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Aug 4, 2011

"Fashion Camp" for kids -- yea or nay?


Friends, I read this article in today's New York Times (you may have to click through an ad to get there, my apologies) and wanted to share it with you.  It's about fashion camp -- a summer program for tweens and teens who want to become fashion designers.

During the one-week program, the young participants "dream up their own fashion brands, tour museums, learn to blog, attend lectures by stylists and editors, and barnstorm shops like Barneys and Saks in trips known as 'market visits.'"

Readers, is it me, or is something missing here -- like sewing?   I mean, I recognize that the fashion industry is about a lot more than designing and manufacturing clothes (and branding is a BIG part of it), but I wonder what this program really aims to achieve.  What does a fashion designer actually do today?  You'd think they mainly just shopped,"styled," and blogged -- and cut pictures out of magazines.

Maybe I need to go to fashion camp myself (or start one, ha ha).

In the spirit of full disclosure, from ages 8-12, I went to a music and arts day camp run by the Y.  While the kids at the "normal" Y camp did sports all day, we "creatives" spent the morning rehearsing plays, doing ceramics, and building ice-cream stick... actually, I'm not sure what we were making with those ice cream sticks; I dimly recall boxes, many boxes (like log cabins, only flatter).

Then in the afternoon we did the stuff the other kids did, like archery or playing softball or volleyball, only very, very badly.   At the end of the day we had a short swim in a big pool and then piled back on the bus to go home.  I had a great time, but this camp was strictly amateur hour.


I get that a lot of kids today -- particularly teen girls -- are into style and fashion in a way that kids of my generation rarely were.  Fashion wasn't marketed as heavily to young people back then (the Seventies) and there was nothing like "Project Runway" or the Olsen twins. 


The first thing that jumped out at me about this fashion camp is the cost, which seems high (and doesn't include room and board), and is obviously beyond the reach of most kids.  The second part is that it has a pre-professional edge to it, or so it seems.  These kids want to work in "fashion" and this is, for them, a way to get into it.  Will they, ultimately?  Who knows.

In high school, I knew kids who went to tennis camp and music camp and theater camp, and today there's computer camp, math camp, science camp... I wouldn't be surprised if there was drag camp.  (In my late teens I was actually a counselor at Zoo Camp -- don't ask.)

If kids have a passion and the parents can afford to send them to a camp that helps them to cultivate it, is there anything wrong with that?

I'm reminded how differently kids today pick up skills than in the past.  A century ago, if you wanted to become, say, an actor, you learned from other actors -- there were vaudeville troupes and local theaters and many opportunities to perform.  There were no fancy camps (let alone MFA programs); you learned by doing and you didn't pay money for the privilege.  If you were good, they paid you.


Of course, if truth be told, most kids involved in the fashion industry today ARE sewing -- but that's another blog post.



In closing, wise readers, what do you think of "fashion camp" and the Times article?  If you had a child who was interested in fashion, would you send her (or him) to a program like this?

How would you support a child who wanted to enter the fashion industry today?

Jump in!

45 comments:

  1. Frightening. Making things is great... but attaching it to a career???? What's missing here is that a young girl (or boy) shouldn't have a "customer" - there should only be him/herself, and his/her own creativity to consider.

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  2. Well, I am certainly more than a little biased, but I cannot conceive of how someone could be a fashion designer without understanding garment construction. I am also a nerd, and the idea of sewing all day is way more exciting than the simply looking at fashion.

    My kids are too young for camp yet (1 and 3), but I hope that they explore all types of things at camp--for fun. My 3-year old has asked to go to dance class and "number" class. He also wants his own sewing machine to be like his papa.

    So, as for the fashion camp...if people who have too much money want to send their kids there and give them some false sense of expertise in the area of fashion, go for it. I, on the other hand, will be teaching my sons about "fashion" as well as math, and hand-eye coordination, simply by showing them how I design and create garments.

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  3. Sounds like a stupid marketing ploy to me. Designers who can't sew should not design.

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  4. I think it is ridiculous, in so many ways. What happened to learning to sew FIRST? Learning about fabrics, draping, technique? Acquiring a skill? I was horrified recently to read an article about a young male "designer" in Canada, that won a national competition. He actually said the downside to being in fashion is that sometimes you have to actually know how to sew! I could get up on my soapbox for awhile here, but I know others will chime in. Great can of worms you have opened for today, Peter!

