Miss A Columnist

Lesley Haenny is the Seattle Editor for Miss A. She is an Air Force wife now living in the Seattle area. Prior to living in Seattle, Lesley spent 7 years in Washington, DC, working as a Congressional liaison. She grew up in a small, mountain town in Southern California, sandwiched between an older sister and a younger brother. Her two hard working parents taught her to always go for the clearance rack, bring your lunch everyday, work hard for what you have, and always take the opportunity to travel and play outside. Lesley has been actively involved in various charities such as the Animal Resource Foundation, Komen For the Cure, Prevent Cancer Foundation, American Diabetes Association and the Race for Hope (benefitting the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure).

Interview With Ryan Muller, CEO Of Active Entertainment

When I first became the Seattle City Editor for Miss A, I scoured the internet for events that followed our mantra, charity meets style. In my search, I came across Chance Fashion. Chance is a monthly networking event for the Northwest Fashion Community. Each month they hold a new designer theme runway showcase featuring aspiring designers. Chance not only showcases aspiring designers each month, they also hold an open casting call for new models before each show, have one-on-one photography time for participating and walk-in models, allow for space setup for participating photographers and award “Collaboration of the Month” awards for participating artists. The production team for the shows are all run by volunteers who work to help artists expand their resources and get the exposure needed to practice their trade while gaining hands on experience.

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Ryan with punk-rock fashion designer Noel Austin of D.N.A.S Fashion Designs. (Photo Credit: Scott Foster)

I thought this concept of allowing local designers, models and photographers to showcase their work and develop a portfolio was a fantastic idea, so I got in touch with Ryan Muller, CEO of Active Entertainment, the organization that runs the Chance fashion shows. With an amazing team of all volunteer staff, Ryan works very hard to put these shows on each month for aspiring designers, models and photographers. They even work together to plan AMDEF, an annual event that brings together the communities of Art, Music, Dance, Entertainment and Fashion for a one-night-only experience. Each year highlights a variety of artists collaborating outside of their genre to produce over six hours of non-stop, mixed media performances. Miss A had the honor of being a media sponsor for this year’s AMDEF!

I attended my first Chance Fashion show in March of this year and had the opportunity to meet Ryan. He’s young, he’s ambitious yet incredibly humble, and he has the biggest heart of almost anyone I have met. He puts all of these events together every month not for his own glory (for one, you will rarely find him in a photograph or taking credit for anything) but truly for everyone else. He wants the local models to get the exposure they need to continue their careers, he wants the local designers to have their pieces on the national runways, he wants the local photographers to become the next Annie Leibovitz.

I had the opportunity to interview Ryan. I wanted to learn more about the man behind the stage.

Q: Tell our readers a little bit about your own history and how you came to be where you are today.

A: I grew up in Sequim, Wash. It’s a small town on the Olympic Peninsula, there were maybe 200 graduates in my class back then. These days there’s a Wal-Mart out there and everything. My father works in drywall and my mother worked in medical book keeping, and I have two older brothers and one little sister. My brothers are about seven and 10 years older than me, my sister is a few years behind me. My parents moved us out to Sequim when I was still young, so I don’t remember much of my city life as a child. I remember my dad used to work in the city during the weeks for a period of time, but mostly my childhood was spent playing in the rain forest, playing soccer, camping, and the typical small-town activities you’d imagine. At the age of 17, I moved out of my parent’s house and in with my oldest brother here in Seattle and finished my high-school education via the Running Start program at Seattle Central Community College.

Q: Tell me about Chance Fashion and AMDEF. What gave you the inspiration to start it?

A: I moved to the Belltown and immediately started meeting all sorts of people, a lot of whom were aspiring artists and entrepreneurs from one of the many nearby schools. I’d always had a knack for organizing people, so I often found myself introducing people, putting together parties, and coordinating the random shenanigans you have when you’re freshly 21. I met DJ Martini, who is my go-to deejay. He’d landed a job as a resident DJ at a venue that had just opened on Capitol Hill, called Club Lagoon, and they were looking for somebody to come in and hand out fliers along Broadway to help hustle up traffic. Since I was organizing a lot of parties at the time anyways, Martini thought I’d be a good fit, and I figured it might be a fun job and some easy money, so I took it. I quickly realized it takes a considerable amount of effort to bring people out to a show than just passing out fliers. About three weeks into it, I started talking to management about bringing in some other events.

We talked, they gave me the green light, and I went about coordinating one month of weekly Thursday events among the friends of mine I already knew who had an interest in pursuing these things. I coordinated one burlesque night, one DJ/breakdancing night, one band night, and one fashion night, for one month of shows. At this point, it was still all in good fun. I hadn’t conceived AMDEF or even thought I was going to get into the entertainment business – I was just having a good time trying to help my friends.

