Kind is the New Cool

We’ve heard about wearing your heart on your sleeve, but what about proudly displaying your kindness?

“Kindness” is one of the five values you’ll find at the core of Unitee, a kid’s T-shirt brand launched by Judy Le, a local leader and co-founder of the company, Take Root, and Ericka Graham, founder of the non-profit, Project 88.

I recently interviewed both women about their values-based clothing line for kid’s. Why so much focus on values?

The duo says the T-shirts are about highlighting the great things that come naturally and already live inside kids, such as friendship and the ability to reach out to others or getting back up and trying again, even after you fail. In addition, values are things we can all agree on.

“We don’t want to be a T-shirt company that is trying to tell parents how to parent,” Graham says. “We feel like the point of Unitee is to become aware and realize when kids are being kind because they already are or when your kid takes off the training wheels, you realize that as being courageous.”

To find out what inspired Le and Graham to launch the line, read the full story on CultureMap.

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Vivienne Tam’s Houston-Inspired Collection Debuts in Space City

World-renown designer Vivienne Tam made a stop here in Houston for the debut of her collection inspired by the Bayou City. The collection was initially revealed at New York Fashion Week last year. Now Houston will be the first city in the U.S. to carry the line. The event I attended was a private luncheon and runway show at Baanou, a store in the River Oaks District. I had the opportunity to interview Tam about the line and what makes Houston important to her. But the city also showed that love back. During the luncheon, it was announced that May 4 would be declared Vivienne Tam Day.

Another special moment at the event included live – yes, live! – butterflies. Read on to find out the touch of magic they brought to the luncheon. You can see the full story here or check it out after the pictures.

From CultureMap:

Talk to internationally-known designer Vivienne Tam for a few minutes, and you’ll quickly learn, her love for Houston runs deep. “This is perfect for me that I can express a love of Houston culture to the world,” Tam says. “It is a future city. It is the city of the moment.”

Houston is also now home to Tam’s 2017 spring/summer collection honoring the city through vibrant colors, 3D textures and iconic logos from Rice University’s owl mascot to “Howdy,” the bowlegged “H” of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and of course, NASA.

The latter combined to become the main theme of what Tam calls a “Space Rodeo,” paying homage to the technology-driven landscape of a city that is as modern as it is welcoming enough to feel at times like a small town.

The collection debuted at New York Fashion Week last year (where CultureMap editor-in-chief covered the runway show) and will now be sold at Baanou, making this the first time that the line will be available at a U.S. storefront.

Around 75 people gathered for a private lunch at the River Oaks District boutique to celebrate the collection’s landing in Space City. Judy Nyquist, Y. Ping Sun and Claire Cormier Thielke hosted the occasion.

Guests included local designer and Project Runway alum Chloe Dao, philanthropist Carolyn Farb, The Voice’s Tamar Davis, Staci Henderson, Carrie Brandsberg-Dahl, Drs. Duyen and Marc Nguyen, Viet Hoang, Linda Toyota, Karen and Charlie Le, and Anika Jackson.

“The most important thing that I take from all of this is she put Houston on the map in the fashion scene,” Maryam Khreibani, owner of Baanou, said. “When you have someone like Vogue writing about a collection inspired by Houston, it just brings attention to how multicultural and how different we are.”

A portion of the proceeds from sales at the event benefited Buffalo Bayou Partnership.

Dressed in a red cowboy shirt with hand-stitched spoonbills and a matching red lace flounce skirt (both items are from her line), Tam says the collection was about incorporating what she saw during a visit to Houston last year where she made stops at places including La Pulga 59 flea market, Voodoo Queen and Comicpalooza. It was there where Tam says hearing the stories and seeing the craftsmanship of the vendors inspired her to create something that bridged the cultures in Houston.

