Do-it-yourself fashion: clothing label, classes teach teens sewing, design

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TORONTO - Most emerging designers can only dream of having a built-in following before they unveil their first collection, but at an early age Emma Lewis was already crafting creations that resonated with fashion fans.
So when the Toronto sewing studio Sew Be It Girl decided to start a clothing label for teens, it didn't take long to settle on who would be the first designer.
"Emma was one of the reasons that kind of helped us to inspire the idea because every time Emma makes a dress, everybody wants to buy it," said Dilys Tong, co-owner of Sew Be It Girl.
Lewis, 15, started taking classes at age 10. She initially attended the odd sewing camp at March Break and during the summer, but that ramped up to weekly classes where she expanded her skills and learned to draft patterns from scratch.
"I was really a small girl, so I just love making clothes for my body," said Lewis, sporting a skirt she designed, matched with a black top and glittering tights.
"I just wanted to create things that were my own and be proud of them, and I love fashion, so it was just a great mix."
Tong said the label aims to go beyond creating stylish clothes. It's focused on providing mentorship and guidance to budding teen designers along with all the different components of putting together a collection.
"People think design (is) `Oh, you whip up a sketch' but along the way, there's a lot of bumps you have to go through," she said.
"We have to talk to them like, `Look, your client may not want to buy this' or `This fabric does not go with this' or your buyer is just going to say, `We did this colour two seasons ago, you may want to rethink that."'
"It's not that you can design whatever you'd like - you have to think of a lot of aspects."
Lewis started working on the label last summer and created five key pieces.
Among the designs are a pair of black dresses punctuated by bold colour. One features an oversized heart, the other a large-scale flower inspired by a sweater worn by fictional fashion plate Carrie Bradshaw on "Sex and the City." And she even incorporated eco-friendly materials into the mix, for example by using bamboo knit in a top.
Tong said while most young students attending workshops are planning to pursue a future in fashion design or merchandising, others are doing so solely as a hobby.
"There's not many spaces that cater to the teens and tweens so I thought it would be nice to have a space that's safe and the girls can come and they can be inspired," she said.
South of the border, Sheila Zent, owner of eXpresSew in Hanover, Pa., runs a sewing school out of her studio and said it's "amazing" how much interest there is among students in learning the craft.
Something new she's trying with her teen class is to give them design challenges, getting them to sketch and start thinking of their own designs.
"I like to emphasize fashion design as opposed to just learning how to sew," said Zent, author of "Sew Teen: Make Your Own Cool Clothes."
"It just gets them thinking and thinking creatively, and hopefully they'll make the link between their own ideas and actually being able to make things."
Zent also offers a cosplay (short for costume play) class where students make costumes to wear to a popular comic convention in Baltimore each summer and to events held in other cities and smaller suburban areas.
As for Lewis, a look book of her creations has been made and the next step involves putting together a package for prospective buyers.
Once Lewis wraps up her tenure as Sew Be It Girl label designer, she still has designs on a future in fashion. She hopes to attend Parsons in New York and wants to take part in the school's summer program in Paris to take design illustration.
Lewis said she'll walk away from her experience armed with valuable skills.
"I learned a lot about pattern-making and just the whole process of what you have to go through to create a line and the bumps you go along."
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On The Net:
Sew Be It Girl: www.sewbeitgirl.com

Geographic location: TORONTO, Hanover, Pa., Baltimore New York Paris

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