The Sunday before our first show, we decided to host a birthday party for Marilia Karagianni, who at the time was the fashion element in my little circle of friends. The birthday party was a smashing success, such a success that we forgot a bunch of stuff there and had to come back the next afternoon to get it. When we went there to pick it up, the entire venue had been stripped bare with carpenters’ plastic up everywhere, and we had no idea what was going on. The venue had been sold and its owners chose not to tell anyone and used that Sunday night as their final liquor push, leaving me with four events and no venue. I called a friend of mine, Nathaniel Luke Pinzon, who at the time was the booking manager at the Re-bar, and tried relocating the events. He couldn’t get me four Thursdays, but he did manage to get me one Friday, so I worked with all the talent to adjust everything into one big event at the Re-bar.

Admittedly, I thought I was walking into a cluster, but I wasn’t about to short-change my friends. I had bands put together CDs, I recruited burlesque girls, I had designers creating clothes – I just couldn’t find it in myself to let all that effort go to waste. The event had a couple DJs, a hip-hop artist or two, a stoner reggae band, a few burlesque acts, and a modest fashion show, and for the most part a lot of these people didn’t know each other at all. We did that show on April 20, 2007, as a ‘420’ theme party, and to our surprise, we packed the house.

Those of us who’d coordinated the event all got together at the Hurricane for a hangover breakfast the next day, just like we would after any party, really – only this time we all had this odd sense of inspiration and surprise. It was during that hangover conversation that the idea for AMDEF started growing, and that was the point in time when I decided that entertainment was the place for me. Something somewhere along the line had struck a nerve.

I thought it was bull that artists had to jump through so many hoops and I thought it was bull that there weren’t more easily accessible resources for artists, and I felt like if provided the opportunity and support, more people would succeed, and it was now my goal to create that opportunity and support. It’s funny now looking back, I remember the reason I chose ‘Active Entertainment’ was because I thought it would pop up quicker in the phone book that way, but now it really encompasses what I’m all about.

Ryan scrubbing the runway before a fashion show. (Photo Credit: Christopher Chapman)

Ryan scrubbing the runway before a fashion show. (Photo Credit: Christopher Chapman)

Q: Who has been one of the biggest influences in your life? What lessons did he or she teach you?

A: First and foremost, my family was my biggest influence. My parents taught me to think for myself, and I feel like there are few greater lessons in life. They also taught me the meaning of having a work ethic, which seems to be lost on most of today’s society. I also learned a great deal from my older brothers, they were always getting into trouble as kids so I learned to avoid it. Living in a small town is like living under a microscope and I think the overall experience of growing up with my family in a small town taught me a lot, and most definitely gave me the interest in social science that I have today.

Outside of my family, I had two major influences as a kid: 1) The Boys & Girls Club, 2) my soccer team. My parents worked all the time, so after school, I went to the Boys & Girls Club until they got off work to pick me up. I got to hang out with other kids of various other ages and play sports and table games, which was a huge asset to my social development, but I think mostly it was important that I had somewhere to go other than home. My soccer team as a kid was a big influence. I remember we started out as a couple of rec-league teams, I was on “All American Sports Exchange” and we’d had a bit of a rivalry going with another team. I think they were called “The Lucky Dogs,” if I remember. Our team was mainly lead by Charlie Sandell, the mother of one of the other kids on my team. At the end of the season, she worked with some of the other soccer parents to get the best kids from the two teams together to start a new team, and I stuck with that team for the remainder of my soccer career up to the age of about 16. We worked our way up into a select league; toured around Washington to play, and even went to Hawaii once to represent the U.S. in a tournament. I think in part, having the Boys and Girls Club and my soccer team as outlets kept me occupied and out of mischief, but it was having role models like Charlie that make the difference in the world. She kept our team together through YEARS, and I still remember the kids on my soccer team better than I remember most of the people I went to high school with.

