Joelle Allen is no ordinary woman; she is the epitome of one of the many dynamic, cultured women who stand next to professional athlete husbands. Our first NFL Woman of the Month is a French-speaking, fashion designer, business owner, charitable event organizer, proud mother and supportive wife. It is crystal clear that this woman is more than a former NFL player’s wife. Joelle has survived living in the war-torn country of Congo and maintained her perseverance and optimism. Now this intelligent, determined woman has been using her growing fashion design business to bring education and funding to an all girls’ school in her homeland.
Joelle’s presence in the fashion community and within NFL circles is stronger than she knows. Melinda Gates once said, “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.” This summarizes Joelle.
Mrs. Allen is the worthy recipient of this honor due the simple fact that, through difficulty, her strong work ethic allowed her voice to be found and expressed in her fashions. Joelle has further used her talents to make a global difference. This interview brought to light why Off the Field Players’ Wives Association (OTFPWA) and Pro Player Insiders nominated Mrs.Allen as May’s NFL Woman of the Month.
Pro Player Insiders was able to catch up with this OTFPWA’s NFL Woman of the Month , Joelle Allen.
Pro Player Insiders: How has living in Africa impacted your life in America?
Joelle Allen: I was born in Congo which is in the middle of Africa, near Katana. Living in Africa has made me open minded to other cultures and welcoming different kinds of people. Africa has natural beauty, lots of food, warmness, and is welcoming to all mankind. Living there has inspired my clothing designs to use Congolese and African fashion. On the other hand, living there as a child, I witnessed wars and fighting. At age 11, I had to leave the region in which I grew up because my uncle was the biggest opponent of the dictator in power (Mobutu). This tribe was killing people everyday and looking for my mom (my uncle’s sister). I lived through wars in Congo. In my teenage days I witness Mobutu get removed from power by rebel Kabila (the father of the current Kabila president). Life in Congo has impacted me greatly.
PPI: What is your current career and how did you get started?
JA: When I was around age 13, I began a career in fashion. I went to a girls only fashion High School and fashion college, one of the biggest fashion schools in central Africa. After high school, I left Congo to pursue my education and work in the fashion industry in Europe. My business, IJO Designs, started after I moved to New York. I was 22 years old when I moved to NYC after getting engaged to my husband Ian (former NFL player). When I moved, I was then introduced to designers that supported me like Dana Smith (CEO of Finn Creations) and Portus Raymond a former designer for the Gap and Banana Republic.
PPI: How did you and your husband meet?
JA: I met Ian when I was a fashion student. One night I walking down the street in the UK and I saw Ian and this other huge man walking towards me. I thought they were WWE wrestlers. Turned out he was an offensive lineman for the New York Giants in the National Football League. I didn’t know much about football in the United States; all I knew about was soccer. From there we started calling each other a lot and he would come visit me in the UK on the weekends.
PPI: What do you do off the field in the community?
JA: My main focus is helping with education. I plan and host fashion shows to raise money and awareness for educational needs in Africa. I help mentor students by encouraging them to keep them to stay focused and driven on what they want to do in life. In mentoring, I also try to incorporate the word of God to students and others whenever I can.
PPI: You incorporate fashion shows to help fund your charitable work. Tell us about your upcoming event.
JA: My next event is Taste of Africa Fashion Show which will be in Indianapolis on May 19th, where “African Fashion Comes to Indianapolis for a Cause. ” I am striving to increase the awareness of education in Congo by showcasing various fashions like exotic patterns, beautiful fabrics and innovative cuts with my designs and others designs. As the founder of the event, I plan to use the raised money toward educating over 100 girls in the Congo (at the Georges Malaika Foundation’s School for Girls). I also hope to give those attending teh show a different perspective of the education being provided in Africa.PPI: How has having a husband in NFL helped you and what are some down falls?
JA: Lots of people think that I am a designer only because my husband is in the NFL. But really I started my fashion education and working in the industry when I was 13. ALthough having a husband in the NFL it has definitely helped my clothing designs get exposure. The NFL community and America is great because both have been very supportive of my work.
JA: My favorite moment was watching Ian playwas with the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl a few years ago. The NFL cities really take care of the families that attend the Super Bowl. They alwasy make it a fun family event for all those who attend.
PPI: The NFL Draft just took place a couple weeks ago. What was your draft memory?
JA: Well, it was disappointing draft day for Ian. Ian didn’t get drafted but he did end up signing with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was released by the Chiefs and was signed a contract to play in NFL Europe. Later he ended up playing for the Giants, Eagles and the Cardinals.
PPI: What does your husband do in his free time? Or since he has retired from football?
JA: Ian is expected to earn his MBA degree (from the Krannert School of Management) this May from Purdue University (his alma mater), here in Indianapolis. With this degree his is hoping to get a job at the General Motors factory in Michigan. He is also involved in the music industry. He plays and produces music with his band “Nova 53 Records.” LISTEN HERE: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ianallen (In 2008, Ian also became owner of a football team in England called the Ipwich Cardinals American Football club.)
PPI: The NFL players and families truly support each other. Who is your closest friend that is an NFL wife?
JA: I actually have two girlfriends who I am still very close with. They are Chanea Thomas (wife of 13 year veteran Tra Thomas of the Eagles) and Erika Lassiter (president of the Off the Field Players Wives Association and wife of 9 year veteran Kwamie Lassiter of the Cardinals ) because they are always there for me to talk to. They are both very supportive in what I do in the community and everywhere else in my life.
PPI: Has there been a former teammate or friend your husband has stayed in touch with?
JA: Michael Strahan is Ian’s closest friend from the NFL. Michael is an unbelievable person and always encourages Ian to try his best in everything he does. He also introduced us to a lot of people in NYC in order to begin in the fashion industry. He has been invaluable in helping me get connected at the initial stages of my clothing business.
JA: Our days are full with organized schedules and each of us supports each other in whatever we are doing. I am always sketching, sewing designs, and staying up to date in the fashion industry. On top of my business and his schooling, we spend our time with our two daughters. We are frequently helping our two daughters with their own projects and both children have learned to speak both English and French. Actually, we love to travel as well. My favorite place I have traveled is Paris because I enjoy speaking French and my family still lives there. I also love going to Cape Town, South Africa because that is where Ian and I got married. I love going to the Congo ( where I grew up ) as well.
PPI: If you could give advice to others on balancing life with a professional athlete what would it be?
JA: Being a professional athlete is not always a glamorous business. It requires a lot of discipline, and encouraging on the wife’s behalf to remind them to go out there and do the best they can. Remember to be there to support them through the good and bad.
To find Joelle Allen’s current clothing designs go to www.ijo.ca Also find her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/IJO-fashion-the-Tastes-of-Africa-Project/78923196086
Donate or Check out Joelle’s upcoming event www.toafashionshow.com : The funds raised will go to Georges Malaika Foundation’s School for Girls in the Congo. The audience will have a chance to learn about the Georges Malaika Foundation’s exciting school that provides a tuition-free learning experience to over 100 girls in Kalebuka, DRC. This private school provides a holistic learning experience tuition-free, including uniforms, shoes, school supplies and two healthy meals a day. The vision is to eliminate the barriers that prevent so many girls from exercising their rights to a quality education, and sustaining a productive environment for young women to develop the skills and potential to become the leaders of the next generation.
By Theresa Villano
Follow Theresa on Twitter at @Theresa_PPI