Fashion for a cause: Lebanon’s first free design school draws applause

Creative Space Beirut was launched for talented students from underprivileged backgrounds get a fashion education

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From Elie Saab to Zuhair Murad and Reem Acra, it seems that expensive design schools were essential for Lebanon’s renowned fashion designers.

However, in an effort to break the rule and allow “underprivileged” talents to follow in the footsteps of these style giants, a Lebanese designer decided to launch Beirut’s first free fashion school.


Creative Space Beirut (CSB) “was launched to allow talented students from underprivileged backgrounds get a fashion education,” Sarah Hermez, who co-founded CSB with her New York-based former professor Caroline Simonelli, told Al Arabiya News.

“The fashion industry has become just for the elite, and design education has become more about money than talent,” said Hermez, who studied at the prestigious Parsons New School for Design.

“I wanted to find a way to merge both of my passions, which are creativity and social justice, and this school was the perfect way to combine both,” the Kuwait-born designer added.

CSB, which only welcomes five students a year, offers a three-year degree in which undergraduates can learn fashion and build their own network.

“We’re looking for students who don’t have the opportunity to get the education, but that have the passion and talent,” Hermez said.

“We develop their skills, work with several designers both local and international, and help them build their portfolio,” she said, adding that the school helps introduce the students to private clients.

“We also give them opportunities through annual exhibitions to show their work and sell it,” said Hermez, who moved to Lebanon in 2010.

CSB, which welcomes students aged 16-25, is expected to see the graduation of its first generation next year. Hermez said the school is “very selective as it’s primarily for people in need.”

Financing fashion

She added: “When I first started the project, my father helped me by financing it for three months, and a friend from Donna Karan in New York donated $100,000 worth of fabric for the future students.

“By the end of the three months, the students created 30 dresses that we sold at an auction and raised $17,000, which helped us continue.

“We’re now at a place where we have just enough money to survive, but we don’t have the extra amount to grow… At the moment we’re not sustainable.”

To fill the coffers, Hermez said the school is relying on donors and exhibitions.

She said a new fashion line that was launched in Kuwait in Oct. 2014 was introduced to Lebanon last month.

“We’re building a brand and developing a ready-to-wear collection that would help finance the school,” she added.

Unlike most fashion schools where money is a must for enrolment, “once we become completely sustainable the idea is to become a free design school for everyone, not only people in need, as we believe that design education should be accessible to everybody.”

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