Lebanese fashion school allows its students to study for free Janice Rodrigues

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Five years ago, designer Sarah Hermez left New York to start a free school for people in Lebanon who couldn’t afford fashion degrees. Today, she’s speaking at Fashion Forward Dubai about her brainchild, Creative Space Beirut, and how far it’s come

Sarah Hermez has always had a taste for the unconventional. When younger, she didn’t know she wanted to be a designer, but she was always ripping apart old clothes and restyling them anyway. Spurred on by a cousin who handed her a book on design – and her family who supported her decision – she found herself moving out of Kuwait, where she was born and raised, and settling into New York. There, the Lebanese national did a double major – studying fashion design at Parsons School of Design, and media and cultural studies at Eugene Lang College. It was a whirlwind couple of years, and she found herself travelling to Tibet to study the country’s politics and Cambodia, where she worked in an orphanage. And then there’s the time she travelled to India, living in Dharamshala – all as part of her course. The experiences changed her – and there was no looking back after that.
“When I graduated, I didn’t want to just make clothes – suddenly, it didn’t make any sense,” she explains. “My experiences had changed the way I looked at the world, and I wanted to find a way to merge my two passions – fashion design and social justice.”
Two things that don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but Sarah was adamant. She turned to her mentor, Caroline Shlala-Simonelli, who taught at Parsons School of Design and, like her, had Lebanese roots. Caroline’s advice changed her life forever.
“She [Caroline] just seemed to understand everything I wanted. And she said, ‘Why don’t you start a free fashion school in Lebanon?’ It was a lightbulb moment when I realised that that was exactly what I wanted to do.
“There are no free fashion platforms in Lebanon that I know of. And an education in fashion is expensive – not just in Lebanon, but all over the world. It’s a very exclusive world that is hard to get into if you don’t have the money. Earlier, if you wanted to be a designer, you could just work within the brand to the top. Now, you need a degree and a lot of talented people are left out of the loop because they can’t afford it. I believe in free education and equal opportunities for all.”

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