What started as a dream six years ago for Parsons professor Rob Younkers has become a reality: He and his boyfriend Joe Zee, creative director of Elle, are opening a fashion summer camp for kids. And in a way, it's all thanks to reality TV.
"I did an episode of MTV’s Made in 2006 and worked with a teenager," Younkers told us. "That was my first time working with a really young designer, and it sparked this interest in working with designers younger than college level."
From there, Younkers began working with local art studios to put together small day camps and classes, but he always wanted to do something on a bigger scale. "It just started to grow and grow, and you know how things are, you want to eventually do something on your own," he said.
He shared his vision with Zee two years ago, and Zee immediately loved the idea. Since then, Younkers has kept a journal of notes, working with his boyfriend to build the camp from the ground up. On August 5, they'll see all their hard work come to fruition on the first day of Stitched Fashion Camp.
Designed as a two week long day camp for kids aged 10 to 14, Stitched will offer instruction on everything from cutting a pattern and draping fabric, to styling and merchandising. Plus, kids will get the chance to work with industry insiders, like Younkers and Zee (while nothing is 100% confirmed, Younkers tells us he's had friends like Nicole Miller and Stacey Battat, the costume designer for The Bling Ring, express interest in getting involved.)
For their final project, each child will sketch a six-look collection, and bring one of those looks to three-dimensional reality. "The most exciting thing is for kids to realize that they can take a two dimensional image that they sketch and we can walk them through the steps to actually make that a wearable garment," Younkers explains.
"It’s that moment where they say, 'Wow, I’m wearing what I sketched a week ago.'"
Right now, there are just 12 spots available and they're filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. The small number is essential, as Younkers and Zee want each kid to receive one-on-one attention. "We want to make sure everybody who comes in has an amazing experience, feeling like they got the attention they deserve," Younkers says, mainly to accomodate for the difference in experience with a sewing machine but also to ensure each child gets to be as hands-on as possible.
The cost isn't cheap--it's $1850 for the two weeks, which does include supplies. But Younkers hopes that as soon as next summer, there could be scholarships, where the camp could waive tuition and find a sponsor to cover travel and accommodations. Those scholarships, if they become available, will be given out based on the talent of a student's submitted work.
And while Stitched Fashion Camp is starting in the Hamptons--an organic choice, considering that's where many of the fashion set flock for the summer--Younkers and Zee are interested in eventually expanding to other cities. He tells us that he's already had people asking when they would set up their tents in places like Los Angeles or Chicago. "The potential is there," Younkers adds, "so we’re really excited for this initial launch and then letting the growth happen naturally."
But Younkers doesn't just want to change the lives of a few kids--he wants to reignite passion throughout the industry. He hopes that the Stitched brand will one day include workshops for adults in big cities across the country, what he calls "a really exciting laboratory experience."
Still, starting with young children is what makes the most sense for Younkers. "Kids will have an amazing experience," he told us, "but the people who are going to come out and work with these kids are going to feel the exact same way."
"It reminds you why you got into this industry to begin with--it’s just the light in their eyes and the fun and excitement, and the sheer joy of making clothes."