In high school, I remember a few teachers that were very influential, most specifically Miss Collins, my psychology teacher. I was 50/50 with my teachers, some of them I had great relationships with, some I felt the need to terrorize. Miss Collins was one of those teachers that genuinely connected with her students, not because of an overbearing need to make a difference, but because she was just a genuine person. When I first applied for Running Start, (a GREAT program that allows high-school students to earn college credits) my school actually told me no. To this day I don’t know the real reason why, but I felt like it had something to do with either my older brothers’ history or the fact that my family wasn’t in a higher tax bracket, so I went to the college and asked them if they knew why my school wouldn’t let me join the program. The college, (Olympic Peninsula Community College) went over all the paperwork with me; I took it and highlighted the basic points, went back to my school and returned it to the office. After nearly a quarter of debates and paperwork processing, I finally was allowed to join the Running Start Program, only on the condition that I still took at least one class at my school. Well, my school was nearly an hour away from the college, add traveling on a bus to that, it was nearly impossible for me to keep that schedule. My psychology teacher was my last class of the day, so I’d often hang out after school and talk with her about different things I was interested in. When she heard me stressing out about the college thing, she offered to let me be her Teachers Assistant, which allowed me to take on another class credit without needing to physically BE at the school, and that dealt with I was off to college.

I remember the MASSIVE culture shock between High school and College, it was such an entirely different atmosphere, I actually WANTED to be there. High school, (depending on the teacher) I’d often felt like I was just memorizing and regurgitating information, here I felt like I was actually being taught something. That wasn’t the end of it though, after my first quarter or two at the Peninsula College, my oldest brother Corey offered to let me crash on his couch and told me that the Running Start Program was applicable in Seattle colleges too. I took this back to my high school, and of course, they told me no again, and I had to go through another round of paperwork pushing to get the green light to have my credits transferred here to Seattle, where I landed happily at the Seattle Central Community College. Once I started in Seattle, I was absorbing both the new angles of being in college versus high school, but I was taking in the difference between small town and city life. After a while my brother and I moved into bigger apartment together (I remember at first it was hell, he had a small 2 person leather couch in a studio apartment that I shared with him and his girlfriend for the first few months or so I lived here).

(Photo Credit: Christopher Chapman)

(Photo Credit: Christopher Chapman)

Q: What are some important lessons you have learned since starting Chance Fashion, both good and bad? What advice would you give to others who want to start their own business, especially in the local fashion industry?

A: My lesson: Learn to read through the marketing to see what people are really trying to sell you, and work your ass off. Becoming a successful artist is not a dream, it’s a matter of work ethic, educating yourself, and developing your talent. People are going to tell you things like “its all about who you know,” or “that’s just how it is.” Those are the same people who fail acknowledge “how things should be.” Artists are always looking for one magical opportunity that’s going to change the game for them, when in reality, it’s not any one thing, it’s a collection of things that you continue to work at. Even when you DO become successful, you have to continue to work at it; otherwise you’ll become a one-hit-wonder. Who you know isn’t going to make a difference if you fail to follow through with that person.

The fashion industry in specific has a huge marketing base in exclusivity. Everybody wants to throw the biggest shows in the fanciest venues with the best models and only the most important VIPs in attendance. I’m nowhere in the big leagues by any means, so I’m in no position of experience to really say I can speak for the entire industry, but I think it’s all bull****. Fashion is an art, and no art should be exclusively enjoyed by those who can afford it or gain access to it. Everybody has an opinion; too often we got lost thinking that somebody’s opinion is a fact.

I’ve also learned that a lot of people don’t actually want to be artists, they just want to say they’re an artist. Models, for instance, will get the inclination to get into modeling, do some shows and some shoots, start realizing how difficult it is to make money doing it, then quit, (or become “hobbyists”) blaming it on the conditions of industry. Truth is, most of those models just weren’t willing to do the work. It’s not different with designers, photographers, bands, dj’s, actors, performing artists. It’s a whole lot easier to work a 9-5, pay your bills and do your artwork in your spare time than it is to become a successful artist. That in part was a huge influence on why I got into entertainment, I wanted to create more opportunities for artists to pursue their creative ambitions. I feel like the creative process is an innate aspect of human nature that we’ve lost touch with as a culture, and we need to fix, because the creative process is what leads to discover. I’m not saying I know how and I’m not saying that I’ve done it, I’m just out here trying to figure it out and help folks while I’m at it.

The lesson there: You don’t fail until you quit. I have a major pet peeve with quitters, we all need to realize the influence we have on the people around us, and quitting is NEVER the answer.

I would also advise people never to assume they can’t learn something, and in fact, we should all learn as much as we possibly can. A lot of people start their businesses thinking they can do something better than somebody else did, not realizing that somebody else is already doing it. Learn, study, and do your MARKET RESEARCH. There’s an event company based out of Hollywood that I won’t name that’s all over the country taking advantage of artists. They operate on a pay-to-play policy with their talent, meaning, in order to showcase at their event, you have to sell X amount of tickets, under the claim that they’ll provide x amount of exposure. Well, the exposure that you get only comes from their website, which is entirely driven by the talent they book, so basically, they’re charging artists to do the work for both the shows and the branding of their own company. Any established artist is going to look at their talent packet and laugh, but up and comers think it’s a great opportunity, so they just get taken advantage of. On one show in specific, this company bragged about selling over 400 tickets to an event at $15 each at a venue with about that size capacity. At the end of the event, they didn’t pay a single artist, not a designer, not a dj, not a hair stylist or a makeup artist, and of course, they’re the ones that benefit from all the work they do.