Clear mission

Her mission was clear as models glided around the store wearing 16 of the 45 looks in the collection. Indian, Chinese and Mexican embroideries flow throughout jackets, tops, dresses and skirts made of cotton and rayon. In one sequin dress, Thai and Japanese are among the languages you’ll find weaved into the piece along with symbols like rockets and Mexican flowers. The words “Power City” are on the back because as Tam says, that’s exactly what Houston is.

Tam also mixed cultures in what she calls her rodeo lace dress, an outfit that blends pandas, stars and the Rodeo’s Howdy logo into a pattern.

Tam later slipped into her “city stripe” dress, which boasts logos from the Houston Ballet, Cactus Music, Buffalo Bayou and more, creating one print.

A motif that’s particularly hard to miss in this space rodeo adventure is the butterfly. Tam says it represents nature and Houston’s free spirit. Origami butterflies made by artist Kyle Fu dangled from Baanou’s chandeliers but real butterflies stole the show later. Guests each received a packet with a live butterfly and stepped outside to release them together and make a wish.

Houston on the map

Those who helped bring this vision of a Houston-inspired collection to life say it was more than a wish fulfilled. It was a fashion miracle that began when Mike Waterman took over as president of VisitHouston two years ago.

“How do we put Houston on the map from a global perspective? And I kiddingly said to my team, ‘If our desire was global domination for Houston, what would we do?’” Waterman said. “If you look at it through the lens of global domination, you look at things differently. You look at collaborating with an international designer, and that’s where the idea came out.”

Thanks to the previous ties that creative agency Asian Wives Club had through working with Tam on projects for Hewlett Packard, Waterman was able to help secure the collection. VisitHouston paid Tam nearly nearly $450,000 to create it and underwrote the Houston debut.

The experience won a place for Houston in Tam’s heart, bringing her back to town and into Baanou. “Houston is in my blood,” Tam says. And for good reason. During the event, it was announced that the city declared May 4 “Vivienne Tam Day.”

French restaurant Toulouse Cafe and Bar served a menu in her honor — Toulouse chopped salad, grilled Norwegian salmon and chocolate fondant.

Celebrate local artists

Even though the day was meant to recognize Tam, it also celebrated local artists and their talents. Musician Zubair Al Awadi, a refugee from Iraq, played the oud as attendees chatted. Poet Outspoken Bean closed the program, dropping a line that wrapped up a day focused on H-town. “All 646 square miles of Houston is a dinner table and you are all welcome here so make sure that you bring a dish. While you’re at it bring your wish and I guarantee you it will be granted here.”

Tam said she agrees: “You can do what you love here, and people accept you.”

“I hope people feel great in this collection,” she added. “That they’re proud of their city like how I love their city.”

Vivienne Tam’s 2017 spring/summer collection will be available at Baanou through the summer. T-shirts start at $175. Dresses start at $340 and go up to $1300 for embroidered lace.

 

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English Elegance: Gala Channels Downton Abbey at Hotel Zaza

English elegance came to Hotel Zaza in the form of Devereux Advanced Behavior Health’s gala. This year’s event featured a Downton Abbey theme that was echoed not only in the decor but right down to the music (the show’s theme song played in the ballroom).

The gala raises money to help fund the group’s services. One of the parts I think event-goers (and jewelry fanatics!) really enjoyed was the Kendra Scott mystery pull. They had a similar pull at the TUTS gala and I must admit, I was a willing participant in both. There’s just something about a surprise jewelry box I find really exciting! Ha!

Suzi Hanks from Houston’s Eagle radio station was the emcee. Overall, the event never lost sight of its true mission to bring awareness to issues some are too afraid to talk about such as abuse or neglect. I appreciated that the focus remained on the goal of helping others.

Another element I loved: many items were up for auction and among them – a painting created by Devereux’s therapy dog, Stevee.

You can see that in the pictures below. You can read the full story here. It’s also in its entirety under the photo gallery.

From CultureMap:

Ladies and lords turned out in their finest attire for the Downton Abbey-inspired Savor the Hope Gala at Hotel Zaza benefiting Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. Now in its eighth year, the event raises money to help sustain the programs and services at Devereux, a nationwide organization that helps children and adults overcome several challenges including intellectual and developmental disabilities. It has two Texas campuses in League City and Victoria.

