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Development Education Events

Fostering a new generation of footwear designers with Girls For A Change


New York Creative Industry Camp 

Brianna, Jessica, Camryn, Khefera, and Iyana of Girls For A Change at Target HQ.

Education has been a focus of the reinvention of Last-Report magazine. So when I traveled to New York City this past June, with a group of young ladies from Richmond, Virginia – I had a rare inside view on how social change and real-life touch-points will impact the future of fashion. It was an empowering experience for me as a fashion designer and educator. And I wanted to take my time to write about this and share what I have learned.

I was first introduced to Girls For A Change through, Michael Fisher VP, Creative Director of Fashion Snoops back in 2017. I saw that Fashion Snoops was involved as a sponsor and supporter of the organization’s annual Creative Industry Camp in New York City. Fast-forward to two years later, after a few failed attempts at getting my company to sponsor the event, I still kept in touch because I knew this was something I wanted to be involved with.

Working on emails and split time-zone phone calls, I was finally able to connect with CFAG Chief Executive Officer Angela Patton and her fantastic team. Patton then invited me and Last-Report to spend five days in New York City interacting and engaging with eight phenomenal young ladies as a chaperone for the.

Angela Patton (far right) with First Lady of Virginia, Pam Northam and her Girls For A Change group members.

I was told by Patton that the best way to truly understand what she is doing with her organization and young minds was to be there on the front-line. The “front-line” being the “sister” to these girls, listening, engaging and being attentive, absorbing the hopes and dreams of young girls of color, walking the streets of Midtown Manhattan – the most fashion-forward place in the world.

During the trip, I had asked a simple question pertaining to what they wanted to do with their lives in this industry. The answers and words flowed so automatically as if rehearsed, all while checking their DMs, listening to their iPhones, taking selfies and posting, watching the changing advertisement billboard screens.

It created a wondrous augmented reality in my mind. These young ladies know exactly what they want, but I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of “For Lease” signs throughout the city.  Could they be the ones to help eradicate the fashion apocalypse?

The Purpose

In the recent fashion explosion of diversity, inclusion, and equality in question – there is no better time than now to introduce the industry to young Black talent. The Creative Industry Camp is part of several specialty programs that GFAC offers. However, a fashion career is an area that has little relevance in the town of Richmond.

Exposing the girls to fashion outside of Instagram models and Youtube videos are of high importance to Patton and her mission to “Prepare Black Girls For The World.” Spinning the knowledge that the fashion industry goes beyond pretty images and cute #OOTD. Achieving this requires a high-speed crash course into what is expected and what goes on behind the scenes in the fashion world. 

A note from Camryn.

What better place than New York to show young hopefuls what it is really like?

The five-day itinerary had its own roller-coaster challenges ahead as dates and times shifted, canceled appointments and last minute ‘hood-tours, took me back to my years as a budding urban apparel designer. Anything can happen here and you have to be able to go with the flow. Something that may have been a shock to some but not to anyone who lives and breathes the industry of fashion.

With the backdrop of a famous skyline and uber and lyft as our chariots, at 8am each morning – we got down to business.

It’s All About The Shoes

I never thought about shoes this way before. I thought it was just a shoe.

Girls For A Change Camp Member

Prior to the several hour chartered bus trek to New York, the girls had full access to our Footwear Design & Manufacturing online course. This would prepare them in advance to what they would see, hear and talk about during the upcoming stops along the camp tour. Facilitated by Ms. Donna Reamy – a former VCU fashion department acting chair – the girls learned about the process of shoe-making and designing their first shoe. As part of the educational arm, Reamy did an amazing job putting the curriculum in action. It was the first time our FD&M course was facilitated live and in motion. The results were impressive, to say the least.

Held in the NY corporate offices of Target – the girls presented their shoe designs in a fashion that I have only seen by professionals. Actually, some of their sketches and details were better than professional shoe designers. They came equipped with first and final designs as well as color swatches. Logos and brand ID statements. 

One of the fashion campers, Antonia Cheatham created a shoe that was inspired by global warming and its effects. Antonia graduated High School just recently and has already earned an Associates Degree. Her career focus is Law. Well, there are many fashion companies who could use a legal retainer to guide them through ethical, moral, and environmental policies. 

Shoes that reflect thoughts on climate change.

You can read more about her experience here

How I Become An Artist In A Week

Cowboy boots with reflective properties influenced by social injustice, heels that can transform into flats, bubbly high-tower soles, drip-inspired platforms, candy-colored sparkles, 80’s slouch boots with graphic messages, and animal print classic pumps round out the collection presented.

