The (DE-FI) Family: Behind the Fashion Experience

Founders of The Fashion Experience

Owned and Directed by former model Caressa L. Brown, a 28 year veteran of the Fashion Industry who reached out to her friends and mentors Ed Dixon, owner of the Edward A. Dixon Gallery, Cindy Gaboury, owner of Audio Etc..., Sarah Wacksmuth of Pretty in Dayton, Lamar Pacley, owner of Shuttereye Photo and Dayton Wedding Photographers, Pete Bradow, owner of of PTB Photography, LaToya Stephens, Owner of Signature Events, and Danielle Simpson community administrator and together, they founded the Dayton Emerging Fashion incubator (DE-FI) in the Fall of 2012. 

Officially launching in the summer of 2013, (DE-FI) is a ground breaking organization in the Greater Dayton and Miami Valley area that introduces, mentors, and helps to launch the careers of designers, models, and other professionals into the fashion industry.We are a network of fashion professionals, business owners, community leaders, and volunteers; together this network simply known as (DE-FI) pronounced “defy” is re-engineering the global fashion experience. 

As a volunteer based community outreach organization that works with area designers in building their brands, establishing their clientele, learning runway production, and editorial shoots. We also develop aspiring models by providing them with world class runway experiences, tear sheet quality images, and put them in front of the world’s top modeling agencies. 

(DE-FI) has positioned itself as one of the most influential fashion organizations in the country! A first of its kind fashion organization, (DE-FI) serves as an umbrella organization that addresses every aspect and need of those seeking careers in fashion including micro-manufacturing, workforce development, e-commerce, and production via our subsidiaries the Dayton Garment & Textile District, The Gem City Sewing Company, Dayton Threads, and the newly acquired Dayton Fashion Week and Dayton Design Week.

We helped cast Dayton native & former Calvin Klein designer Christy Solomon's City of Saints show.

We helped cast Dayton native & former Calvin Klein designer Christy Solomon's City of Saints show. 

About (DE-FI)'s Owner Caressa L. Brown

Caressa's Story

Born and raised in Dayton, OH, to Sharon Brown, former Makeup Artist for Fashion Fair and a State Certified CNA and James Brown, a former Drill Sergeant for the U.S. Marine Corps. and Sergeant for the Montgomery County Sheriff's Dept.,  (DE-FI)'s Owner and Director Caressa L. Brown didn't start her career as a model because she thought that she was beautiful or had what it took be successful; in fact it was just the opposite. She was often teased for being tall, thin, and her parents who were divorced could not afford to buy her the latest fashions or get her hair done professionally; her real passion was art, drawing, computers, architecture, and engineering.

Her parents were divorced and her father had re-married and was always active in her life;  at the age of 11 and suffering from low self-esteem, her mother, a former model enrolled Caressa into Bettie Massie Modeling School  with the hopes of her gaining self-esteem.  Even though her mom could not afford the extra expense, she took on a 3rd job to help cover the cost.  After the very first session of modeling school, the instructor asked Caressa and her mother to stay over for a meeting, during this meeting the instructor shared how impressed she was with Caressa and her belief that she had what it took to become a signed model.  The instructor then went on to make an offer that was too good to be true; she offered to continue to coach Caressa free of charge for the remainder of the courses at Bettie Massie and with this news, her mom went on to quit her 3rd job.  

However, this offer had not been approved by Bettie, and after 6 weeks of additional courses and no record of payment; Bettie called Caressa and her mom in for a meeting to inquire about missing payments where they explained to Bettie the offer that had been made by the instructor.  Upon hearing this information Bettie told them that she never approved this offer and that in order for Caressa to continue with the program, they would need to pay back the money for the previous courses and pay for all of the future courses.  A decision was made to to leave the modeling school.

Caressa did gain the confidence that her mother had hoped she'd gain and a year later, she was signed  to her  first modeling contract at the age of 12.  Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, her mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and could no longer work creating an even deeper financial burden that  prevented her from being able to travel to her agency  which was hours away for work and in a role reversal, Caressa then took on the role as a caregiver for her mom.

With the dream of becoming a model fading quickly, Caressa continued to focus on her education in hopes of becoming an Architectural Engineer, however, attending a underfunded and under-served  Jefferson Twp School district that did not offer the levels of math needed for free, she found herself  in the 8th grade trying to learn advance math on her own without credit from an advance math book given to her by her 8th grade math teacher.

