Young Designers on Display

Activity flurries in the dressing room, as last-minute touch-ups are hurriedly applied, bows are re-tied and glitter is sprinkled liberally over waiting arms and faces.

Outside, an expectant crowd lines the raised, T-shaped stage.

But it won’t be the latest Coco Chanel or Dolce and Gabbana fashions paraded down the aisle at this fashion show.

Instead, it will be original, self-designed and handmade works of fashion from local high school students, displayed in the final show closing the pilot year of the FADS (Fashion, Art and Design School) program.

Similar to the MAD and multiple outdoor education programs at Wood Street School, FADS took place over one semester at Porter Creek Secondary School.

Much like the Wood Street programs, it was a full-day, full-time program in which students learned sewing, textiles and garment construction, with occasional breaks for English and gym classes.

The final fashion show, titled La Belle Vita, gave the aspiring designers a chance to show their work: three finished complete outfits each, displayed by three models of their own choosing

The students rose to the occasion in a grand whirl of zebra stripes, pink lamé and fashions that ranged from street chic to flower child to positively outlandish.

“It’s been great,” says Leisa Gattie-Thurmer, one of the two teachers and organizers of the program.

“We set the bar really high. We expected a lot, and they were amazing, really quick learners.””

“It’s been excellent,” agrees her fellow instructor, Donna Letang

“They’ve really exceeded our expectations. Right now it’s for grades 10 and 11, and we have a lot of Grade 10 students wanting to come back next year. We’re looking at starting a more advanced FADS, as well.”

Letang goes on to explain the original idea behind the program and its start-up.

“The idea was conceived about three years ago,” she says, describing it as “an experimental program where fashion, design and art are the learning catalyst.”

Both teachers are happy to have seen their project through its pilot year, and feel it has been beneficial to the students participating.

“There’s been a ton of benefits,” says Letang.

“It’s a great thing, to be able to take an idea right through to the end. It’s a pretty amazing thing for a young person. We’ve had lots of strong friendships form.”

“We’ve had shy students come out of their shells,” adds Gattie-Thurmer.

“It’s changed them, helped them be more outgoing and creative. They’ve ended up with a great portfolio, which will be useful for post-secondary applications.”

It seems the students agree.

“It’s really fun,” says FADS student Amaya Cherian-Hall.

“We learn to sew and work with textiles. It’s way better than regular school. At the beginning we did more English, but the end was a lot more sewing. And gym was fun; we did soccer, pilates and Zumba.”

Cherian-Hall feels that the program teaches the kids good life skills, and that having just two teachers allowed the students to be flexible while working on their projects.

“The teachers are really fun,” she says.

“At the end we each made three outfits, and other projects of technical stuff, too.”

Besides just sewing, technique and design, the students also did field trips, experimented with fibre art and participated in a professional photo shoot.

The results of the photo session lined the walls of the gym and were displayed in the booklet for the fashion show, along with a headshot of each young designer and a short artist biography.

These photo/bios were also projected on a screen as each set of models did their walk, indicating who designed the outfits currently on parade. The models themselves—drawn from family, friends and classmates—seemed proud to show off the work of their designers.

“We’re stoked to be models for such an original creator!” smiles 19-year-old Gloria Casselman, who modelled Cherian-Hall’s distinctive hippie-chic styles.

Her co-model, Brycie Klassen, speaks highly of what she has seen so far of the FADS program.

“I think it’s really important to keep art and textiles in school,” she says.

“It’s kind of a dying art form. It’s a good creative outlet and it’s fun for teenage girls because they’re often into fashion. To get a program that is interesting and educational to teenagers is a pretty amazing thing… The level of interest here is high.”

With that high level of interest and the success of the final show, both teachers look forward to future years and improvements in their program.

“We are going to talk about what went well,” says Gattie-Thurmer.

“We’ve had comments from the audience about auctions and a student store… and within a five-year plan we’d like to have alumni and reunion fashion shows.”

Ideally, she would like to keep the program as it was run this year, in a manner that keeps the girls all day, “…though I’d like to run this at full capacity, and teach both semesters,” she adds.

She also hopes to see the program move to Wood Street School eventually.

For more information, including the program’s blog, visit

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