I had the opportunity to tell the girls about what I do, my background and what inspired me to become a footwear designer. It’s a long story – just read my bio. This article is all about the girls so please persue through some of the work presented to me.

Support The Future

Target and Fashion Snoops have been partners of the Creative Industry Camp since its inception and they did not disappoint. The GFAC team reviewed Target’s S/S2020 collection and were more than ready to give them feedback on what was hot and what was not. The Target team included a design assistant, Wild Fable Designer Shannon Gillespie, and Trend Manager, Harmony Leister.

Team Target with swag bags.

One particular highlight from this meeting was the discussion with Target’s resident Technical Designer. She was insightful and explained to the girls how her role as a technical designer impacts the way clothing in Target fits, feels and drapes. That every aspect of the design has to be thought out before it gets made. Needless to say, her work area was flooded with fabrics, patterns, and samples. Not to stop the process, she even attended an overseas conference call during the meeting. Further driving home for the girls the importance of being present and active with your vendor, even if they are oceans away and in a different time zone.

Wild Fabel designer, Gillespie with girls and Bullseye plushie.

Fashion Snoops trend forecasting service gave us a rare look into their “show and tell” day. This is the day CEO and Founder, Lilly Berelovich brings together her team of editors, interns and sales to present their research finds. Each department showcased what is trending, what should be trending. What is making waves and what they think the audience would like to know about.

It was a brainstorm session of “look what I found.” To achieve this dynamic round-table discussion, the groups were asked to think about themselves as consumers today. What do people talk about? What do they fear? What do they love? What are they affected by today? What are families talking about? All of those elements create a trend that we must recognize to share.

Lots of positive energy behind these doors.

In attendance was Odessa – a Girls For A Change Ambassador – who spent 2 weeks as an intern with Fashion Snoops. She had taken the Creative Industry in 2018 and was so intrigued by what Fashion Snoops does, they opened the opportunity to join the company as an intern. This internship option is available to all the girls who attend the camp and show the most interest. Internships like this do not just pop-up. They are sought out. Gaining that real-world experience is essential for a young mind as they harness who they will become and shape who they want to be.

“be bold, be loud, and show yourself.” 

Lilly Berelovich

More Caring 

Berelovich gave us the run-down on how she formulated her woman-owned business 20 years ago. As a designer, she filled a gap making trend research more convenient to reach when travel could not be done. Some of us know the story of WGSN’s acquisition of Style Sight.

Fashion Snoops is still hanging in there providing quality research and timely trend analysis from fabric to lifestyle all from the convenience of a mobile device or desktop. A fantastic concept that I still see is relevant today. 

Berelovich promotes “Girl Power,” throughout her organization and mentioned that a woman-run business has a certain caring and nurturing environment that you will not find in a business run by a man. This is the gospel truth and not a sexist statement. Women-owned businesses thrive because they understand how to encourage and nurture a team with patience and understanding.

GFAC working on logo design from the Footwear Design & Manufacturing course.

She talked about the importance of building a sisterhood and support yourself as a woman and trust your instincts. And that if you think that people do not want to hire you or don’t want to stay in contact, could very well be all in your head. “No one is unreachable.” Her advice to the girls when starting out on their career paths and staying accountable was to “be bold, be loud, and show yourself.” 

“ – And stop apologizing,” Fisher adds being one of the many male supporters in the organization. 

You’ve Been Schooled

Surely you have read my article on Sneaker Essentials and the curriculum they have created, right? 

That article sparked an interesting conversation that lead to an invitation to the Yellowbrick studios where the girls met with Chief Marketing Officer John Kerner, Marketing Manager Kristen Richardson and the amazing production team Director of Instructional Design David Grandison Jr. and Content Strategy Manager Tamika Hall.

At Yellowbrick studios viewing the Sneaker Essential course.

The people behind the scenes of fashion are almost always the ones who get very little shine for the incredible work they do. Being the person who creates amazing videos and animations, is absolutely a career path to consider. Being the person who thinks of and pens the content to create a course like Sneaker Essentials is something that most people do not think of when they think of fashion. But Grandison and Hall created an intuitive platform for sneakers heads with the lead of FIT faculty leaders.

Grandison was kind enough to lead the presentation to show off some interesting features like the 360 views of the inside of factories. And some VR-level interaction with UBIQ of Philadelphia. 

Grandison is no stranger to the sneaker culture and its influences including music as he produces the website, musicorigins.org – a site identifying the cultural regions and specific locations that were important to the origins of various musical art forms.