In high school she continued to excel in school with computer classes, math, and wood shop being her favorite subjects.  She went on to receive full ride academic scholarships to Wright State University, Central State University, and The Ohio State University with the intent of majoring in engineering.

In 1998, after her father retired from the Sheriff's Dept. and relocated to his native Texas, Caressa, still caring for her disabled mother, shortly after her high school graduation, was offered a job with General Motors, Truck and Bus Moraine Assembly where she went on to work for 8 years before the plant closed.  During those 8 years and now in a better financial situation, she once again pursued her dreams of becoming a model while also pursuing her degree at Wright State.  She went on to be scouted and offered a contract by Click Models in 1999, and in 2001, she was chosen as a Regional Semi-finalist in the Elite Model Look Competition, where she was also offered a contract. However, this time, she realized that she was in need of more than just financial support to pursue her dreams.

Her scholarship required her to maintain a 3.0 gpa, while taking 15 credit hours which was nearly impossible to do working 50 hours a week in a factory, caring for a disabled parent, and helping other family members. She was in need of a strong support system. She eventually lost her scholarships, flunked out and dropped out of college. After sitting out a year, she changed majors several times, transferring back and forth between Wright State and Sinclair Community College, and giving up on her dreams, all while sinking into a deep depression, losing faith, and not knowing her purpose.  Nevertheless, she persisted and eventually earned her degree in 2007 from Wright State in Organizational/Educational Leadership.In 2015 she began pursuing a second degree in Urban Affairs with a focus on non-profit management and regional & city planning at Wright State as well, while serving as a member of the Dean's Student Advisory Board for the College of Liberal Arts advocating for non-traditional students.   

In 2007, after quickly rising to the position of Branch Corporate Account Manager then Assistant Branch Manager for a Fortune 500 company, Caressa began focusing on Community Outreach which led her to  a career change and a shift in thinking to only accept opportunities that aligned with her passion.  She went on to intern  for 91.3 FM WYSO in 2009 where she went on to become a part of the very first class of Community Voices Producers.  She remained actively involved in the community and in 2012 she became a contributor for Dayton Most Metro after volunteering as the Model Coordinator for the first Dayton Fashion Week.  However, when that organization folded the same year, Caressa was encouraged to start her own fashion organization by members of the local media and other volunteers from the first Dayton Fashion Week.  In 2013, the Dayton Emerging Fashion Incubator (DE-FI) LLC was born!

 Since it's launch, Caressa  has served the  2013-2018 seasons working behind the scenes with the Volunteer Program  for the Council of Fashion Designers of America and  Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, she has assisted with Casting Calls for Art Hearts Fashion and other major New York Fashion Week events.  In 2018, (DE-FI)ance Magazine, our annual publication received its first invite for press credentials from a major producer of New York Fashion Week all while opening AND holding the doors open for other local fashion professionals to gain the same access and knowledge that she had gained. She has made it a point to help educate aspiring fashion talent, as well as helping to remove any barriers that may prevent talent from pursuing their dreams in fashion and design, and most importantly, she is committed to providing the support system that she wished she had when she was pursuing her dreams.

In less than 6 years, under Caressa's leadership, we have expanded to include the Dayton Garment & Textile District, The Gem City Sewing Company, and Dayton Threads.  In 2016 (DE-FI) acquired  Dayton Fashion Week and and in 2019 launched  Dayton Design Week, in essence, she has laid the foundation to supply every aspect of the fashion industry right here in Dayton, Ohio.

Known for her GRIT factor, giving, big heart, caring spirit, yet no non-sense, tough love, and disciplined approach; today, Caressa's life has come full circle, she is still the caregiver for her mother and by day, she serves as the assistant to the Assistant -Dean of Engineering Graduate Education and Office Administrator for Graduate Programs for the College of Engineering Diversity Outreach, and Inclusion at The Ohio State University.  She is  also serving her 2nd term as an appointed Trustee for the Montgomery Country Arts and Cultural District where she has led the way advocating for under-served communities, transparency, and accountability for the past 6 years; she currently serves as the Secretary of the Board of Trustees. In short, while her dreams of becoming the world's first Supermodel Architectural Engineer were not realized;-) She is living a fulfilled  and purpose driven life in helping pave the way for future models, designers, artist, and engineers from all walks of life to live their dreams. In 2019, she was named a winner of the prestigious Dayton Business Journal's  Top 40 Under 40 award. #DEFIngAllOdds #WhatDoYouDEFI