Many in the crowd of 300 wore the Downton Abbey theme well, donning gowns, tiaras and feather and rhinestone hairpieces that echoed the 1920s style seen later in the series. The feeling of aristocracy trickled into the ballroom, from the show’s theme song lightly playing in the background to the décor, which featured large floral and white plume centerpieces donated by Kroger.

But just because the setting was posh doesn’t mean that the atmosphere was stuffy. “Dean and Rog” Morning Show co-cost Suzi Hanks from Houston’s Eagle radio station opened dinner with jokes and kept the room rocking as she emceed through the night.

The gala honored Austin-based jewelry designer and philanthropist Kendra Scott with the Emy Award, which recognizes leaders or organizations in the community for their charitable giving. Scott was unable to attend, but according to a member of her team accepting the award on her behalf, the designer has worked with Devereux to raise more than $5,000 for that organization alone since partnering with them last year.

Even though fashion was a way to bring everyone together, Devereux executive director Pamela Reed reminded everyone of the real reason for the soirée: raising awareness about the issues affecting children that many people are too afraid to talk about, such as neglect or abuse. The evening was also about celebrating the ways partygoers could become involved with the group’s mission.

A live auction emceed by lifestyle and fashion blogger Sheree Frede opened the floor to anyone looking to get away, whether it was a staycation at Hotel Zaza or a trip of English elegance to The Savoy hotel in London. Frede’s husband, Norman Frede, who owns a dealership in the Clear Lake area, came through with the biggest win of the night in the live auction  — bidding $10,000 for a trip to the Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson.

In a separate room housing the silent auction items, there was another star of the show – a half Labrador, half Dachshund named Stevee. He’s Devereux’s therapy dog and he offered his own artwork of colorful dog paws. At one point, he slipped away from Devereux behavioral analyst Rose Filteau and ran into the arms of guests who were delighted to have him. An autographed Houston Texans Jadeveon Clowney jersey and diamond level Houston Astros tickets were some of the other items up for grabs.

Seen in the crowd were radio personality Sarah Pepper, gala chairs Jon Halvorsen and Pamela O’Brien, Devereux director of development Joni Roberston, Roy Green, Lisa Dimond Vasquez, Aliza Dutt, Larry Strader, Amy and John Mallett, Elizabeth and Charles Spillar, and members of the Deacons of Deadwood Motorcycle Club.

Between guests sampling Argentinean empanadas and sausage hors d’oeuvres from Patagonia Grill and Café, taking snapshots at the Stardust Photobooth and dancing to live music by The Gentle Lamb Experience, the gala proved that having fun and giving back never goes out of style.

 

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Houston Texans Cheerleaders Tryouts

This year, I covered the Houston Texans Cheerleader Tryouts and I met a really diverse set of people. More than 600 hopefuls showed up for the chance to earn their spot on the squad. In the end, only about 50 or so made it to the finalists round and the squad was whittled down from there. The fact that everyone, regardless of if they made it or not, was brave enough to try out is admirable to me. I only tried out for a squad in junior high school! Veterans weren’t guaranteed a spot on the team. They had to audition again just like anyone else.

For a look at some of the people who tried out and their stories, check out my photo essay here.

I also took a few shots of my own including of some of the Texans super fans who were invited to judge tryouts.

A (Rockin’) Night at the Museum

You normally wouldn’t go to the Museum of Fine Arts to stargaze but anything can happen during Super Bowl weekend. The kind of stars I’m talking about also aren’t typically seen in the sky. But they did shine bright at Rolling Stone Live!, the event I covered the Saturday night before the big game.

Once the celebrities hit the red carpet, it felt like the party had already started and that was before headliners DJ Cassidy, Diplo, Big Sean and Nas got there. You can read about the antics that ensued here or check out the full story under the pictures.

