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Project Runway: Yo Art students get to see their doll-sized designs transformed into real-life fashion at November’s Gala at the Gibbes

Project Runway: Yo Art students get to see their doll-sized designs transformed into real-life fashion at November’s Gala at the Gibbes
October 2023

The fashion show culimates a yearlong project for the nonprofit that offers technology-centered arts programming

First graders in Yo Art’s fashion program designed Barbie-size outfits, which have been turned into life-size styles that will be modeled during a runway show at the Gibbes Museum of Art next month.

In July, Warner Bros. Pictures released the Barbie movie in a puff of cotton-candy pink style. And this November, Yo Art will transform its young design students’ Barbie-size creations made of cotton balls, crepe paper, and ribbon into a life-size fashion show of glam silks and grosgrain. Under the emerald dome of the Gibbes Museum of Art rotunda, the event will debut the stylish imaginings of 15 first graders in a one-of-a-kind runway show inspired by the museum’s concurrent exhibition, “Something Terrible May Happen: The Works of Aubrey Beardsley and Edward ‘Ned’ I.R. Jennings.” “I’m amazed at the attention to detail displayed by these industrious seven-year-olds,” notes Yo Art board chairwoman Lori Bate. “They have really pushed the envelope.” 

The 150 guests of the sold-out fundraiser are encouraged to arrive red-carpet ready for The Gala at the Gibbes, which is envisioned as a mini Met Gala. “Dress as the celebrity you think you are or wish you were,” says Bate, whose career trajectory included a stint in architecture, a degree from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, an accessories line, and work as a full-time artist. With input from Yo Art board secretary and former educator-cum-MTV special events planner Judi Cline, gala organizers anticipate an over-the-top evening filled with cocktails, imaginative couture, and an art deco aesthetic. 

The exhibition culminates a yearlong project for Yo Art, a nonprofit that delivers technology-centered arts programming to Charleston’s Title 1 schools. With energetic guidance from fashion instructor Jonatan Guerrero Ramirez, the manager of Closet Case Thrift Store, these fledgling fashion design students have moved through the entire process, from building a mood board based on the art exhibit to creating original collections on paper using hand drawings and Digital Fashion Pro software. Throughout the program, the students developed an understanding of the history and basics of fashion design. The final step involved crafting doll-size outfits out of nontraditional materials. 

Leaning on these for direction, Bate, with assistance from Yo Art supporters, then sewed each unique garment to be spotlighted during the Gibbes showcase. “The upstairs of my house became a workshop, with friends helping me piece together these whimsical creations,” she laughs. “One skirt is made entirely of petals. There’s definitely a wow factor.” 

Yo Art fashion instructor Jonatan Guerrero Ramirez helps a student craft a doll-size floral pink dress using nontraditional material.

A team of stylists will complete the outfits using garments from Gwynn’s of Mount Pleasant and global artisan-made accessories from Ibu Movement. “We wanted to be very inclusive. The models also reflect a diverse community. You’ll see individuals of all different ethnicities ranging in age from 18 to 80,” says Bate, who once worked as a showroom model for Oscar de la Renta. 

Bate hopes to raise about $25,000 from ticket sales and sponsorships, funding that will be invested into the nonprofit’s programming through the purchase of cameras, iPads, and other supplies for photography, filmmaking, coding, and more. But Bate sees even greater value in the opportunities that this debut could open, including future runway shows and more exposure for the organization as a whole. “Our nonprofit introduces Title 1 students to STEM-based arts careers that they otherwise wouldn’t have exposure to because these aren’t on the public school curriculum,” she says. “I’m so excited to show these kids that you can make real garments from what you can imagine.”