So, on one end, Artists should know better than to sign onto events that they haven’t looked into, just because somebody is from Hollywood doesn’t mean they’re going to make you famous, just because somebody has national exposure doesn’t mean they can transfer that exposure to you, read between the lines. On the other end, the company didn’t do ANY research in regards to what is popular or unpopular city to city, and as a result, their events have no synergy, they’re just a collection of artists getting shoved onto a schedule together. Poor market research.

Here’s a couple other quick tips I’d suggest:
– Before ever asking yourself, “What can that person do for me?” you need to have a thorough understanding of “What can I do for that person?”
– Always follow through, and NEVER half ass it. (Models are always responding to casting calls from their cell phones with two word sentences like “I’m interested” or “more info?” That IS NOT the way to apply for a job.)
– DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO! If you cannot carry out your commitment to somebody, don’t make the commitment.
– Communicate. Always communicate, and learn HOW to communicate with different types of people. Most of the world’s problems revolve around communication issues.

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Ryan Muller at a fundraiser car wash helping direct the posing for a photo. (Photo Credit: Travers Dow)

In Seattle specifically, I would say quit comparing us to New York and Hollywood. We don’t need to be like them or any other fashion capitol, we’re fine just the way we are, and the sooner we all start believing that the sooner we’ll all start getting along. Seattle’s fashion community is like crabs in a bucket trying to claw at each other to get out. Everybody wants to be the boss; nobody wants to do the work.

Mind you, I am by no means a fashion-forward individual, I’m a jeans and T-shirt kinda guy, but I AM an adamant supporter of the Art & Entertainment community, and since fashion falls under that category I’ve somehow found myself shaking hands with it.

Q: Where do you see Chance and AMDEF in the future? Where do you see yourself in the future?

A: I’d like to see Chance and AMDEF established in other cities internationally. I have an idea for a venue I’d like to open some-day and maybe franchise that as well. I’d like to get into radio, movies, broadcasting and publications, I’d like to coordinate the Super Bowl Half Time Show some day. I don’t really see an end to Chance, AMDEF, or Active Entertainment, I only see the goal: Supporting the Art Culture. I don’t know where that’s going to lead me. I never expected to get into entertainment, let alone fashion. For the time being I’m just focusing on what I’ve got in front of me, but eventually I hope to be traveling the world doing all of the above, connecting the Artists and hopefully contributing my end to making this world a better place.

Q: Are there any charities that you work with that you’d like to give a shout out to?

A: Social Outreach Seattle, most definitely. I’ve worked with a handful of charities in the past, but I’ve NEVER worked with a charity that worked as hard as I did. They are what we call a community sponsor at Chance, and they were our beneficiary for AMDEF 2013. Typically a charity is just thankful for a donation, but SOSea and their founder Shaun Knittel have a MONSTER work ethic that is one of few I can actually look up to. They’re doing a lot of good for the community and I’ve got a lot of love for those guys.

Q: What do you love about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest? What is it about the PNW that is so unique for the fashion industry?

A: I believe that Seattle is such a unique city because it’s the biggest city to pretty much every small town in the Northwest, AND it’s an international tourist destination, creating a very unique sense of progressive thinking, acceptance, and artistic development. Because of all the rain, we spend more time indoors, leading to more though-provoking activity than say, lounging on the beach and surfing every day. I love A LOT about Seattle, the nature, the people, the community, the view. Seattle will always be my home, even if I’m living in some other city, there’s nothing not to love.

In regards to fashion, there’s always chatter of us being “functional fashionistas” – which is true. You don’t see many Seattleites walking around with an umbrella, and if you do, that’s a tourist. However, I wouldn’t say that’s the only thing we have going for us. We’re so far removed from the rest of the fashion industry out here, all we see are what we see on TV and in the papers, and if you don’t watch the crap on TV or read the BS in the papers, you’re not being influenced to create something main stream. That (and the infamous success of Macklemore) has tagged us as a “hipster city” – which is also true. There’s an upside and a down side to that, on the upside, hipsters think for themselves, on the down side, hipsters also think that because they think for themselves, they’re always right.

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