Stars clown around and put on a red carpet show at Rolling Stone Super Bowl party

We haven’t even made it through Super Bowl LI yet and already comedian JB Smoove had a suggestion for next year’s half time performer. “JB Smoove, of course. Next question!” Jokes, laughter and antics were just some of what could be heard and spotted on the red carpet at the Rolling Stone Live! party that had the atmosphere feeling more like a comedy club.

From NFL players Eddie Lacy and Brandon Williams dancing to Anthony Anderson breaking up Smoove’s interview (they hugged it out right after that), celebrities from the entertainment and sports world got things rolling early at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Saturday night.

In fact, former Bachelorette Andi Dorfman called out reporters for being too tame. “Why are you so quiet? Am I going to have to put on some music on my phone?” It might have been a little quiet on media row, but the evening’s performers would more than make up for it.

DJ Cassidy and Diplo were set to take the stage along with Grammy-nominated rapper, Big Sean, who stopped to take pictures and sign autographs for fans waiting outside the red carpet area on Montrose Boulevard, not far from Hotel ZaZa. It turned out to be a prime spot to sight celebs. Entourage’s Adrian Grenier ended up going over to meet fans, as did Houston Rockets star Sam Dekker when he arrived around midnight.

Busta Rhymes showed up later for a surprise performance with Diplo.

To be one of the main acts, multi-platinum artist Nas slipped onto the red carpet quietly, letting his jacket do the talking with the words ‘Unity Is Power’ on the back. He walked in around 10:30 pm and his name came up often when stars like Eddie George were asked who they were excited to see. “I’m ready to see Nas because he’s one of the legends. I’m a big hip-hop fan, so that’s what I’m looking forward to,” George said.

Appearances came early and often with Alyssa Milano, James Ihedigbo, Warren Sapp, NeNe Leakes, Cynthia Bailey, Cameron Jordan, Delanie Walker, Finesse Mitchell, Olivia Culpo, and Odell Beckham Jr. arriving within the same hour.

MFAH as party venue

One thought that crossed my mind was how the Museum of Fine Arts would be turned into the party venue that athletes including Ezekiel Elliott, A.J. Green, Antonio Cromartie, Jaelen Strong, Devon Still, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz would flock to.

I got my answer when a mix-up got me inside about an hour before the event started. A huge DJ booth on the second floor lined a wall showing projection art. The space that normally has only a few seats for museum guests to watch the installation was filled with leather lounges and tables. Across from that, Mercedes-Benz, a sponsor of the event, had a convertible AMG GT C model on display.

White Mercedes-Benz sports cars were also parked outside the museum in contrast to the splashes of color being thrown onto the exterior of the building.

Back on the red carpet

Back out on the red carpet, expected questions surrounding the Super Bowl like “What do you think Lady Gaga is going to do during the half-time show?” or  “Who do you think will win?” dominated the conversation.

But you can’t talk about the big game without talking about the big city hosting it. “Houston is relatively easy to get around, hospitality has been great, the food has been excellent, and it’s been easy for a long week,” George said.

Minnesota Vikings’ Andrew Sendejo also praised the city, calling Houston his second home since he graduated from Rice University. He struck several fun poses on the red carpet.

Celebrities continued pouring into the party with Jerome Bettis, Chanel Iman, Darrelle Revis, Rashad Jennings and Caroline Wozniacki making it in before midnight. Fans who stuck around long after that were also able to see Gordon Ramsay, David Schwimmer and Adrienne Bailon.

 

 

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NFL Goes Green

The Super Bowl has passed through Houston but it didn’t just leave us an historic game. The NFL is hoping its legacy in the Bayou City will extend far beyond the finale between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.

While the NFL Experience, Super Bowl Live, Club Nomadic and other attractions were being built around the city, the league was also implanting roots here through its Environmental Program. That means some of the materials used to transform Houston into a decked-out host city will go toward local non-profits. For example, banners displayed on NRG Stadium or the security netting used for crowd control at Discovery Green went toward non-profits who could re-use or even upcycle them into new products.

