Sarah Hermez on
Fashion, Social Justice, Free Education and co-founding Creative Space
Fashion can make us dream, empower us, bring out emotions and put forward a chosen identity.
It also can rejuvenate an economy, develop an industry and bring opportunities to communities.
This creative field is a competitive business and budding designers need guidance, a know how as well as opportunities. An education in fashion, learning how to pattern cut, tailoring, about fabrics, the complexities of an outfit looking good on a body as well as it being creative and so many other attributes are highly beneficial. But education is costly. In the UK, tuition fees are increasing and across the world it seems like the young are rethinking the benefits of higher education due to high costs and lack of jobs in return.
Lebanon a country too filled with creativity, also faces such struggles where education is expensive and opportunities scarce, yet the Lebanese are utilising their talent and in turn through their own initiatives, have played a strong part in the development of a creative economy.
Sarah Hermez opened Creative Space in 2011 in Downtown Beirut with her former Parsons School of Art Professor Caroline Simonelli. It provides free education for three years to a set of young people, offering them a quality creative design education, the opportunity to learn a craft and transform that into a thriving business and in turn they have the ability to add to a thriving industry in Lebanon for the next generation.
I caught up with Sarah as she showed me around the school, we discussed how this non for profit initiative came about…
What is Creative Space about?
We are a fashion design school and also a not-for-profit organisation. We search for students across Lebanon who are very passionate and talented but who can’t afford an education. We provide 3 years of free education to each student. From Monday to Friday we have different courses from pattern making, draping, to illustration, looking at concepts, inspirations and the history of fashion. We also help them with job interviews and with internships throughout the three years that they are here.
We believe in the power of education, in free education and the importance of fostering talent which there is so much of in Lebanon, but education is just so expensive that we wanted to provide a platform for people who are very talented but cannot afford college fees.
How do you chose your students, do they have to apply?
It’s been 7 years since we started Creative Space. In the very beginning we had to go and search for students. But since that first beginning, there is an application process through our website where anyone can apply. There are several steps. The first step is when we look at their form that they have filled out. The second step is to see their portfolio and interview them and thirdly we invite them to do a workshop. From the workshops we select 5 students. So each year we take on 5 new students.
You are a not-for-profit organisation, who funds you?
We are funded mostly by individuals who give private donations to scholars, we apply for grants and do fundraising events. We also have launched in-house brands in which proceeds from the sales support the education of all our students.
Do you get any support or help from the state?
We believe that there should be free education, but because we are not provided with that, we had to take matters in our own hands. Everything is privatised, but it doesn't matter here, because it’s about building something that is sustainable. Our vision is to be able to eventually build a bigger school free of charge. Nowadays all over the world, education is just too expensive, a lot of talented people don’t have the money to pursue the arts.
So how did this idea come about, you mentioned you started 7 years ago, when did your lightbulb moment happen?
I was living in New York at the time and I was studying fashion design at Parsons the New School for Design and media and cultural studies at Eugene Lang the New School for Liberal Arts in New York. The perfect mix of my passions. I did a few study abroad programs and went to India, to Dharamshala, I lived with a Tibetan refugee family, studied Tibetan politics and went to Cambodia. All those experiences changed the way I viewed the world and what I wanted to do in the world. I wanted to find a way to mix creativity with social justice and this here at Creative Space was that way.
My professor Caroline Simonelli is the co-founder of the school, I was sitting with her in New York, and I was telling her of all the things that I wanted to do but I didn’t know how to, I was confused, when she said to me, why don’t you start a school, as soon as she said that, a sort of lightbulb moment happened and I thought, yes that’s exactly what I want to do. Caroline then said that if I could make it happen, she would come to help, So every year, for the past 7 years, she has been coming each summer, teaching here for 2 months. She’s 81 years old.
What do the students do after graduation?
So far for all the graduates we have provided them with a space to work, they come and work on projects as well as on their collections, and a percentage comes back into the school or a cause and we work on deals together and projects for them. For example, one of our students is in Milan now, she has gotten a scholarship and is studying over there, teaching and working on her projects, she’s excelling. Other students have launched brands under our umbrella, some students are working with fashion houses or with NGO’s.
Everyone is able to choose a path for themselves. And that’s what we aim to do, provide an opportunity for the many talented people in the Lebanon.
Sarah Hermez co-founder of Creative Space and Tracy Moussi general manager of Creative Space in their office in Beirut