Aspiring designers can now get a head start before they’ve even finished elementary school. Zaniac, a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) enrichment-course franchise offering after-school and summer programs, is launching a fashion-design course on August 10 for fourth to eighth graders. “The fashion-design course at Zaniac was created to demonstrate that STEM concepts and skills are essential to all future career paths — not just those traditionally associated with the antiquated concept of men in lab coats,” says Sidharth Oberoi, Zaniac’s president and chief academic officer. “We also see this course as an opportunity to empower more girls in STEM, and a necessary step toward closing the gender gap that exists in STEM fields today.” Parents will shell out roughly $249 for the six-week fashion-design course, which meets for an hour and a half, once a week, for six weeks — and there’s a student-to-teacher ratio of five to one. Currently, Zaniac has two Utah locations, in Salt Lake City and Park City, plus franchises in Miami and in Greenwich, CT, and has plans to set up shop next month on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Another Connecticut location will open this month, a Boston outpost is expected in the fall, and multiple locations will open in California before the end of the year.
What’s on the syllabus? “Students learn the intricacies of digital design by creating one-of-a-kind looks using vector graphics in order to create a digital portfolio equivalent to that of a fall or spring collection,” Oberoi says of the course, which also involves color theory and virtual mode boards, plus some requisite show-and-tell of the students’ designs for family and friends. “This course illustrates the need for all students to be well-versed on 21st-century skills like graphic design in order to have successful careers in their futures,” says Oberoi. The course lets burgeoning fashion talents start designing during their tween years — but it’s also a way to point girls toward STEM-centric career paths. Some of Zaniac’s other offerings are arguably more boy-centric, including a Lego robotics program and Game-Based Learning: Minecraft; other classes include computer programming and 3D printing. Other places are also working to usher girls into STEM fields through fashion-design courses, albeit through briefer programs. The National Science Foundation has funded a STEM program for the past two years at Cornell University’s Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design called Smart Clothing, Smart Girls. Middle-school girls from local upstate New York 4-H programs were enrolled into the weeklong course, which covered advanced materials, wearable electronics, design technology, and engineering design. In June, Colorado State University ran a free two-week program, Fashion FUNdamentals, through its Department of Design and Merchandising to teach middle-school girls how to apply STEM concepts to fashion-industry topics. “The program is founded upon the premise that adolescent girls’ passion for fashion can be tapped to nurture girls’ skills in the STEM disciplines and to foster their self-confidence and self-esteem,” according to the Fashion FUNdamentals site. We’ll have to give them a couple of years to hit their teen years and then graduate from high school before seeing how STEM-focused fashion training can impact the industry, but our hopes are high.