Made in China. Made in the Dominican Republic. Made in Bangladesh. The labels on our clothing don’t do justice to the amount of resources and time devoted to the creation of the products we wear. Massively complex supply chains can alienate us from the very human process of design and creation. Chinlee Chang’s latest project in her fashion classes provided the students the opportunity to make a very personal connection in the process of apparel creation.
Dress a Girl Around the World is an international nonprofit organization that has given over 300,000 girls in 81 countries dresses since its inception in 2009. Groups of volunteers throughout the United States individually sew dresses which are given to young girls abroad to empower them. Through the Mountain Quilters of Idyllwild, Chinlee met Dawn Miller, the local organizer for Dress a Girl. After being introduced to the idea, Chinlee knew it would make an excellent project for the Idyllwild students.
“It really is win-win for everybody.” Chinlee explained that having Idyllwild Arts students design dresses for the organization not only makes the world a better place, but is also a tremendous learning experience. Children’s wear provides unique opportunities to practice technical skills. Also, working in fashion requires holding multiple perspectives; students can often get stuck in on particular way of viewing themselves relative to their creation. “This is a really good project to shake them out of the ‘self’ mode and make something beautiful for someone else.”
Dawn Miller and the Mountain Quilters supplied packages with just enough fabric to make each dress. The students made two dresses, one with the pre-selected fabric and one of their own choosing. “They were pretty surprised by the process,” Chinlee said of the students. The pre-selected packages challenged students to work with fabrics and colors that they would not usually choose, while the dress of their own design allowed them to explore new creative possibilities, especially since they have never tried children’s clothing before. “After they finished, they realized this was a present for someone else, and that seemed to be very satisfying to them… they were touched by it.”
Helena Yi, a junior fashion major, found the project very meaningful. “I really liked the project because we were using arts to help someone else, it was more than learning.” Helena designed a kimono-style dress. She said that students in the class felt it was important to make sure that each dress was unique so that every girl could have their own special design. “You’re thinking about the girl, you’re doing it for the girl… It makes me put more attention on the dress because I’m doing it for someone, it’s not just practice.”
Chinlee Chang and the students of her intermediate and advanced fashion classes considered the project a success in every way. “I plan to do this again next year for the fashion students!”