On Saturday night, Boston Fashion Week came to a close at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Cyclorama on Tremont Street. The fashion show, Emerging Trends, showcases young, up-and-coming designers from all over the world, like Germany’s Nina Athanasiou, USA’s House of Laura Williams and Poland’s Brzozowska Fashion. At the end of the third and final set, a different type of designers’ work took to the runway, featuring elaborate ensembles that blended elements of nature, fashion and technology.
NuVu Studio, an art, technology and design studio in Cambridge’s Central Square, made its second appearance at Emerging Trends. This year, student designers were featured on the runway, showing off the garments they crafted using the advanced technology equipped by a studio that partners with MIT: laser cutters, 3D printers and computer design programs like Rhino 3D, Adobe Illustrator and SketchUp.
But students who saw their original work walk the runway on Saturday night don’t go to MIT. They don’t have backgrounds in art, design, or prior experience with the technology that went into making their garments.
Crystal Carrillo, 20, and Javier Rodriguez, 21, are both in their final year at the Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea, Mass. Phoenix has partnered with NuVu to send eligible students out of the traditional classroom and into the studio for six- to twelve-week programs where they interact with fields—engineering, science, tech and art—that they otherwise wouldn’t encounter at such a hands-on level. After spending one summer term at NuVu, they were able to design their own feature item for a Boston Fashion Week runway.
The experience and knowledge that the students gained at the studio is something that Carrillo, Rodriguez and Daniel Lasanta, 19, who also attended NuVu for multiple sessions through Phoenix, couldn’t have expected or anticipated. All Phoenix students were considered high-risk, whether they were having behavioral trouble, dropped out of prior schools, or were new to the country and would have struggled academically in a traditional environment. Phoenix’s alternative charter school model welcomes all students—including those who have been turned away from other charter schools—regardless of their background.
“Phoenix is one of the more innovative models of charter high schools,” said Beth Anderson, the school’s founder and CEO. “We took a population of students, 7o percent of whom had dropped out and were not going to school, and they’re able to get on track through an academic program at Phoenix. They rise in the ashes as scholars, and envision themselves achieving in college.”
If you ask Carrillo, Rodriguez and Lasanta about their plans for college, they’ll tell you: Carrillo has her eyes on Boston University, while Rodriguez hopes to attend Boston College. Lasanta has aspirations to continue his work in the technical and engineering fields as a student at MIT.
At NuVu, the Phoenix students were able to flex their creative muscles, away from a desk, and incorporate parts of themselves into their project. Carrillo and Rodriguez designed their Emerging Trends cloak after their respective heritages, Mexican and Guatemalan, by representing native and traditional wear with vibrant colors.
“We’re not that artistic, so it challenged us,” said Carrillo. “We feel so proud of what we did, because we brought our culture into it.” Carrillo came to Phoenix after having dropped out of school for four years, and of the program, she said: “It pushed me out of my comfort zone. Basically anything I put my mind to, I can do it.”
Rodriguez, meanwhile, never attended a different school after coming to America, and he’s grateful for his experience. “How can I be here right now in MIT, and fashion week,” said Rodriguez. “There are no words to describe it.”
The co-founders of NuVu have worked with Phoenix for two years, and say the students bring a new perspective and background to the studio. By providing them with the experience, they’re “enabled to do things on their own,” according to Saba Ghole, NuVu’s co-founder and chief creative officer.
“They’ve always had the passion and interest,” she said. “And now they have the skills.”
According to Anderson, Phoenix’s mission is to recognize the potential of their students, and they do that by making college acceptance a requirement to graduate from a Phoenix school.
“There are certain kids that schools don’t know how to serve, and we tried doing that eight years ago: putting students who wouldn’t have graduated high school on track to college,” said Anderson. “NuVu is part of the model in pushing the boundaries in what a teen mom, or a high school dropout, is capable of, and they can use that experience to go to college. It makes you wonder where we need to put the resources in our community.”
And the signs of Phoenix’s success are visual—for instance, they strutted down the runway on Saturday night in front of gazing-up onlookers,, signing off Boston Fashion Week and putting the soon-to-be graduates on the map for the future.