First Friday Santa Cruz

FashionTeens – A Platform for Santa Cruz Youth

FashionTeens – A Platform for Santa Cruz Youth

by Bree Karpavage

This winter over 50 teens from seven schools around the county were busy envisioning and creating unique outfits inspired by social justice, climate awareness, recycling and other impactful issues for a special youth centered runway show at the Rio Theatre on March 24, FashionTeens.

A 13 year event in Santa Cruz, FashionTeens has been engaging and empowering Santa Cruz youth to find their artistic voice through fashion, an artform that has the ability to make a statement without words. Many teens want to be heard and FashionTeens provides the perfect platform for them to speak up through art.

Mentored by teachers during art classes and after-school programs and by independent artists, teens are encouraged to create fashion designs using 50% recycled materials. They essentially create whatever they want keeping to this one rule and with guidance from their mentors. Sewing is not required for their looks and often kids choose to create and assemble their outfits from unconventional materials and methods of construction.

The results are impressive. From high fashion and avangart to the outrageous and over-the-top, teens express themselves, their beliefs, convictions and opinions through their designs. Designer Genevieve made two dresses entirely from the pages of recycled books, with a message about banning books and Jasper created his look, “Where’s the News?” from recycled newspapers, showing off his 3 foot tall paper mache, red and white striped hat. Many teens chose to voice their concerns over war, climate change, LGBTQ rights and mental health through their looks, while artist Braelyn took the high fashion approach, showing off her design and sewing skills, creating a wearable look that could be sold in stores.

From left: “Where’s the News?”  worn by Max and designed by Jasper, photo by Sean McLean, “Peace” modeled and designed by Pookla, photo by Crystal Birns, Banned Books part 1 modeled and designed by Genevieve, photo by Crystal Birns

After the runway show, community organizations, businesses and several fashion schools gave awards, including The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) who gives three high school students passes to a weekend summer workshop in Los Angeles. The series offers intensive hands-on workshops, presentations and campus tours that give youth insight into the world of fashion and the arts. The Cilker School of Art and Design – West Valley College also gives three awards including the opportunity to display their outfit at their Art & Design EXPO and a chance to receive a scholarship to West Valley College. These awards have inspired many former FashionTeens participants to pursue an education in the arts. Several students have gone on to attend West Valley College and FIDM as well as Parsons School of Design in New York. 

From left: “Rainbow Shine” modeled and designed by Brian, photo by Sean McLean, “Rights!” modeled and designed by Marley, photo by Sean McLean, “Put It On My Tab” modeled and designed by Palauma, photo by Crystal Birns

If you missed the show at the Rio in March, you’ll have another opportunity to see the student’s designs on First Friday, May 5 at Curated Gallery in downtown Santa Cruz. FashionTeens presents “The Living Fashion Museum” an idea inspired by the students. The designers will be there with their live models on display around the gallery as a way to not only show their work but also to engage with people and talk about their designs, inspirations and aspiring futures. Visit to find out more info about this event.

FashionTeens is produced by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and supported by the City of Santa Cruz, Arts Council Santa Cruz County, Cabrillo Photo, Goodwill, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Curated Contemporary Art Gallery, Palace Arts, Ilka Style, Las Fibers, Earth Day Santa Cruz and many more community sponsors. Special thanks to FashionTeens founder Kathleen Crocetti, the many teachers and mentors and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Faris Sabbah.

Know a teen who would like to create a design for next year’s event?
Are you an artist or teacher and want to get involved?
Please contact Tina Brown or visit the Fashion teens website, On Instagram: @fashionteens.santacruz