Black Muslim designer plucks Dominican orphan from obscurity to model in New York Fashion Week

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Black American Muslim designer Nzinga Knight uses her designs to deliver a statement in fashion that few make: that a woman can dress modestly and still give full glamour. “My aesthetic was something really missing in the market,” she told the AFP news service.

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The native New Yorker of Trinidadian and Guyanese decent started her clothing line in 2008 to bend the boundaries of feminine clothing. Mixing high style with the doctrines of her Muslim faith, “[t]he look of my work is sensual, mysterious, innovative,” she stressed — without being overly revealing.

“It’s very distinct and can give me an edge,” Knight said of her fashion proposition.

Using the strength of her platform, Knight made another compelling — if unwitting — move: launching a Dominican orphan’s modeling career.

By casting Fior Mendez, 22, to walk in her New York Fashion Week show last Friday at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Knight helped to make a big dream come true.

“Just as my third casting session was about to be over, Fior Mendez walked in the room and did her walk and had this wonderful expression on her face, plus natural beauty,” Knight said about her fortuitous selection. “I was sold.”

When Knight selected Mendez for her catwalk, the designer had no notion that the young woman had been living in an orphanage just two months before. Having lived in the Orfanato Ninos de Cristo orphanage in La Romana, Domincan Republican since the age of 13, Mendez dreamed of being a professional model as a little girl. She often mimicked the women showcased on the many modeling contests broadcast in her native land.

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When Mendez wasn’t practicing her poses, she was a helpful leader in her orphanage community. Her positive demeanor made an impression on the organization’s founder that would eventually contribute to her big break.

When Mendez aged out of the institution at 21, having had no contact with her family since her mother abandoned her there, a friend of the orphanage’s founder invited the lanky miss to New York. Having planned merely to learn English, through friends of friends, the 5′ 10″ Mendez was soon introduced to a model casting agent.

The rest is Fashion Week history.

“I’m overwhelmed emotionally, it’s a dream,” Mendez told Today.com,“I couldn’t imagine that a person like me would be doing this in New York City.”

Mendez plans to continue in her new career, but eventually hopes to move into broadcasting, using this medium to inspire homeless and orphaned children.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.