I felt an overwhelming sense of pride when Grandison asked a random question about Jan Ernst Matzeliger – the father of the lasting machine. You cannot imagine how excited I was to hear, Iyanna (camp member), shout out who he was.

After the presentation, the girls were able to see the studio and equipment used in developing Sneaker Essentials as well as other educational courses that Yellowbrick provides. Plus they got some really cool swag in partnership with 47 Brand Caps. 

Camryn discussing her slouch boot idea.

So what else was part of our sneakerhead conversation? Hall’s nudge to Nike to stop recycling models and come up with something new. “It’s literally an old shoe,” she says. We touched on the Off-White project and other custom AF1’s and Jordan pieces that are elevating the costs of collector items but dulled down the creativity of the NIKE design staff.

The future of sneaker culture?

“More women in the industry,” states Kerner. 

“Going green,” was the comment from Richardson.

And according to Grandison –  “As it becomes more diverse, more creativity will be in the mix.”

Let us hope that the sneaker culture will not dwindle down due to lack of creativity at the helm of mega-corporations. There are plenty of talented minds taking up space and are not being utilized for the sole purpose of them being there.

Lasts in Brooklyn.

The girls also got a dose of the school of hard knocks, understanding that a big name on your resume does not mean you have the chance to design anything. It just means that you got a job there. And at this point in time, for some of these big-name fashion brands who do not use their talented staff wisely, it seems as though there has not been a new model coming down the footwear conveyor belt for years.

Fashion Institute of Technology

No New York fashion trip could be complete without visiting the most revered fashion institutions in the United States. SUNY’s Fashion Institute of Technology welcomed the GFAC group with a full-on college campus tour. There were talks about classes, dorms, and programs that the girls could prepare for as well as portfolio prep.

One of these days their work could be displayed here.

Guided by two current students from the Apparel Design and Textile programs – we were introduced to the re-branded FIT focusing on unconventional minds. FIT design program is straight to the point and highly competitive. To keep the success rates high, new entries need to know a little somethin’, somethin’ about the career they are interested in pursuing. Of course, being an FIT alumnus, there were many nostalgic moments walking through the halls, passing the sewing rooms. I saw my old locker as well. Walking past the displays of the student works, brought back fond memories of being a budding designer – thinking I knew everything. Those were the days!

Escorted through the halls of FIT.

It is important to note that the national average degree rate is 54%. FIT degree rate is 89%.

At FIT the girls interested could earn a degree in Accessory Design that covers footwear and handbags and leather goods. 

Let Women Rule

Barnard College. Founded in 1889 by Annie Nathan Meyer, who named it after Columbia University’s 10th president Frederick Barnard, it is one of the oldest private women’s liberal arts colleges in the world. So you can imagine what this campus was like in the late 60’s into the 70’s.

And who better to give us a greeting than one my oldest friends in the world –  Writer and Author, N. Jamiyla Chisholm. She holds court as Senior Associate Director, Creative Content in Barnard’s communications department. 

At Barnard College with Chisholm (far left) and the GFAC group. 
Chisholm going over an article style at Barnard College.

Getting a lesson on writing, editing, journalism, and digital journalism, the girls got a feel for the components of a story, what the nuances are in writing, and how they can apply their skills as a writer by finding their voice. Writing and content development is usually the farthest away from the thoughts of a fashion-focused career path. In the world we are moving toward, content writing is easily one of the fastest moving remote job titles. As a designer or fashion journalist you have to know how to communicate your brand to your audience.

“You have to be the one to tell your story,” says Chisholm. “And do NOT self-edit.”

(note to self…)

Spread Love Is The Brooklyn Way

It’s early morning and we need to make our way to BK, home of the Brooklyn Shoe Space. What was to be a quick meet & greet instantly evolved into an educative workshop for the girls. We met up with Co-founder Keiko Hirosue who sat down with us and talked about her journey into footwear.

What started out as needing space for her creative juices to flow, turned into an open space for shoe designers to be hands-on with their work. We got to hear first-hand the inspiration behind the in-house vegan brand, LOYAL and the facility in New Jersey that produces the line.

Hirosue talking to us about the steps in shoe making.

The Brooklyn Shoe Space is the ONLY Woman-owned footwear sampling and factory facility on the Eastern Seaboard. Hirosue was on the tail-end of her last trimester, still giving lessons behind the circular post machine. This showed how much she is dedicated to the craft and how much she is in support of teaching others the same. 

