own rebirth.

The Graduation Celebration & Fashion Show took place in Mara Hoffman’s Showroom.

The Graduation Celebration & Fashion Show took place in Mara Hoffman’s Showroom.

And this process of rebirth, my class and my own, would have not been possible if not for my colleagues, our volunteers and the industry partners who have invested much of themselves to see that this class succeeds. Thank you to Mara Hoffman for hosting our graduation celebration and providing the fabrics that our class used for their final garments, Valerie Addo who has helped the women fit and construct the clothing, and Kate Parr who served as our Design Consultant and lent her own line of jewelry, Katherine Parr, so that the women look extra special today. Thank you to our Entrepreneurship Coach Veronica Jones whose counsel and expertise has helped me become a better leader in class, and our Executive Director Ngozi Okaro, our rock and fearless leader whose own challenges and victories continue to inspire me to pursue my own.

Rebirthing comes with its own challenges and perhaps the most daunting of these is the taking of risks. As Halberstam stated it means reimagining paths that might be counter-intuitive to our own ways. In “Moon,” Bjork parts with a line that resolves the song and beautifully illuminates the truth:

To risk all is the end-all and the beginning all.

 May we relish our moments of defeat as much as we celebrate our success and may we bravely take on the risks that come with living.


Five of the six graduates from Cohort 6: (left to right) Christina Ivory, Kelli Forde, Shemoy Simpson, Amit Blushstein, and Grace Alignay.

Five of the six graduates from Cohort 6: (left to right) Christina Ivory, Kelli Forde, Shemoy Simpson, Amit Blushstein, and Grace Alignay.