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Young Fashion Designers Shine at Manhattan Design Boutique

Feb 22, 2015 11:28PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Lisa Tyler with one of her recent design classes at the Manhattan Design Studio

Will the next great fashion designer come from Manhattan Beach? If so, it’s likely that Manhattan Design Boutique’s Lisa Tyler – “Miss Lisa” to her devoted students – will have had a hand in it.

Tyler runs a series of popular fashion design classes in Manhattan Beach for kids as young as 8 years old. In just three years since she taught her first session, the Manhattan Design Boutique has grown into a wildly popular “must take” class among girls (and a few boys) across Manhattan Beach. She has already taught nearly 400 students, and she has assisted in the creation of more than 1,500 garments - which is evidence of how many of her young designers keep coming back for more.

“It’s been an incredibly fun journey,” says Tyler. “I’m lucky to do what I get to do.”

Over a typical 8-week session, Tyler will have her students run through the entire process of designing a piece of clothing, from sketching it, to shopping for materials in Downtown L.A.’s garment district, to making a pattern and sewing it from scratch. The class culminates with a “fashion show,” in which students parade along a runway and model their finished creations.

An important element of Tyler’s class is letting the kids discover their own creativity, especially when they’re selecting their fabrics and trims. “At our age we as adults have been put in a box. We’ve been told, ‘That doesn’t match’ or ‘Those don’t go together,’” says Tyler. “These kids haven’t been told any of that.”

It’s at that point, Tyler adds, that her young designers come up with combinations and patterns that she – or most adult designers – would never have dreamed up. “If you don’t limit them, it’s amazing the amount of talent that kids truly have,” she says.

Tyler, a former childrens’ clothing designer, says that the idea for the studio was first hatched by a group of young girls whose families were friends with hers. While chatting at a beach party one day, the girls learned that Tyler had been a fashion designer, and started peppering her with questions. “How do you get to be a fashion designer?” “What do you need to learn?” “Can you teach us how to sew?”

As she planned how to teach young people to create garments, Tyler thought back to her own experience as a child learning to sew. In a 4-H sewing class, one of her first assignments was to make a dirndl skirt, which she describes as “horrible.” But she says the experience helped frame her ideas on how she would teach sewing to others: by helping them design the clothing that they dream of wearing, not assigning them a project that they would never choose or wear.

“You can make whatever you want,” she tells them. (Within limits, of course – one of her rules is “No silk” because the fabric is a little too "slippery" and difficult for young designers to work with). “Our goal is to make it look store-bought rather than homemade.”

Tyler also teaches her students to work within a budget. “As a designer, if you’re creating clothes that are going to be sold at a big retailer like Wal-Mart, you have to think about how you’re going to find the coolest trends, design the product, get it manufactured, and get it on the racks for under, say, ten dollars,” she says. “In class we try to figure out how to preserve their creativity and design but still keep within a budget.”

Another important element of Tyler’s classes is creating an environment that is respectful,  encouraging, and empowering. “It’s not a class of critiquing,” says Tyler, who is adamant that her students show respect for one another’s work. 

“I’m a mom first,” adds Tyler. “I try to make sure I treat each child like my own child. I expect them to be respectful and responsible. And when a kid comes in and says, ‘I can’t sketch’ or ‘I can’t sew,’ I tell them that ‘can’t’ is not part of the vocabulary in here.”

This philosophy is evident in every class in her lively studio (the walls are painted hot pink). While Tyler buzzes around assisting students with straightening hems, pinning here, and measuring there, the girls are working independently or in small groups, admiring each other’s creations. With classes that hold all skill levels, there’s a lot of teamwork as well. Her more experienced students mentor the newer ones and help them with basic skills like threading a sewing machine.

Savannah, age 10, is on her third class at Manhattan Design Boutique and is completing a somewhat complicated dress, her most difficult project to date. “I like being able to do it all by yourself instead of having a teacher do it for you,” she says.

Her classmate Sierra, age 10, agrees. “I wish I could take two classes every week,” she says. “This is by far my favorite class.”

Tyler’s status as much-beloved teacher is apparent every time she comes to elementary school to pick up her son. She’s greeted like a celebrity in the hallways as girls rush up to give her a hug or to show off how they’re wearing their latest creation. And some of her protégés are already finding success as they take fashion design to the next level. One of her original students, Bella MacLeod, recently appeared on Project Runway: Threads.

But Tyler is quick to point out that the class is not simply about being a “fashionista,” but about discovering one’s own creativity. “My favorite part of the class is when a student is looking in the mirror at her finished project and she gasps and says, ‘It’s just like I pictured it!’ That’s why I want the takeaway from this class to be that you know how to make something. You start with an idea, come up with a formula, and then go step by step to get to the finished project,” she says. “My message to my students is that whether it’s something as small as a t-shirt or as big as a building, you can do it.” 

For more information, visit Manhattan Design Boutique or email manhattandesignboutique@gmail.com.

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