#SuperProfesh is all about highlighting the vibrant personal style of entrepreneurial women from every field and background, showing the world that a work uniform never has to be basic.
Liberian-born Kweighbaye Kotee is not a woman to be messed with. Everything about her is impressive, from the position she holds as founder and CEO of the Bushwick Film Festival (BFF) to her involvement in her community as the executive director of two Brooklyn-based nonprofits.
Not only is she a composed and hardworking individual, but she also makes a point to let her creativity shine through in her bold, creative approach to fashion. It's no wonder her closet is filled with the sweet sartorial smell of someone who isn't afraid to wear print, pattern, and embellishment, but she also kills a jeans-and-tee look when it's time to get down to brass tacks on a long day of production.
We visited Kweighbaye at her Brooklyn-based digs and got a chance to speak with her about the impact of fashion on her career, mistakes she's made since she started the BFF, and what it's like to be a woman in a leadership role in a creative and entrepreneurial field.
To purchase tickets to the Bushwick Film Festival, click here and use discount code SuperProfesh for 30% off!
"I think if expressing your individual style is very important to you, you should look for a career and environments that allow you to do so. When I worked in a corporate job, I didn’t feel like the culture allowed me to play with style or dress too loudly. I wore very toned-down colors, pants, mid-length skirts, collared shirts, sweaters, etc. Every day. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it wasn’t who I was, and I felt like a part of me was being hidden. Part of my closet was 'work clothes,' which I took off immediately after work. Now my entire closet can be worn to work because I have the freedom to express who I am 24/7."
"Depending on what I have on, I either feel and act like I have the power to take on the world, or I feel and act like a fly on the wall. In addition, I think that finding your style is like self-care. It’s paying attention to yourself and making time to show up in the world as your best self. So I make time to wear clothes and brands that fit my body type, and that makes me feel confident in my skin. I try my best to show up in the world in a way that expresses outwardly who I am in the inside."
"What I wear depends mostly on my schedule for the day and sometimes on my mood. If I have a day full of meetings throughout the city, I would wear stylish but comfortable shoes that have a low platform with something that is cute and comfortable. I love high-waisted pants, jeans, and dresses. You can usually catch me in bright, vibrant colors because that’s how I feel most of the time. However, if I have a production day, I’ll have your basic jeans and a T-shirt on with sneakers."
"Clothing can be all too important in this industry. As much as I enjoy glamming up and going to red carpet events, I think the importance should be based more on creativity and individual style. We shouldn’t have to be held to the impossible standards of high or expensive fashion. It’s also much harder for women to meet the impossible standards of style that we face. Because the industry holds so much weight on looks, the entertainment industry can feel inaccessible."
"When we started this whole thing, my friend Laree Ross became my business partner, and we managed the festival together for the first four years. Our first official meeting was in a park. It was about five or six people, and we had a boombox and a bunch of flyers, and we rode around the neighborhood with our bikes, wearing summer shorts and T-shirts, putting up flyers, blasting music, and just having fun. I remember one day when I came home, I opened my mailbox and I had a package in there that was addressed to 'Bushwick Film Festival,' and I was sooo happy!"
"In those days, we only accepted films via snail mail, and we got them on either DVDs or MiniDV. We ended up receiving about 30 film submissions, and I put together a screening committee of about three friends to make film selections. Two months after that, I decided to put on the festival; we launched in August in an art space that was called 3rd Ward. The opening night was full, and about 250 people attended the entire weekend."
"When the doors opened to the first annual BFF, it was unreal. I remember feeling so proud and amazed that I could take on such a large project, rally people to work together to do something, and from scratch make it happen. Each year at the festival, I have the same incredible feeling. This year we had over 1,300 film submissions, from over 40 different countries. Our professional screening committee of about 20 people selected 100 films. Last year we welcomed about 3,000 guests, and we expect more this year!"
"Figuring out how to run a festival was a step-by-step process for me. I didn’t have any experience or guidelines, so I had to learn as I went. I didn’t have a budget, in the beginning, to hire people, so I had to teach myself to do everything. I also struggled financially for a while because there was no profit for many years. It took a lot of time, and I made tons of mistakes."
"I’ve mismanaged relationships, fell short on funds, lost some very awesome team members, and screwed up a few screenings. I even had some people tell me I should quit, which I almost did a few times. But I knew deep down that the Bushwick Film Festival had great potential and that I was working towards something that was important and would make a positive impact not only in the film industry but in Bushwick."
"I realized that it was inspiring to women and particularly young women of color to see someone like me excelling in an industry that lacks diversity. It was also inspiring to my family to see me lead and grow a company. So I kept going and realized that I learned from every mistake and am grateful for all of them. And that’s also what I love about the festival. It still has this 'against the odds, I can do anything' spirit. And that’s also the spirit of independent film and creativity."
"What I love about Bushwick is its diversity, its creativity, and its history of overcoming adversity. When I started the festival, I felt connected to both the artist community, the immigrant community, and the working-class community. They are all part of my story, and I became friends with a lot of people that I met in my neighborhood from all walks of life."
"Moving from Liberia to New Jersey due to a civil war, we ended up having to move around more than your average family, and I never had the time to fully connect with a neighborhood. In addition, I went to boarding school and then came to NYC for college, but still moved around in NYC from dorm to dorm. Bushwick was the first place that I officially called home and the longest place I’ve ever lived. It’s a very vibrant community with so many layers. I’ve experienced the last 12 years of my life here, so it’s an important place for me."
"The 11th annual Bushwick Film Festival is coming up, and tickets are on sale! Don't forget to use code SuperProfesh for 30% off. Our dates are October 10 to 14, and over the course of five days, we are producing 40 events and screenings in Bushwick! Our program includes about 100 incredible indie films (a mix of shorts and features), great panels with leading industry professionals, networking events, and parties! This year’s opening night is our biggest and most fabulous event, which takes place at House of Yes and is sponsored by Spectrum. Every year I wear dresses that are bejeweled, so it’s now a tradition!"
"We also will have a special screening called Bushwick Stories, which is an initiative sponsored by B&H Photo and Canon where we created a weeklong filmmaking workshop for 15 young storytellers in Bushwick. The films that they made out of the workshop will be screened this year at a special community screening during the festival."
"Our official beverage sponsor is Brugal 1888 and Partida Tequila, who will be providing specialty cocktails and tastings throughout the weekend, so it's gonna be a party."
"But the very best thing about Bushwick Film Festival is Bushwick! The streets are outdoor museums, and the community of film lovers who you meet are just amazing."