I was at a talk recently, organized by Vogue and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Nicole Kidman was interviewed on the subject of fashion and film. The Oscar-winning actress mentioned that her parents banned her from playing with Barbie dolls as a child. When she (finally!) persuaded her parents to let her have one, she was faced with a new problem: finding her the perfect outfits. But her parents put their foot down, refusing to buy additional clothes for her doll, so Kidman got creative and designed them herself. And that was her first experience with fashion.
Kidman said she wished then—and now—for a creative outlet where kids could learn the fundamentals of sewing, design, and making clothes. And if such a place existed, she would send her daughters there immediately without hesitation.
Cue me (mentally, at least) jumping out of my assigned seat at the museum and screaming, “Nicole, there is such a place. It’s called STITCHED Fashion Camp!”
STITCHED Fashion Camp is the brainchild of my partner, Rob Younkers. He’s been an Adjunct Professor of Fashion Design at Parsons in Manhattan for the past 12 years and when we met four years ago, he expressed the very same sentiment as Kidman—and with the same level of enthusiasm. While he loved working with college students at Parsons, he wanted to get to the kids earlier. And with the recent influx of fashion on TV—not the mention the Internet—children were incredibly savvy, fashion hungry and starving for some real hands-on knowledge and creativity, but lacked the outlet.
So STITCHED was born. We launched the camp together three summers ago in East Hampton, as a 2-week program where kids could come and express their inner Coco Chanels without judgment—or grades. From the very start it was important to Rob that we never dumb down the curriculum, instead offering the same level of teaching and guidance that we would any designer-in-training, whether eight or 18. So today, our campers do everything from designing their own fabrics to customizing t-shirts to making bags and finally, conceptualizing and executing an entire back to school outfit for themselves. Cuteness alert! And trust me—when realized by an exacting 8 year old, it’s doubly as cute.
And these kids have one sophisticated fashion sense. One of our returning campers, Kate, 13—she’s been whipping up creations since day one—designed a fringe t-shirt and matching tote bag this year; it was a huge hit at a recent charity event. Another returning camper, Stallard, 13, has been regularly publishing a fashion blog, called Petitly Chic, since she was 11, so we knew STITCHED couldn’t just be about drawing pretty dresses.
This year has been our biggest year yet, with all the camper spots filling up within days (and our longest wait list to date) but more importantly, STITCHED Fashion Camp signed a major exclusive partnership with Target this summer to take the camp to the next level. While Target has been the marketing geniuses behind all the women’s wear designer collaborations of recent years, the children’s wear category was still relatively untapped. Hence our partnership, which culminated with Target Day at STITCHED Fashion Camp. On this Master Class day, Senior Vice President of Product Design & Development Julie Guggemos trekked from her Minneapolis headquarters to East Hampton, leading campers through lessons on personalization and embellishment using the Target Kids’ fashion assortment. (And yes, she even divulged a special customization technique involving a cheese grater that became the biggest hit of the day with the campers!) At Target, Julie’s team travels the world seeking inspiration for the store, including exclusive kids’ brands, and during this day, they were able to share information, stories, and experiences about Target’s great history of design with our young inquisitive campers who each took to the lesson with their unique sense of style. (This year’s point of inspiration: Morocco!)
The campers, with guidance from Guggemos and her head designer, Erin, spent the day customizing jean jackets with everything from studs to lace to Ikat (some of which I can already see selling out!) to hand stamped patterns and tie-dyed scarves.
“The most fun about designing for kids is ANYTHING GOES,” says Guggemos. “Because young kids crave self expression and don’t care what others think about how they look. They’re so brave in their creativity.”
I quizzed Guggemos about our campers after the day was done. Was it possible in today’s fashion climate that a 10-year-old could actually be a working designer? Or sell a commercial collection while still in grade school? After all, there were all those headlines last year about 4-year-old Sydney Keiser who landed a designing gig at J. Crew after debuting her successful blog, Fashion By Mayhem. (I was even interviewed about her for CBS This Morning.)
Guggemos doesn’t just believe it’s possible for a child to be a working designer, Target’s ready to encourage it. They’ve recently launched a new tool called Betterific that allows their in-house designers to crowd source ideas and modifications with their “guests” (Target speak for customers) and it’s been hugely successful, with plans to roll this feature out with children’s wear soon, citing that kids today are very vocal about what they want to wear and how they wear it.
In the meantime, as the campers wrap up camp this week knee deep in bleach, paint, lace, studs, markers, thread and fabric, Guggemos would love them to leave with just one fashion memory: “Anything is possible and go pursue your dreams. When it comes to design, there is a designer in everyone. If you have the head, the heart, the hands and the passion to be a designer, you should go for it.”
So is there room for a future Stella McCartney?
“Yes and she’s probably a 13-year-old in that room right now.”
More from Yahoo Style: