Amid all the discussion about violence perpetrated by and against District youth, a group of young people has set out to create more opportunities for artistic expression and entrepreneurship.
Through what’s known as Blisx DC, District youth have been pursuing fashion design and participating in fashion shows as designers, models and set managers — all as what Blisx DC founder Aniya Coffey describes as an effort to provide safe spaces for young people.
“I wanted to create interventions for students who could pick up a skill and learn how to alter clothing,” said Aniya, 17, a rising senior at Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) High School in Northeast, who started Blisx DC in September.
On the evening of June 18, Blisx DC hosted “Fashion Reimagined,” a fashion show at the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage (TMCSH) in Northwest that commemorated the launch of the student organization. The almost three-hour event featured nearly a dozen models who wore outfits designed by young up-and-coming District-based fashion designers.
In the weeks leading up to this intimate event, Aniya issued a call for models, all of whom were high school and college students. She also brought on Cara Fuller, the principal at Phelps ACE High School, and Emmanuel Eppie, the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust (TMCT)’s student programs director as advisors.
Aniya said Blisx DC’s work will continue during the upcoming school year with the facilitation of after-school events at Phelps ACE High School and throughout the District where young people can express their creativity through fashion design. “I want to pursue this idea to keep students engaged and branch off to other high schools in D.C. and the U.S.,” Aniya said.
“Regardless of skill level, students could teach that trade to other students,” Aniya added. “It’s very important for young people to participate and have access to a space after school and during lunch to express themselves,” she added.
By the time dozens of students, parents and community members converged on TMCSH for “Fashion Reimagined” last month, the District was approaching a dozen gun-related deaths involving young people for this year — including that of cousins Demarcos Pinckney and Kevin Mason. Although the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation has rolled out summer programs, some District youth have been seeking out extracurricular activities focused on the arts.
Blisx DC represents years of fashion design enrichment that started with Aniya’s participation in Sew N’ Know at Southeast Tennis Learning Center in the fourth grade. It also builds off of Aniya’s experience as student body president at Phelps ACE High School and a well-known advocate for her peers throughout the District.
Eppie, a District public school teacher, said that Aniya demonstrated a level of maturity that brought a calm, communal vibe at the fashion show. He told the Informer that the final product reflected a vision that she was able to execute without much guidance from him or any other adult.
“The fashion show was Aniya showing her entrepreneurial skills and her community leadership and administration skills,” Eppie said.
“She has an ability to be poised under pressure to the point where it seems like [planning for the fashion show] didn’t faze her,” he added. “She was having fun so it [didn’t feel like] work. We could’ve made the fashion show bigger, but we kept it intimate and that was based on Aniya’s intuition.”
For District student Destiny Wilson, “Fashion Reimagined” and the ongoing work with Blisx DC will play a significant role in making D.C. a mecca for fashion design.
On June 18, Wilson, a rising senior at Luke C. Moore Opportunity Academy in Northeast promoted her fashion brand, Carlena’s Creations at TMCSH via four models, one of whom wore threads with a gothic feel. She told The Informer that, in preparation for the show, she used a sewing machine that she had at home for the first time.
Since then, Wilson has set her sights on improving her craft, and eventually attending Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and traveling to Japan to study the gyaru fashion subculture.
For the time being, however, she wants to work with her friend Aniya to expand Blisx DC and see to it that young people in D.C. can participate in safe, fashion-related activities in their backyard.
“When I tell people I want to go into fashion, they tell me to go to New York [because] there’s nothing here,” said Wilson, 18.
“Why should I have to go somewhere else? It’s like we have to pay for everything or just [play] sports,” Wilson added. “We’re trying to create something for the creative kids who don’t care for sports. There aren’t a lot of opportunities east of the Anacostia River.”