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  5. Dawn Young CunninghamAugust 4, 2011 at 8:25 AM

    Where was this when I was a kid!? I had to get my fashion on in the 4H fashion show. I never made it to to big time,THE IOWA STATE FAIR.

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  6. I think it would be better named "Fashion Merchandising Camp". Doesn't it sound more like a crash course in how to market fashion?

    I'm not sure it's completely ridiculous, but definitely out of reach for most kids (and therefore, a bit ridiculous to me on that point). Like a lot of the commenters (and you, Peter!) I think learning to sew as a designer is much more valuable than learning the marketing side of things. Why? Sewing teaches you not only a skill, but how to design and what to expect from fabric and silhouettes. It really amazes me when I see so many people go into design school who don't know a lick of sewing--why are you there in the first place?

    All I know is that when I was a kid, I would have done just about anything to go to a sewing summer camp! (Yes, they existed--run by a local fabric store chain--but by the time I found out I was too old for that sort of thing. :p)

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  7. Wow, a camp to churn out pretentious know-it-alls about fashion (who in reality have no true skills)...nope, wouldn't send my kid.

    I'm teaching my older kids to sew - not for fashion, but because they are interested in creating something with their hands. We made pillowcases, then they went back to blasting Star Wars characters on the Wii...as it should be.

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  8. I'd be more willing to send her to draping and pattern making classes. At three, Bit has already asked me to teach her how to sew. I'm shopping around for a vintage non-powered sewing machine for her to learn on. (I have a powered one for later... when she's less likely to sew through her fingers) If she wants to learn more, well, there are certified teachers in our area that can teach her things I don't know how to do later on. And by then, perhaps I will have learned how to do it and can teach her myself!

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  9. I'm with Anonymous on this one. I thought that "Fashion Camp" for kids would be about teaching them how to match their clothes and not look like who flung what when they leave the house. I've got a 9yo who isn't colorblind but makes the MOST atrocious selections. If I left it up to her, she'd look like a bad facsimile of a Harajuku Girl. I could totally see her attending a camp where they show what goes with what and WHY.

    She's already been to a few sewing classes and made some things on her own to wear. But she still doesn't understand that short skirts need leggings under them because she hasn't learned to "sit like a lady" and not flash her crotch AND that you don't wear a tunic top so long that the skirt isn't even visible. She's my challening kid, that's for sure.

    My middle child could probably teach the class. She's got some mad skillz when it comes to accesorizing, putting outfits together and so on. She used to be all "everything pink" and now she's moved on to "pink and black".

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  10. I think this camp is more for aspiring fashion merchandisers than designers and I would've loved to have gone when I was a tween/teen since at that time FM is what I thought I wanted to do. If I had kids who were interested (and the money), I definitely would have considered it for them.

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  11. A couple of years ago, I was drafted into helping out in the "Fashion Design and Textiles" (or somesuch) course run for year 10 and 11 people at the school where I work in administration; I got the job because I could sew. I lost the job because I didn't know the course or system they were teaching - and apparently because I put pins into work to be sewn, in the wrong direction. No seriously.
    What really worried me was that many of the girls (there were no boys!) doing the course appeared to have never been near a sewing machine in their lives. I wanted to start them out with practising sewing straight lines; they wanted to get right into the designing part of fashion and textiles. (Once, I looked up from helping one girl to lay out her self-drafted patterns on her fabric and noticed that another girl at a machine was about to sew without putting the presser foot down. I called out to her, "Put the foot down!" She pressed harder on the pedal. Ack!

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  12. We do fashion camps at the Sewing Studio and sewing is a huge part of it! I wouldn't teach it to save my life--too many rugrats. But they get to learn a lot about construction, as well as the other stuff like design principles. The Lower Eastside Girls club does one too, and that also includes learning how to sew.

    I don't know, I don't really see anything wrong with it either way. My parents sent me to theater camp, and I'm sure that wasn't the best use of their money. :)

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  13. Here in San Francisco we have a sewing camp http://www.weescotty.com/schedule.html. My little girl has done the after school version. She was asked to design a dress (they used a pattern book to find something to base her dress on), she picked the fabric, learned how to cut and layout the pattern, and use the sewing machine. She is quite proud of the dress she made and can't wait to get her own machine. BTW she is 8 going on 9.