I talked to Jack Groh, the director of the NFL Environmental Program, about how the league worked to leave a little piece of itself and a big impression, throughout Houston.

Check out my article on the effort here or see the whole story below.

Super Bowl LI banners and other leftovers get a new life in NFL recycling program

Even though the reins have officially been handed over to Minnesota to host Super Bowl LII, Houston is still on the mind of NFL officials.

“We want people to be glad we came to the community. Not just because of the football game, but because of the resources we have for the community,” Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program, says. “So, we do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

That “right thing” Groh is talking about is making sure the league invests in Houston by finding ways to transform the material used around the city to promote and organize the big game.  From the banners displayed at NRG Stadium to the turf laid down for Super Bowl Live at Discovery Green, it will all serve a new purpose in and around Houston, in large part through material recovery, a branch of the NFL’s Environmental Program.

Habitat for Humanity, the Houston Food Bank and Magpies and Peacocks are among the local non-profits who are the direct recipients of these materials.

“We’ll be getting some of the mesh perimeter fencing used for crowd control, the jersey fabric on the inside of the stadium, bike covers, shopping bags, street banners, anything that can be used to make products from and that our designers can upcycle into their art,” Sarah-Jayne Smith, founder of Magpies and Peacocks, says.  The organization has several programs designed to nurture emerging artists and allow them to create new products by increasing the value of old ones.

That’s one of the reasons Ahshia Berry, who works with Smith, says Magpies and Peacocks was the perfect fit for the NFL.

“We told them who we might work with and what kind of projects we do. Once they were comfortable knowing we were doing the right things by it, they needed to know we were a 501c3,” Berry says. “We’re happy we were on their radar. And we let them know how sustainable Houston can grow to be.”

And sustainability is what Groh says the NFL’s Environmental Program is all about. It began 25 years ago when the league implemented a stadium recycling program for Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  According to Groh, the NFL was the first sports league to do this. Prepared food and material recovery programs followed, along with urban forest redevelopment and renewable energy.

This year, 10 projects were completed in Houston, including the Super Kids Super Sharing event, managed by Groh’s wife, Susan, at the Houston Texans YMCA.

“We recruit 100 or more schools in each Super Bowl city to collect supplies. In Houston, the kids brought in 23,000 items to donate,” Jack Groh says. “Then we invite low income schools to shop for the items they need.”

Strong environmental message

Groh believes it gets out a strong environmental idea of letting someone reuse supplies rather than have them sit in the attic or be thrown away. It’s also part of a message that helped Houston make history not only on the field this Super Bowl, but behind the scenes.

“We had the most successful material recovery program in the history of the Super Bowl, and it happened here in Houston,” Groh says. “I attribute that to two things. On the NFL side, we had staff and contractors working hard, and we had a tremendous partnership with the City of Houston’s Reuse Warehouse.”

Groh says Reuse picked up materials and made it available to non-profits. For example, the Houston Food Bank recovered 6,000 pounds of office supplies, which will be given to local teachers in 18 different communities around Houston. Turf carpeting went to local animal shelters. Magnificat Houses, Houston ISD and Keep Houston Beautiful also recovered materials.

Plans are already in the works to partner with Minnesota for projects as it prepares to host the next Super Bowl.

Host cities have participated in the programs since the environmental department’s inception more than two decades ago. It’s a concept that now includes the Pro Bowl and NFL Draft.

“Sports is a great neutral territory when it comes to getting this message across,” Smith says. “It affects all age groups and all nationalities. Sports is a perfect way of getting a short version of our story out to a large amount of people. We’re lucky that the NFL can facilitate that for us.”

And the league says, it’s happy to do it. In fact, Houston’s diversity, cooperation and warm atmosphere is what Groh says he enjoyed most about working with area non-profits.

