HOLLYWOOD—Valerie Mayen is a recent winner of Born Free USA’s fashion challenge. To shine a spotlight on talented emerging fashion designers who believe in the ethical and environmental benefits of shunning fur fashion,Born Free USA (BFUSA), the nationally recognized leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, created the Fur Free Fashion (FFFashion) Competition, now in its second successful year. Winners were announced recently by Born Free CEO Will Travers, after a celebrity judging panel made their final choices.

Travers said, “We created this competition to boost fashion careers and honor independent designers who have compassion for animals and for the ethical and green fashion movement. This has become an extraordinary opportunity for emerging fashion stars to showcase their talent and contribute to a critical global issue. Our hope is that these talented participants will help pave the way for a more ethical fashion industry in the future.”

This years’ judges for the competition were: Sophie Uliano, author of New York Times bestseller “Gorgeously Green”; Summer Rayne Oaks, model, spokesperson and expert for Discovery Network’s “Planet Green”; Brita Belli, editor of E/The Environmental Magazine; and Josh Dorfman, author and host of “The Lazy Environmentalist” on Sundance Channel’s The Green.

I spoke exclusively with the second place winner Valerie Mayen, an independent designer from Cleveland, Ohio.

Q-Valerie, what made you enter the FFFashion Competition to begin with, and were you surprised to win?

A-“I entered the competition on a whim really. While I’m not known for being a fur-free fashion designer, I do believe in sustainability in design and I love supporting worthy causes. I was a bit shocked to win a place in the top three because I knew the competition would be stiff. I was thrilled to have won second place! Everyone at Born FreeUSA has been so helpful and the urban decay makeup goody bag was a nice surprise.”

Q-Do you believe we are going through a phase with anti-fur fashions, or is it here to stay?

A-“I’m hopeful that fur-free fashion is here to stay, as the shift in most things lately has been towards sustainability. You never know with fashion though. Trends come and go like clockwork. My hope is that the alternatives to fur will outweigh the competition in quality and price, which definitely speaks to consumers.”

Q-What is your background in fashion design?

A-“My background in fashion design is a bit of a hybrid. I have my BFA in illustration and graphic design, so I’ve always considered myself an illustrator first and fashion designer second. After my undergrad, I took a few sewing and pattern making classes at a local design school on a whim, and it agreed with me. I started selling online and as my business grew, I taught myself new skills and more developed technique through books, workshops, forums and private classes in other states. The rest as they say is history!”

Q-What is your next project coming up?

A-“Post ‘Project Runway’, I am working on continuing the growth of ”˜Yellowcake,’ my current label. I am also starting a sewing co-op for young designers and professionals in Cleveland called ”˜Buzz and Growl.’ It will be somewhat like a gym, but for sewers and designers. Members will have access to professional grade machines, tools and space to build their careers. We also aim to have workshops, classes and seminars to help members with business particulars and industry details. All details are at my sitebuzzandgrowl.com. Other than that, just been busy answering emails, falling in love, enjoying the ride and making it work.”