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  14. casey took the words out of my mouth. the description of the camp sounds a LOT like a really watered down, junior version the fashion marketing course i took when studying fashion design @ parsons. they are really being taught more about the marketing and merchandising side of fashion, i think, after perusing the article. i think they should call it what it is, but maybe "merchandising" doesn't sound as "sexy". if that makes sense. it sounds like a fluff of a camp in general; a bit of fun but nothing that would seriously prepare said kids for the realities of the real industry. and like gertie said, i guess there's nothing wrong with that per se, if parents want to pay for it and the kids like it. we live in a capitalist country, right? :P it would be neat if the camp was paired with a basic construction/garmentmaking course so the kids could see what it really takes to make designs come to life.

    i was in the AA fashion design program at parsons, and i was one of a select few who actually had previous sewing experience. the degree program i was in started people from the very, VERY beginning, as if they had never sewn before, and was aimed and advertised at those who might be switching careers and wanted a fast-track into the industry. and it did it's job for many. as long as you were very, very motivated and willing to work really hard to keep up with the curriculum and it's demands.

    a lot of people (in that program and just in general) had/have an interest in fashion and style but didn't have the skills to create the styles themselves. maybe they hadn't had the opportunity to learn to date or they didn't know where to start. the program gave them the skills...if they were willing to work and pay a LOT (30k/year, probably more now). i thought it was weird/curious that they hadn't really delved into garment construction *at all* before choosing to study fashion design/go into the fashion industry, but that was the reality. and for those who were really motivated, it was pretty amazing to watch them come up to speed in a short time, and see what they produced. it was kind of magical.

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  15. I see nothing wrong with this. I have a niece (who has made clothing) who would have loved this in H.S.. She's now in college majoring in Public Relations with a view of working somewhere (in corporate) for the Gap companies. So, for her, this would have been right up her alley. Did they say flat out it was for budding designers? It sounds like the one kid, Arizona, did a sewing program last year and was now looking to learn more about marketing which it sounds like this program is skewed towards. At the least, it sounds like she got what her parents paid for (IOW, they are being clear in their advertising even if the name sounds more sewing oriented than the program actually is.).

    Alexandra

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  16. the first thing i noticed in that article was that the camp was cheaper than susan khalje's couture camp - by a couple hundred dollars, at least!

    anyway, i feel like if you are going to be a fashion designer, you should at least have a basic idea of how a garment is constructed. the way a garment is made can make soo much of a difference in how it wears, and it seems really absurd to me that someone can ~design~ clothes & not understand what goes on inside.

    in that same vein, it bothers me to no end when my friends/colleagues refer to me as a ~fashion designer~. i'm not a fashion designer, i'm a seamstress! i think a big part of that is because so many fashion designers just don't know how to sew...and i do. i don't want to be lumped in with them.

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  17. Rightly or wrongly, the Times header reads "At Fashion Camp, Girls Learn to be Designers."

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  18. Ugh. The focus seems so consumerist. I'm also surprised that sewing isn't part of the curriculuum--not to mention supply chain.

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  19. Is it all right to teach kids that is is all right to take pictures that will get you thrown out of the building if caught? That seems very close to stealing imho. If the camp director is so well connected why not talk to the owners/managers of the store/s about participating? The girls could get brief lessons in the how & whys of merchandise display with a question and answer session. They could be invited into the stores at a time that works for the store and if pictures are still verboten then perhaps some quick sketches. If they arrived before hours then lessons on how to prepare a store for opening would also be very informative.

    As for the learning how to sew - those girls need a designer to straight out tell them "you need to learn to sew and understand fabrics." I work & take lessons at a Studio (fine arts make fine people) and it seems that the teenagers in our area have to be told point blank, they do not seem to read between the lines. Unless someone tells them they don't "get it." It seems the idea being taught is make the sketch/take a picture, describe your idea and hand it off to someone else though this camp really does seem more about merchandising.

    Love it or not the cost is way beyond our budget. There'd be some serious fund raising going on! At that price I'd be urging attendance at several different camps.

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  20. I have a much younger cousin who is very into fashion "design" and has done several programs like this. He was showing me some of his designs once (just sketches) and I asked him about what he was learning about sewing and he said that his instructor told him not to bother with sewing - "that's why they have factories in China" !!!!! I was agog and aghast!!!! I could not believe that is what they were teaching children. Sigh...

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  21. A "fashion camp" in NY that makes no use of or visits to the Garment District? Right.

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  22. This generation really is being raised in a way that steers them into probable careers very early. There are so many more camps now than when I was a kid, and most are very specialized -- camps for a specific sport, camps where you focus on one crafting skill, camps for performing arts... Everybody is desperate to find that one activity that their child excels at, that will make their kids life choices fall into place.