“I don’t know if it’s a Houston thing, a Texas thing or a Southern thing, but people were always willing to step up and say, ‘I could help you with that,’ ” Groh says. “It just seems an awful lot of people were willing to help out a stranger or a friend.”

Permanent green legacy

For more information about the NFL Environmental Program, Groh admits you might have to do some digging online through the league’s website. Groh says what they do isn’t as widely publicized because he’d rather spend money lightening the environmental load than on advertising.

“We want to leave some type of permanent green legacy in every community we visit. People say, ‘Don’t you wish you got more attention?’,” Groh says. “Well, no. I’m here asking, ‘How much good can we do?’”

Groh hopes to have the final total of recovered materials in Houston within a couple weeks.

 

 

 

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Letting Off Some Steam

Hours before the AFC Wildcard showdown took place at NRG Stadium, another battle of sorts was going on at the George R. Brown Convention Center. It was a fight between fans of the Houston Texans and a car covered in Kansas City Chiefs decals.

The Bridal Extravaganza may have seemed like an unlikely place to take a sledgehammer to a busted old car, but the show’s organizers say it was a  fitting way to let brides-to-be and their soon-to-be husbands relieve some of the stress that comes along with wedding planning. Fans also say it was payback for the way the Chiefs beat the Texans at the beginning of the season.

Although we know how the story ended (KC shut out Houston 30 to nothing), fans were thrilled to destroy anything Chiefs-related, even before the game that put a wrap on the Texans post-season run.

This story was a lot of fun to do. I admit destroying things (in a somewhat healthy way) can be a great stress reliever. I could barely hold the sledgehammer, but I got a couple hits in! Check out the story above. I wrote and edited it.

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Demo: Deputy Darren Goforth Memorial

Deputy Darren Goforth’s death shook a community and I think you could really say — the nation. I’ve never seen complete strangers rally behind this man’s family the way the public has.

What was it that made everyone respond the way they did? Was it the way he was killed? The community’s outpouring of support has been stunning and it was clearly evidenced at the gas station the day this story was shot.

It was the first time that I’d been on a hard news assignment like this one. Even seeing the blue ribbons on the trees as we approached the gas station where the deputy was killed gave me chills. In that moment, everything that I’d heard about the story in the news (and written about it since I WORK in news) had become reality. The massive memorial was no longer just video or pictures used as broll for VO or SOTVO. It was live, right in front of me, with literally hundreds of people shuffling in and out, to pay their respects, take a picture, or just get a glimpse of it.

The ringing theme that stuck out to me from those interviewed was the deputy’s death was senseless. That was what the people we spoke to said repeatedly, bringing some of them to tears. It was difficult to watch them cry or feel that sadness. But it also gave me a taste of what I may experience as a reporter and further confirmed why I want to be in this profession – to do the stories that have value, give meaning and show we’re all in this together.

Take a look at my demo below. This did not air. I wrote the script.

 

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In the Booth

The last month and a half or so, I’ve been looking at television from another angle – the producer’s chair. Around the end of March/beginning of April, I started filling in as the 4:30 a.m. producer for KHOU’s morning newscast.  Up until that point, I’d only produced the show in emergency situations. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to produce it on a regular basis, and it’s been quite the ride!
In the short time, (although sometimes it feels long!) that I’ve been producing the first half-hour of the newscast, I’ve taken live reporters, put together my first hour-long show for extended weather coverage and handled breaking news events.
I had experience producing in my previous position at Houston Community College in terms of writing the scripts, booking guests and putting together segments — similar to what I do now only this time the show is live and typically has to be turned around and ready for air within a few hours. Of course, even though the rundown is all set, anyone in news will tell you it can get thrown out very quickly.
For the time being, I’ll be producing the 4:30 a.m. every Monday but other days might be added on an as-needed basis.
If you’re up that early, tune in! Just make sure you stick around until 7 a.m. when the newscast ends — or even better keep it on Ch.11 all day! 😉 Yes, I just put a plug in there!
You can see a short clip from the show below. I look forward to adding this and many more to my demo reel!