BPL’s Fashion Academy Is Bright Spot For Designers Amid Pandemic

BROOKLYN, NY — When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, like many in the fashion industry, Brooklyn-based designer Romina Fernandez’s work nearly ground to a halt.

She went from teaching fashion classes four days a week, to just one, and shifted focus to being a full-time mom when her son’s daycare closed down.

But, thanks to a fashion program she signed up for pre-pandemic, not all creative outlets were closed. In fact, a pivotal moment in her career, her first collection, was taking shape.

“When my son was taking a nap, when he fell asleep at night, I’d jump on working on my collection,” Fernandez told Patch. “But, it didn’t feel stressful to me because it was giving me something to look forward to — I was still exercising those creative muscles in my head.”

(Courtesy of Romina Fernandez). Romina’s mood board for her collection with the Brooklyn Fashion Academy.

Fernandez is one of 11 fashion designers in the borough who completed collections through the public library’s Brooklyn Fashion Academy, a 16-week program that offers free, expert-driven classes to aspiring fashion designers culminating in a show at one of its library branches.

This year, the program held special significance as chances for in-person exposure for designers dwindled in the pandemic-stricken fashion industry.

The library will premiere a virtual version of its end-of-program fashion show — filmed at the Brooklyn Center for History — at 7 p.m. on Friday. It comes after several months of uncertainty about whether the program would continue, designers and library officials said.

“We had a period of time, where we thought, ‘Should we go on?’ and the designers said, ‘We want to go,'” Brooklyn Public Library Spokesperson Fritzi Bodenheimer said. “Especially in pandemic, to be able to move someone forward in their professional career goals, that’s a great thing.”

(Courtesy of Amanda Holt). Amanda, one of the designers with the academy’s mood board for her collection

The new virtual format may not allow Brooklynites to come see the fashions in person as they have in past years, Bodenheimer said, but it offers a unique opportunity to bring that exposure even further.

Last year’s show had so many people show up, the library had to close the doors on some guests when it reached capacity, she said.

“This year we can invite as many people as we want,” she said.

Among those new viewers will be Fernandez’s family, who she said largely wouldn’t have been able to see her designs had the show not been held online, given that they live across the continent.

Fernandez’s collection is inspired by Bolivia given this year’s Carnevale theme and her family’s own roots in Mexico and Argentina.

It includes three full looks all using sustainable materials and construction methods, a staple of Fernandez and many of the fashion academy participants’ designs.

One of the many partners of the fashion academy, FABSCRAP, donated 10 pounds of recycled fabrics to the designers.

“It’s so important to have this positive influence and realize what we can do as creators to have consciousness of waste,” Fernandez said.

Other partners of the fashion academy include BK Style Foundation, Fashion Week Brooklyn, Made in New York: Fashion, Materials for the Arts, Microsoft and Mood Fabrics.

(Courtesy of Dominus Sowell.) One of the designers stitches at home.

Finding local sources for her designs has been another lesson of the pandemic, when imported goods have been restricted, Fernandez said. The time spent at home has also underscored the need for a slower pace in the industry, she said.

All the pieces in her collection were largely hand-sewn, a technique she wouldn’t have had time to do otherwise, Fernandez said.

“In fashion industry it’s all about ‘Go, go, go,’ that’s why things are mass-produced,” she said. “But if we were to scale it back…there’s nothing like something that’s handmade. There’s a transfer of energy you get, like an artist with a painting.”

Fernandez said she will take the lessons she learned from the fashion academy into her goal of creating her own fashion brand. Seeing her designs in the fashion show sparked the confidence she needed to pursue the dream full-time, she said.

“I remember when it was all done feeling this new emotion that I’ve never felt before — I had this huge rush of confidence,” she said. “I’m able to visualize this for my future.”

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