The girls were able to spend time, taking their online learning into the physical realm with the Brooklyn Shoe Space.  All of that knowledge gained by the FD&M course unfolded right in front of them.  Hirosue, with her intern in tow, walked through the components and machinery as well as allowing the girls to use the machines. Some experimented with the leather pieces, while some were able to create little keepsakes.  

Ramsey is no stranger behind a sewing machine as the others take durection from Hirosue.

BSS also develops handbags and houses a program with Lulah and the Women’s Prison Association

The women taking this class are seeking dignified career opportunities in NYC’s fashion industry and have been impacted by the criminal legal system. 

Myasia studying the upper quarter of an oxford pattern.

A standout moment here for me was when Brianna, 14 –  was in awe with all the lasts that were in the space. I remember thinking, she remembered what a last is – Yes!  

Jessica, a rising HS Sophomore who is also 14 – expressed her challenges in fashion being a small person and was interested in learning more about how the lasts are developed and integrated into footwear design. That ignited a discussion on the lack of support and selection of footwear for girls and women like her who have a naturally wider foot. Finding fashion-forward footwear like the shoes she designed is not easily found. Perhaps she would be the one to pioneer this segment of the industry creating a category that is otherwise, untapped.

BSS is also mentioned in the Sneaker Essential course.

Brooklyn is my hometown and so it was only right to take a walk around Bed Stuy (the locational muse for the shoe brand, BED|STÜ) and explore the shops of “Black Girl Magic Row”, Fort Greene and take flicks against a mural of The Notorious B.I.G at Christopher Wallace Way.

Uncovering Mental Health

“how do you deal with not getting credit for your designs?”

Camryn, 15 of GFAC was intrigued by the lack of African American women in the industry, was also struck by the aspect of mental health during the trip. What I found incredibly interesting was that although we had not touched the topic – it was something that lingered in the minds of these young individuals. Without knowing that this subject would be explored, we visited the NY Headquarters of Kate Spade.

Kate Spade A/W Youtube commercial.

Upon entering the office space, staff could take rest in knowing that they could post their affirmations and positive messages to themselves and others on the walls. It is this corporate message we see now throughout the brand’s marketing campaigns, aligned with social media and as an acting voice in understanding mental health is real in fashion. Combine that with the issues in diversity and acceptance that these girls will face, and you have ground-zero status for immediate change. 

The set up for this space at Kate Spade further fosters the idea that before you enter your workspace and before you leave to go home – know that you can always pause, take a breather and remember what you set out to do in a positive manner.

Quote from Kate Spade.

Seeing this display confirmed that fashion possesses so much pressure on everyone involved on many levels. Every office should adapt some kind of workplace destination for people to chill and regroup.

Creative Director Nicola Glass’s Spring 2020 was alive and literally kicking at the Kate Spade presentation. The visit was handled by Kiana St. Louis who was gracious enough to make sure that everything was in line with the camp’s program to include footwear. Sr. Designer Julia Egan and ex-automotive designer, now Lifestyle Footwear Designer, Piers Helmore. 

Both presented their take on what footwear development is like at Kate Spade.  

Sorry – no pictures please, we were told. So you will have to wait for the Spring 2020 runway show to see what I saw. The Kate Spade team secrets are safe with me!

Circling back to the idea of internal unrest, our host, Kiana St. Louis asked a very thought-provoking question – “how do you deal with not getting credit for your designs?” It is a question that may turn some faces pale because it is an honest question that creatives often fight with on a daily basis.

As Helmore put it, “I think it all boils down to the personality of the person. For some it is welcomed to be in the background,” He states. “And for others, well, they go on to create their own brands.”

Kate Spade, NY

Clearly this was a true story as Helmore previously explained how he enjoys being the designer in the background to some heavy hit names like Stella McCartney and helping to create A$AP Rocky’s shoe for Underarmour. Egan, on the other hand, embraces her side-passion and developed a line of children’s shoes in Mexico.


Egan’s advice to the girls was to “believe in what you make and defend it.”

Witnessing this dichotomy in the presence of professionals, in the headquarters of a 2.4-billion dollar brand namesake, was priceless. Even for me. With mental health being on the minds and ethical corporate consciousness on the line these days, being able to freely express your creativity is a must no matter if you prefer being in the background or yearn for the spotlight. 

Fun platform from the Kate Spade A/W2019 collection.

Designers and creatives have a conflict at some point in their careers and it is important that we recognize this from point A of hire. Recognition and acceptance is something that should be addressed company-wide on a regular basis to not lose that light. To stay at peace with who you are. The room felt real. It felt stark, and it felt like fashion.

