Arlene Kaye says her life has come full circle.
The fashion industry expert is back at a place where hands-on sewing is the basis for creative inspiration — a starting point to lead people, particularly kids, toward the wide array of careers that “fashion” encompasses.
To make this happen, Kaye’s gone back to her roots. For over three decades, she worked for global brands such as Milliken, McCall’s, Osh Kosh B’Gosh, Timberland and New Era Cap, in a wide range of positions; she also taught at Buffalo State College’s fashion and textile technology program.
Now, as a way to reconnect with her own beginnings, she founded Fashion Lab NY in February 2016.
“I was a ‘crafty’ and creative child,” Kaye said. “I sewed my own clothes, and dreamed of working in fashion, but didn’t know how to get there or what the opportunities were. Somehow I found my way. My goal and hope with Fashion Lab is that it will help to bring others closer to their passion, to a discovery that their dreams can be the future.”
As its name implies, Fashion Lab NY is based on the philosophy of a laboratory setting — a place to experiment, to try new things, as Kaye says, in a “no-judgment zone.” She imparts this message clearly to the young people who join her workshops, seminars, summer camps and other projects.
Fashion Lab is intended to start children on their path, to develop their skills and passions into reality. With expert guidance and practical experience, kids as young as 8 begin to sketch, and create patterns and garments — to learn to sew clothing and accessories, and also about design, style, trend-spotting and branding.
This summer, working with kids from 8 to 12 years old, Kaye successfully conducted several camps. Partnering with local businesses like Modern Nostalgia, Aurora Sewing Center, and community centers around the city and suburbs, each camp culminated in a fashion show.
Kaye will expand the effort through the fall and the years to come. Her success has already been bolstered by the donation of four portable Baby Lock sewing machines, offering a lot of flexibility.
“I love collaboration and creating custom programs and events,” she said. “Especially those that make a difference in the community.”
She conducted a camp at Buffalo Seminary, teaching 7th and 8th graders about brands that give back, like TOMS Shoes. “The students sewed and styled two scarves,” said Kaye. “They kept one and they donated one.” In a fundraiser for Kaely’s Kindness, she guided 15 girls to brainstorm on the topic of empowerment. They then sewed backpacks, which were screen-printed with their unique messages.
Another key area for Kaye is sustainability.
“Creativity and innovation continue to shape the fashion industry,” she said. “New developments in technology, as well as a focus on American manufacturing, are becoming part of our consciousness, hopefully shifting us away from ‘fast fashion,’ which sends so much throw-away clothing to landfills.”
The opportunity to create something with their hands is one that Kaye feels has become lost, and she wants to reconnect people to that feeling of accomplishment.
“Fast fashion also killed home-sewing — it made everything so cheap, it was actually more expensive to sew your clothing than to buy it,” she said. “Fashion is a deep notion — it’s how we express who we are; it’s a reflection of where we are as a society. I want to bring back the art of ‘sewing fashion,’ whether as a tool to design or to express your creativity.”
She offers varying levels of classes for different ages, such as Sewing Lab 101 and Fashion Entrepreneur Boot Camp. Whether for children, teens or adults, class sizes are small to ensure each student receives personal assistance and instruction.
“I always admire raw talent,” summed up Kaye. “And, I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I love inspiring people to do what they want to do. I’ve spent so much time in my career in meetings discussing meetings…when I think about sitting with a group of girls, and guiding them to create something about which they are so inspired and empowered…that’s everything.”