By Nancy Dahlberg
The Miami Herald.
Sewing machines were humming, and the young fashion designers were busily snipping, tucking and trimming, adding more artistic flair to their creations, then checking out the look in the full-length mirrors.
Some of their fashions could be selected for an event at the House of Art gallery during Art Basel. But these girls, between the ages of 5 to 15, are no strangers to shows. Their collections have been on runways in schools, at the Miami Children’s Museum and at local organizations’ fund-raisers.
They are all part of the DesignLab Miami, which has been nurturing a small cadre of designers for nearly five years under owner Angie Cohen in a studio in North Miami. Cohen, a native of Colombia, graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked as a fashion designer and in production in New York, including for J.G. Hook and Calvin Klein. “I see value in these kids. I see the spirit in their eyes,” she said, pointing to some students who were learning how to use 3D printing technology and incorporate it into their fashions.
Cohen may not realize it, but her business is a niche player in the emerging fashion industry in South Florida. DesignLab works with about 50 students during a typical week, a number that has tripled in the past couple of years.
Some of her students could go on to attend Design & Architecture Senior High’s prestigious fashion program and later a design school or university, and become designers. They will be in good company: There are about 125 fashion-related companies in Miami-Dade, according to the Beacon Council.
The creative industries, including fashion design and fashion technology, is an area of focus for leaders who are trying to build and nurture a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Florida. Among other developments, a fashion incubator is planned for Miami-Dade County, a project of the Beacon Council and Macy’s.
DesignLab offers a peek into Miami’s future.
Zoe Goldemberg, 10, is just one of the young designers to watch. She’s even begun using a 3D printer to create some of the custom elements to make her designs look just so. Wearing her own fashions, she shows off her “Look Book,” with quite a line of designs.
Her parents are architects, so the creative gene clearly runs in her family.
Morgan Loeb, 10, designs her own printed fabrics that look like stained glass. Showing off shorts she designed using her custom fabric, she points out the zippers on the side (I thought they would look really cool,” she said). Her collection is called Colour ML Designz.
Ariel Swedroe Weinberg, 11, got her inspiration from her grandfather, Robert Swedroe, an artist and architect. Her grandfather’s art is laser printed on her fabric, and she’s adorned some of her designs with LED lights. Her mermaid dress is her favorite, which she wore to a family Bar Mitzvah, and she made matching fashions for her mom, dad and brother. She has been designing for about three years. Is that her career aspiration? Silly question. “Yes, of course.”
Ariel plans to launch her line, called Swedroe Art to Wear by Ariel, during Art Basel. The collection includes dresses, skirts, tops, shorts and pants, and, by popular request, she is adding ties and bow ties for men and boys in her custom textiles, too. “She wants to conquer the world at 11,” said Cohen, who has been helping her get her collection ready.
National trends are fueling interest in fashion design among the young set. Nordstrom recently signed up a 15-year-old to create a collection and a new Project Runway type reality show starring kids, called Threads, started this month on Lifetime and put out a national call for participants. Cohen’s students all applied.
Cohen’s classes are two hours, typically cost $42 and include materials, and kids typically take a couple of them a week. In the classes, the kids learn the basics of sewing, measuring, pattern-making, drafting, textiles, use of new technologies, everything that goes into making a collection. “It’s learning through fun,” Cohen said.
In the summer and during school breaks, she runs weeklong camps that immerse the youngsters into the world of fashion. They start with inspiration board, learn about designers and end with a fashion show.
Cohen has a team of five instructors, all with design experience. Jordan Silver, for instance, creates fashions for people with disabilities. She got started in the business by adapting her aunt’s clothing when she found a void in the market. Then she created a whole line, AGApparel.com, which was featured in Oprah magazine.
On a recent Saturday, the kids (all girls on this day although DesignLab has male students) were creating fashions out of unusual recycled materials for a “Future of Fashion” event the House of Art in Wynwood is going to put on during Art Basel. It will feature the work of DesignLab as well as the Miami Arts Charter School. “These kids are so talented — it blew me away,” said Henrique Souza, visual artist and gallery owner of House of Art, which showcases emerging artists from around the world.
At DesignLab, Daisy Nodal and Tom Pupo of Moonlighter, a startup that is working on creating a maker space and creative lab for entrepreneurs, gave a workshop for the kids on how to make buttons and bracelets with “Doodle Pens,” or freehand 3D printing pens.
Moonlighter and DesignLab also will be partnering on a hands-on exhibit at the Miami Mini Maker Faire in Wynwood on Nov.8.
Before Moonlighter’s workshop, Aitana Ortega, 11, is making a dress out of the gray mesh fabric that landscapers use to keep the weeds out. Who knew that industrial material could bring a unique modern swing to a dress inspired by the fashions of the 1950s and ’60s.
In another room are fashions made for other shows, including fashions inspired by food that kids eat. “Actually, the kids eat pretty badly,” joked Angie, as she showed off dresses, a rain jacket, even shoes made from Doritos bags, juice boxes and Koolaid wrappers.
She’s contagious, Laura Furcic, a documentary filmmaker, said of Cohen. “She motivates not just the kids but she inspires us with ideas all the time.”
Furcic got involved with DesignLab while filming a documentary about Robert Swedroe. She was just going to do a little piece of the documentary on Ariel, but quickly became a DesignLab fan and has been helping the kids with their look books. “Each kid has a story and a whole potential that Angie can recognize,” she said.
Cohen is incorporating technologies whereever she can. Many of the kids use LED lighting in their designs, and some make buttons and attachments with 3D printers.
They also silkscreen on fabrics that change color in the heat. Ralph Lauren just came out with a shirt that reads your vital signs; more and more, technology is being incorporated in fashion.
DesignLab would ultimately like to be ambassadors of empowerment to women and kids around the world, and is working with nonprofits such as Bridging Humanity. One of Cohen’s goals is to do a Kids MakerLab as a nonprofit, with 3D printing and laser cutters: “It’s going to happen, I just don’t know when.”
Cohen shows off a few creations made by her youngest student, Chloe Picard, now 6.
“Chloe came in about six months ago and said I am dreaming of a dress and I said ‘you can do it,'” said Cohen, recalling Chloe’s first day. She caught on quickly and even made a dress out of body scrub sponges. Choe’s mother, Darcie Picard, said going to the DesignLab gave Chloe confidence and the classes are a highlight of her week.
Yael Bloom, 13, made a ’60s style dress made out of plastic wrap. Turns out you can take a hair dryer to the wrap to make is shrink and crinkle in interesting ways, which she did with the bodice of the dress. A Project Runway fan, Yael started classes at DesignLab about three years ago and now is sure she wants to be a designer, said her mother Amit Bloom.
But there was one creation that was definitely in the money — quite literally. Jade Stein, 9, was creating a dress out of 150 $1bills.