    I think these camps are fine for people who have disposable income to burn and need to do something with their kids while they are at work in the summer. If it were my kid, I'd be more interested in camps that teach useful skills like sewing -- my boys have done a lot of Scout camps, which cover all kinds of important stuff like First Aid, Wilderness Survival, Gun Safety, etc etc. I do think it's better to learn the skills first then the marketing later but what do I know?

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  23. I teach summer camps at a stitch lounge and all we do is sew!! We don't promise your child will be a designer or link our camps in any way to "fashion careers" but we do promise your child will learn to use the sewing machine and come away with some skills. They each design and make their own projects and they love it! If I had to choose I think giving your child a new skill and hobby is better for them than taking them to Barneys for the afternoon.

    All said I have a degree in textiles design and fashion and here I am teaching...not even going to FIT or Parsons guarantees you will be a "designer." Not to dash the dreams of young ones but art schools are pumping out would be fashion designers by the boat load...

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  24. Well, well, well. I don't know where to begin. First bravo to the people that are getting rich off these folks. (insert sarcasm here) Fashion is a business and they are just being taught what they see in television, it is all about fantasy and illusion. Enrollment would die off if they actually taught the true nature of the fashion industry rather than glamorizing it, right? Forgive me if that sounds callous.

    But when you have "desperate housewives" saying they "designed" a dress because they consulted with someone who actually constructed a garment from a collection of photos and vague descriptions, well.... it really isn't that far fetched from what they might believe designing is all about.

    I think what this article demonstrates is that no generally accepted definition of the word "designer" actually exists or can be agreed on.

    I once had a former boss' daughter, a teen, ask me if I could hem her friends pants. I said I was unable to and suggested the place that I take my own pants to be hemmed she replied, "oh she doesn't want to spend that much!" Can I blame her, no. Because they are use to shopping at the mall and buying trendy poorly made clothing. Sewing is not just viewed as glamorous or an art form by most young gals that I've encountered.

    I believe that there are some out there who do enjoy sewing and see it as an art form and are enrolled in sewing courses, just not these ones this "designer" camp.

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  25. I think I need to go to this camp. I just realized I'm wearing the same outfit today that I did on Monday. I can't leave my office, now.

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  26. candice: INDEED. even if you pay the big bucks for the education, it does not guarantee you a job in the industry. i learned a lot and the program was nice but in some ways it's like this camp, but for adults and preying upon people's dreams of "working in fashion". not to say that some don't go on and do something but the programs are full of dreamers who aren't ready to be doers...and even if you're willing to work it's still a challenge. nothing is ever easy! :P

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  27. As much as this whole "camp" experience stinks of spoiled kids and conspicuous consumption, I'm going to hold my nose and defend it. Absolutely, designers should know how to sew and make fashion sketches. But this program is about fashion merchandising and as such I have no problem with it. Branding is such a key concept in any kind of design these days, that I think it behooves any aspiring young fashion designer to understand what it is and how to use it.
    My own kids went to textile arts camp for a week this summer and had a fine time. Although the irony was not lost on me that I was paying some pretty big bucks for my kids to weave and sew all day when children in 3rd world countries are being forced to do these things out of economic necessity.

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  28. Yes...I agree this isn't exactly the kind of summer camp  I went to  as a teen...But I don't think that you can compare the two since each has a different purpose

    What bothers me about Fashion Camp is that they are focusing on a business and marketing theme, how to sell a product and how to make money....Rather than on being creative and thinking for yourself... I guess they are only  echoing what Fashion has become today, purely a business....

    Today's designers run businesses, they do very little design. In fact they have entire creative teams that come up with the ideas, they merely approve things or sell the rights to use their name/image for a product; branding.

    A great book to read is "The Death of Fashion" and one will see fashion is not what many of us are accustomed to as a concept...So if the parents have the money and the kids want this, send them, but I don't think this camp will make them a designer, perhaps a better shopper...and the parents a little poorer

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  29. Graca, one of my good friends IS a designer who was the "ghost designer" for one of the "Real" housewives of a certain area. She is SO talented and taught me much of what I know of couture sewing technique. And it's a flipping shame that she's being taken advantage of.

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  30. This camp caters to our national penchant for instant gratification--sewing skills are a long term investment and benefit. But it shows the power of language, to transform shilling into marketing. I'd guide my kids into sewing for its creative variety and versatility, and challenge them to make useful household things--shower curtains, lettuce bags, aprons, towel robes, hot pads, soft alphabet books, etc. It also encourages a consumerist mentality that is wasteful, don't you think? Sewing lets us choose from our inner minds what to make and wear; marketing tells us to follow the lead of others. My budget is too tight for "fashion camp," but sewing camp I could invest in. K.

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  31. Well, I wouldn't want to discourage a child if she/he were interested in fashion, but I would want to know exactly what this "camp" taught.

    Before attending something like this, I would teach my child to sew!!! That is, after all, how clothing is made, and I believe that anyone who wants to enter the fashion/design world needs to know how to sew.

    My son plays violin, and attended a national violin camp in Nashville when he was 17. He had been playing for 2 years before he went, and said he wished he would have been playing for longer before he went, because he could have gotten more out of the experience. Still it was one of the highlights of his life.

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  32. I would have said the camp is "whatever" - certainly better than not doing anything with one's summer - and then I ran across the price tag: $1,295 for five days, not including meals or housing?!?! What a scam. I need to get out of my current profession and start running "fashion" camps for people who are too rich.

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  33. I noticed the girl who was sewing was using an industrial serger. I wonder much money she made that day.... a pittance I'm sure.

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  34. I have seen fashion camps before but usually the kids learn to sew in the camp. My niece went to this camp (in Texas) that is how she learned to sew. I do not trust designers who can not sew. It's kind of like being a plus -sized designer but not being able to make plus sized clothing. You should always be your first customer.

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  35. I think you are all focusing on the wrong thing. My son went to a camp (TAG camp, which included an intensive Psych 101 class taught by real college profs) the summer after his 8th grade year, and it changed his life. Suddenly he knew other kids who were good at what HE was good at, who understood HIS humor and enjoyed what HE enjoyed. He is now out of college and he still keeps in touch with some of those friends. That's what camp is about--a week of intense time with others your age with whom you share a passion and/or way of thinking. It's for making friends. The topic of the camp is merely the common ground.

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  36. It may be more complicated than it seems. The marketing arm of the fashion industry likes to cultivate people of means as arbiters of taste--as dictated by the fashion house. Marketers of liquors have dressed up beautiful, well-spoken people and set them out to order specific drinks that include their products. An apprenticeship for wealthy and beautiful people to be controlled with free fabu clothes and sparkling tastemaker champagne events? Sounds like a great place for a wealthy mom to send an inconsequential and superficial fuck-up daughter who probably won't make it through four years of NYU.

    Anonymous Comment-Leaving Person

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  37. Great comments, everybody. Thanks for sharing your perspectives so eloquently!

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  38. All I can add to these great comments is that I hope these girls find out that designers like Coco Chanel actually knew how to sew.

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  39. Maybe this is a job creation program. The wealthy parent sends child to camp to learn how to describe what they want to wear. Then the wealthy parent has to find a sewist to realize junior's vision. Just a thought.

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  40. I see nothing wrong about it at all. Many camps for kids are extremely overpriced,nothing new there at all.
    I do think that learning about the fashion industry and marketing is different than learning how to sew.
    It is a camp. Camps are intended to be fun, create bonding and to share your interests with others. Would it be such a bad thing if someone left the camp totally inspired and it played a pivotal role in their life? Gee, it sounds fun to me.

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  41. Creativity is about genuine love and passion for a form of art - design or dance or music or beautiful craftsmanship (as in MPB & sewing) - the list goes on...
    It is a great dis-service to children to encourage them to feel entitled. They need to become empowered.

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  42. Looks like they are having fun creating and fantasizing about a career in fashion. There is more to being a fashion designer than sewing and they are learning that. Expensive? What isn't these days? Good on them they having parents that can afford it.

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  43. Well they may be having fun, but my late grandmother who went into fashion and textile design &fashion editing originally became interested & later attended the Fashion Inst of Technology because she became interested in sewing as she was tall & her mom was petite so she picked out things for my grandmother that didn't suit a tall person so she taught herself to sew & the design interest came from the sewing
    This must be common,my childhood friend from upstate NY was best friends with Tommy Hilfinger's sister, she tells me Tommy spent entire weekends as a teenager in the basement sewing blue jeans

    Sarah C

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  44. Your exactly right Peter. Fashion nowadays is already about designing, more on deciding the pattern and color. I wonder why they don't teach sewing in fashion designing lectures anymore.

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  45. Hi!
    Thanks for sharing this aawesome information, its very helpful and excellent....
    Excellent work..Keep up the great work........

    ReplyDelete

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