BEIRUT: When Sara Hermez graduated from New York in 2010 with a dual major in fashion design from Parsons School for Design and media and cultural studies, she was confused on what to do next.
Despite harboring a passion for fashion design, Hermez’s cultural experiences in different areas of the world and her exposure to the less privileged made her “disillusioned” by the fashion industry.
“I did two study-abroad programs: one in India, where I lived with a refugee family, and one in Cambodia, where I studied Cambodian politics,” Hermez said in her talk earlier this month at Antwork. “These two experiences radically changed the way I viewed social justice in the world. I didn’t just want to make clothes for rich people anymore.”
After pondering for a while in New York, Hermez packed her bag and moved back to Lebanon, her home country. She found work at a textile furniture company and devoted her free time to working with an NGO that deals with children refugees.
“I decided to move to Lebanon because there’s so much work to be done here, and I felt a sense of belonging to this country,” Hermez said.
She juggled her two jobs for eight months before growing restless and going back to New York to visit her professor and mentor Caroline Simonelli, who is also Lebanese.
When Hermez voiced her concerns about merging her two passions, social justice and design, she was surprised by and interested in Simonelli’s idea: to start a free school for fashion design in Lebanon.
“As soon as the words came out of Simonelli’s mouth, I knew this is what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life,” Hermez said as she discussed her journey into opening her own fashion school in collaboration with Simonelli in 2011.
The most challenging aspect of opening Creative Space was to spread the word about the school and make people trust the idea as much as she does.
“I started knocking people’s doors; I went everywhere. I went to NGOs, I visited Palestinian refugee camps, I visited orphanages,” Hermez said.
She eventually found five students coming from different backgrounds willing to take part in this fashion journey.
Her next challenge was to learn how to become a leader and a mentor to her students.
“I remember Simonelli told me: ‘a leader is made when a leader is needed.’ I tried to abide by that,” Hermez said.
As soon as she handed the students the fabric, any doubts that Hermez might have had disappeared as the students immediately took to draping, cutting, and weaving the fabric. All that while relying on nothing but, their efforts and talents.
“It was magical to see all the talents that were previously going to waste come to life,” she said. “We sold all our first 30 items in one night, generating close to $17,000.”
Eight years since its initial launch, Creative Space has held more than 12 exhibitions. It has also graduated nine students.
The school’s vision is to become self-sustainable in order to start building other programs and expand the curriculum from only fashion to incorporate creative studies.
“We’re doing what we can to stay afloat and push through,” Hermez said.
Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations. Naya Editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]
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