Stitching in her own direction, Sac State professor brings love of fashion to the next generation

Photograph by Mike Korhonen

By Hannah Asuncion

When Sacramento State professor Jaleh Naasz decided to start a fashion camp in 2015, she had just pulled out of her spot as a finalist on the popular TV show Project Runway because she was pregnant. It was the designer’s way of showing she wanted to do her own thing.

Naasz hosted her first fashion camp in Orinda and has since expanded it to Rocklin, El Dorado Hills, Folsom and Davis. The four-day sessions are for children ages 7 to 17. Students learn fundamental skills in the fashion field that include design from original inspiration, as well as draping, fashion sketching, machine sewing and portfolio presentation.

“The idea was so the kids would get to be hands-on and learn about fashion but then also make their own decisions,” Naasz reflected, “so they would pick their own fabric and their own styles.”

The professor added that the camp was inspired by a kid who had a sketchbook and wanted Naasz to teach her how to design. Over time, demand for the camp has grown because Naasz structures it different from others: The program changes with different projects. Lessons can range from marbling, which is textile design, to just sewing some bags. She notes there have been times when boys were interested in making dresses while girls were interested in making shirts instead. Naasz emphasizes the idea that this fashion camp didn’t have a “home economic” label to it – and that it be gender inclusive.

“Ultimately I think what’s really unique is that, yes, they come in being interested in fashion, but then I use that opportunity to let them know that you don’t have to design for a tall skinny girl,” Naasz said. “There should be different skin tones in the markers that you use, so there’s a lot of those under tones of diversity, inclusivity and just having a better body image for themselves.”

Aside from sewing, there are different themes in the camp every day, which allows participants to show their styles and ideas. At the end, the kids have their very own mini portfolio presentations where there’s a collection of what they’ve done. Then, they sit in front of everyone and present. The finale for each session includes parents coming to see the fashion action.

“These kids could benefit from some practice of public speaking and also being proud of their ideas because as soon as you start to create then it can be very personal to put your work out there,” Naasz explained.

The professor also recently held a sketching workshop at the Crocker Art Museum for the Alexander McQueen Exhibit. She plans to work with those partners again as she preps for a fashion camp next summer at the museum.

“With my camps, I get to kind of foster that energy of a small business,” Naasz mentioned. “I think the camps get to like bring all parts of me together: the small business-like community aspect, the research and fashion sustainability and then the mom art … It’s more than a sewing camp, it’s a lot more than a fashion camp because it’s not focused on consumerism and buying the coolest new trend, it’s just a lot more meaningful and I think it’s my connection to Sac State.”

Stella Symonds, a returning assistant at fashion camp, is currently a senior at Miramonte High School in Orinda. She has been sewing for most of her life. Her grandma, a seamstress, taught her the craft. Last summer was Symonds’ first time out assisting. Since then, her responsibilities have included being in charge of the sewing machines as the kids rotate from station to station. This usually involves a group of 5 to 10 participants. Symonds offers tutorials and goes over different types of stitches and skills. There’s also a lot of supervising involved with this practice, since it can be dangerous for the younger children. Symonds has to be constantly ready to jump in.

“I really love sewing and it brings me joy to pass that love onto them too,” Symonds acknowledged. “The girls and boys, the kids who do it, they all love it – and they are all super excited to do it this year … The kids work in groups a lot so that one kid doesn’t overpower all of them. They all have to work together and with even amounts of work.”

Annika Oriol, a fashion student from El Dorado Hills middle school, has been going to camp for about seven years now. This summer, Oriol is most enthused about the new themes and designs that Naasz will come up with. Growing up, she was always into fashion, whether it came to making clothes or even dressing up. Most years in the camps Oriol usually makes shirts. During previous outings, the clothes she’s assembled range from wrap skirts to upcycled jeans and shorts, to a tulle skirt with some ribbon and lace and a clothing piece that followed Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a theme. This summer Oriol is going to the camp in Folsom with hopes of learning more advanced skills like hand-sewing.

Oriol likes to reminisce on one summer where she got the opportunity to walk at a fashion show. She did multiple walks with different looks. She said it was kind of scary walking for the first time, but, by the second time, it was getting more fun.

Space is still available for Naasz’s camps this summer. They take place from Monday to Thursday and cost around $300, plus $35 for materials.

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