Pursuing Passion with Purpose

Emilia C., Grade 12 Student
A few months ago, I set a goal for myself to learn how to sew, I wanted to make a dress for my fashion portfolio. When I bought the pattern for the dress, the saleswoman strongly questioned my purchase when I told her it was my first time sewing. I knew it would be a hard project, but I wanted to challenge myself and give it a try.

Some may say that fashion is empty, superficial and lacking meaning so I wanted to make something of substance with social and personal value to convey that fashion can be meaningful and socially responsible. In today’s world, it’s every designer’s responsibility to be politically aware and active, this is why I ventured to make a dress. I wanted to use every aspect of the dress to visually convey a message of the strength and beauty of all women.

I was inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer, who I have admired for several years. In particular, I referenced her TED Talk she delivered in 2012, We Should All Be Feminists. I will never forget the first time I watched it because it had such a big impact on me. This talk opened my eyes to so much, and I have never been more proud to call myself a feminist. Ever since listening to Adichie speak, most of the art I have created has been motivated by the notion of feminism. Being a young woman, I believe it’s important to use my voice no matter who listens or supports it. To me, there was no better way of creating social substance than to borrow her words and incorporate them into the dress. I immediately contacted Mrs. Stephanie Stephens to find a way to bring my idea to fruition, and she was more than happy to help.

Mrs. Stephens and I met several times, running trials of how to design and laser cut the words. Her guidance made the laser cutting process possible. The dress itself started off as a pattern, and I made some adjustments where possible to personalize it. I wanted to find a way to make every detail matter. The colour pink is directly associated with femininity, it’s assigned to newborn baby girls as soon as they enter the world. To me, the colour pink represents strength, although there have been times when it has been associated with weakness. I knew I wanted the dress to be the epitome of conventional beauty standards for women and having meaning. Upon first glance, the dress is intended to be soft, elegant and feminine, almost resembling a beauty pageant gown. Behind its appearance is a powerful meaning of strength that every young woman should have. The overskirt was an addition to personalizing the design, which is where I added the laser cut words quoting Adichie which are the same fabric used for the body of the dress. For me, adding the text was not necessarily about being legible, recognizable or for visual appeal–the words are intended to get the viewers to pause and think.

This dress is really important to me, and I’m so happy I have the chance to share it.