Steel Valley student to participate in 'America's Next Pop Model'
Pittsburgh isn't known as one of the world's fashion centers.
That honor goes to places like New York or Paris or Milan.
But the Steel City now hosts its own annual fashion week and an educational program at the Andy Warhol Museum called Youth Invasion is training high school students on the finer points of fashion design.
Steel Valley High School sophomore Shativa Benton of Homestead is one of 15 students participating in the 11-year-old program. Her designs and those of others enrolled in the Warhol program will be on display at the museum May 9 in the America's Next Pop Model runway show.
The show, which runs from 5-10 p.m., is the culminating event for the program, which began this winter. The runway event begins at 8 and admission is $5.
“I've wanted to do this since I was 5 years old,” said Shativa, noting her first interest in fashion started with play bracelets. She played with them and paper dolls growing up and taught herself to do hand sewing, but said her abilities really have developed during the past three months or so. She's learning how to machine sew and now carries a fashion sketchbook with her wherever she goes.
She sketches designs on a daily basis and takes inspiration from many things: sunsets, flowers, old clothing items that might be repurposed. She explains her fashion designs in terms of what her various looks symbolize but said others are completely random.
With the runway show a little more than a week away, Shativa said she and a colleague from the program — Emily Wolfe, a sophomore at the Ellis School in Pittsburgh — have their work cut out for them. They have designed three items for the show — a tan business suit that will feature a red hat, red top and red boxing gloves, and two dresses — but they have not yet finished the garments.
“It's a little bit stressing in that I have that and school and finals coming up. It's like everything is next week,” Shativa said.
The race to the finish may remind some of the long running-reality TV show “Project Runway,” which pits up-and-coming designers against each other in weekly runway shows. Adil Mansoor, who coordinates educational programs at the Warhol Museum including Youth Invasion, said that is intentional.
Though the Warhol program has been around since 2003, Mansoor said in the early years it existed more as an open call to teens with a fashion interest to show their designs. Recently, he said, thanks to multimedia artist Scott Andrew, the program has strengthened its educational component. During weekly after-school sessions at the museum, the teens learn sewing fundamentals and other aspects of project design.
Just like on TV, the students participate in timed projects, work in collaborative teams and go on shopping excursions to thrift shops and fabric stores.
By the time the program is over, Mansoor said, “The young people are able and allowed to make anything they can dream up.”
Shativa credits teachers Megan O'Toole, Susan Olsen and Toni Besh with getting her connected with the museum program. O'Toole initially brought the program to Shativa's attention. Besh and Olsen have been enthusiastic supporters of the sophomore's budding talent.
Olsen said the program is valuable because it helps students connect with like-minded peers from all across the region.
“At Steel Valley, we have lots in the way of sports and academics for students,” she said. “But we don't have much to offer for fashion design.”
Olsen said Shativa is outgoing and involved in other extracurricular program like The Future is Mine and the youth media program Hear Me 101, but said getting the chance to meet with other young designers beyond the confines of her own high school “is huge. This is a wonderful opportunity.”
Besh, who oversees costume design for the high school's annual musical, said Shativa is imaginative when it comes to producing new designs and can see ways existing clothing can be deconstructed and reused.
“She has a natural talent,” Besh said.
Shativa updated a purse using an existing handbag and old scarf. She designed it on an Amazon Kindle Tablet. Shativa said that project was similar to ones she's seen her grandmother, Rochelle Powell of East Liberty, undertake, noting Powell has used unusual items such as old belts to patch holes in the knees of jeans to give pants a unique appearance.
In addition to finishing their fashions, Shativa said she and Wolfe have to think about makeup and hairstyles for their models, noting, “We have three different models; three different, complete looks.”
Shativa said the program has given her a new way of looking at things.
Before she started, she said, “I didn't think too many people wanted to be fashion designers.”
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.