Designing Students Show Work

By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Charlayna Brady needed a formal dress to wear in March for the captain's dinner on a cruise to the Bahamas.

Equipped with newly acquired knowledge and skills gained from an after-school fashion program, she decided to make the dress.

Brady and other students from the Sew N Know Entrepreneurship Program showcased their creations Saturday at the first "Runway Youngins" fashion show before an energetic crowd of friends, family and civic leaders at the District's Southeast Tennis and Learning Center.

"I wanted something [nice] around the neck," Brady, 14, said of her full-length auburn evening dress adorned with gold metallic trim along the neckline.

The program originated about 12 years ago when coordinator Janice Rankins began teaching children the craft of sewing at a District recreation center.

For three months, about 25 students meet at the tennis center for three three-hour weekly sessions with Rankins's discerning eye and penchant for exact details guiding them on their projects. The program is free for students enrolled at the center.

Former student Nathaniel Wilkes previewed a spaghetti-strap persimmon blouse paired with satin gold trousers from his fledgling Sir Wilkes Collection.

"I learned more from [the program] than I do in school," said Wilkes, 18, a freshman at the Art Institute of New York City.

Christine Brooks-Cropper, president of the Greater Washington Fashion Chamber of Commerce, said the youth fashion show and program contribute to the District's goal of becoming a "fashion destination."

The D.C. Council voted unanimously in April to establish a commission on fashion arts and events to help promote the city as a place to host fashion events and to create fashion design and merchandising programs for the District's public school students.

"We're hoping that the commissioners can pull together a plan to create a fashion high school," Brooks-Cropper said.

The Sew N Know program was recently awarded a $50,000 grant from the District's Neighborhood Investment Fund to set up shop for children who go to Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast. Program information will be available at the recreation center. Classes are scheduled to start in June.

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