Skies The Limit

Waiting area at the NBA office hold up some heavyweight players.

Our last stop was with the NBA. Now you might think – what purpose does fashion serve in the NBA? But when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and female leadership – visiting the Diversity and Inclusion Director Sheley Riester, Lauren Thomas and Jihanne Burgess was a necessity. 

The NBA is the largest supporter of sports athletic shoes. The impact of sports franchises and sneaker culture is an essential part of the education of footwear design. Being in the presence of the multi-billion dollar industry gives one a different perspective on not only footwear design but the future of the consumer market in general. What does it mean for footwear brands to be endorsed by NBA and WNBA players?  How does this collaboration elevate your brand and position in the market? And finally, does design matter or does the player’s success matter? Would the Air Jordan design still be as successful if Michael Jordan decided to wear all whites and not the red, white and black combo?

Specs on the Backboard.

At the headquarters, the girls discussed topics like the Raptor win, their favorite teams and the NBA’s focus on leadership. 

Thomas is one of the leads in a program called, Player Development where she connects players with opportunities off-court and into career advancement. Burgess explained to the girls what it is like working with the G-League traveling overseas as part of the NBA events and social efforts.

“There are so many strong females here in leadership roles,” Thomas points out. She further went on to explain how immersed the NBA and WNBA are in regards to gender diversity. A leadership role should not be unreachable to anyone who seeks it. The NBA team interestingly mapped out to us what they think makes a great leader. 

A great leader:

 Pays it back

Inspires you to be the best version of yourself

Guides you in the right direction

Brings a different perspective to the table

Breaks you out of your mold

Taking this into consideration, amid the many corporate mergers and closings – finding someone with these qualities and skills in a leadership role in fashion is something that is in high demand.

Home Coming

Before the closing of the trip there was some time to see some NYC highlights, PROM the Broadway play, as well as dinner with peers, fabric and personal shopping.

There is something majestic about seeing the New York skyline at sunset. The way the golden glow glistens and reflects off the thousands of mirrored windows re-establishes that there is no city like this in all the world. On this trip, I was instantly reminded why I wanted to be in fashion and what drives my views today. Why the time is now to lay my hands in turning the wheel of change in the industry. Why there is a need to bring to the forefront that things have to change now. 

Following the tour, I asked the girls to give me their perspective on the trip. One of the young ladies decided to write about her encounter in the form of a free-verse poem.

Trip to a place so familiar to me. I see an industry new to me unsure if it’s meant for me. From a small city to a big one from little apples to big ones. The adventure began a week before. Learning about footwear never realized the things on my feet were so important always looked over the hard work that went into them. I now have more appreciation for them, however, while in the big city I didn’t see much of people who look like me working in these spaces why aren’t there as many places with people who look like me? It’s sad that I am able to count the number of people I saw in these offices that looked like me on my hands. Only let’s me further acknowledge the importance of me being brought here. On Black Girl Row learned about how Black girls banned together to keep their little black world so much to offer the world. It’s nice to be somewhere where creativity and uniqueness is accepted still working on more diverse perspectives. At Target we got to share our perception, our perspective on their fashion line. Last night here we dress up to go out, dressed so beautifully you feel the black girl magic upon the streets. On broadway to see the “Prom” compliments shower the fashion we brought. New York, New York you will be missed you brought this group great bliss!

Khefera Phillip-El, 15

I cannot tell you enough about my experience with Girls For A Change. It is an organization that I am honored to support and I hope that you all reading this article will take time to learn about what this organization does for the community for Women of Color. Find time to volunteer, mentor, donate and help support the efforts to forester the next generation of creative minds.

Patton has eloquently said this about her organization:

When the #BlackGirlMagic and #HireBlackWomen headlines fade away, we’ll still be here doing the work and we’ll need the help to do it.”

Angela Patton

Girls For A Change holds the Creative Industry Camp once a year. Help develop the next generation of creative minds and contact Angela Patton at angela@girlsforachange.org and by visiting their website:

 https://www.girlsforachange.org

These girls have their eyes set on the fashion industry. So look out because they are coming!

GFAC

Tanita Gray

Editor In-Chief, Publisher and Founder of Last-Report.com. Tanita S. Gray is a footwear, accessory and apparel designer/developer by day - writer and content architect by night. With over 16 years experience in the fashion industry, you can find her teaching at FIDM, drawing thumbnails, writing in her journal, or eating french fries.

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