Fashion school for the people

OPENED in 2008 by UK designer Karen Millen, Project Gateway’s fashion school has grown in leaps and bounds from simply manipulating commercial patterns to offering a proper fashion curriculum.

Speaking to the school’s head teacher and award-winning designer, Brenda Warring, Maritzburg Fever embarked on a tour of the school to find out just what makes the fashion school one of a kind.

“As we’ve evolved, we have been able to offer a full curriculum whereby students can learn fashion design and do illustration courses. We deal with a lot of underprivileged students and therefore try to do as much as we can, providing the students with stationery, sewing kits and sometimes fabric if they need it,” said Warring.

Warring said that on average, they take in 25 students a year at the school, who graduate after two years, and once they have completed their training they take away skills that equip them for the fashion world.

“They not only learn how to design and create high-fashion garments, we also teach them how to sell them and while here we make sure they sell some of their work in order to get a feel for the industry,” said Warring.

According to Warring, many students go on to open their own boutiques while some even go as far as becoming designers to the stars.

“We have had a few of our students who have gone on to open their own stores, while two of our students have even designed outfits for local celebrities,” said Warring.

The students at the school say they treasure their time at the fashion school, and that they have big dreams and hopes once they are done.

First-year student Lebohang Ramokoena said that her dream, once she is finished with her training at the school, is to cater for plus-sized people through her designs.

“I want to open my own boutique, focusing on plus-sized garments because it is so hard to find fashionable garments for plus-sized people in the fashion industry,” said Ramokoena.

Many of the students from the school find themselves competing in various fashion shows, such as the Tsogo Sun Sprint, where one of Warring’s students placed first ahead of her in the menswear category.

“It felt nice to beat my teacher. I really enjoy designing menswear because I feel I can bring some new flavour to it that has not been tapped into just yet,” said second-year student Mado Smaili.

Many of the students who attend the fashion school come from underprivileged backgrounds and therefore cannot always pay their school fees, which the fashion school takes into consideration and makes plans for.

“We operate without any government help and as part of an NGO with Project Gateway, we are always open to and welcome any donations to our school for things such as fabric and sewing machines, etc,” said Warring.