Beauty of Stem: Future Fashion Icon

By Arwen Kozak – 11th Grade, Pittsburgh CAPA

In the comfortable, carpeted “living room” of the early learning hub, Ms. Shimira Williams bustled around the kitchen area preparing for the Beauty of Stem Makers Institute closing party on the afternoon of August 23rd. From June 27th until the fashion show on Thursday the 20th of August, a group of young ladies met every saturday to make their own fashion along the theme of “remake, reclaim.” They were supported by donations from Knick Knacks and Paddy Wacks, a “unique Consignment Shoppe,” and the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.

The students made 3 looks, as well as their own accessories and decorating their own shoes. The outfits were tutus (made with tule donated by Knick Knacks and Paddy Wacks), an ombre look (made with fabric dye from Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse), and tie dye. The ombre look exemplified the theme for the year, “reclaiming” the fabric dye from PCCR and “remixing” the white jean that was bought for the base. The jewelry was made after the girls had a workshop at PCCR, which gave them the skill set and some inspiration about reusing and reclaiming materials.

The goal for the evening was to celebrate the success, recap what they did, and discuss what could be better in the future. The girls also received “closing gifts” including tools and material to continue making jewelry, and a photo book made by Ms. Shimira with the process documented. She explained that she wanted them to have a physical object to show what they had done, so if they couldn’t access or explain the digital badging system they used, they could still show people what they did. The night was also highlighted by a “Future Fashion Icon” (the badge for the night,) Nisha Blackwell. She runs Knotzland, which makes artisan bow ties.

Ms. Blackwell grew up in Homewood, going to local schools before heading to Edinboro for college. There, she received a degree in psychology, but found it hard “feeling like [she] wasn’t being creative enough.” About 2 years ago, she bought herself a sewing machine, but let it sit for months before braving youtube for, as she describes it, “hours and hours and hours [of having to] stop and rewind it… I really wanted to learn.” As an important birthday approached: that of a baby that was very special to her, she wanted something special to give her. She decided to try making hair bows, and has said “I was super nervous about my creation.” But, by the time she left the party, she had 5 customers looking for more bows! She said that when the school year rolled around, parents came to her saying “My sons have to wear uniforms, but there’s nothing to spice them up!” So, she realized “I just have to figure out how to transfer [hair bows] into bow ties!” She revamped them, changing the look to suit bow ties.

Ms. Blackwell gave lots of advice to the students at the dinner based on their specific questions and stories, but also just told them general tips and knowledge. Over dinner, she told them, “Once you start doing something you really, really love… the universe starts lining up…There are people who really love arts, and crafts, and crafty people who’re doing things with their hands.” She also talked about her methods and her philosophies when dealing with people. She said, “I’m constantly… utilizing technology, and computers, and everything… there’s a procedure with everything… Basically, you have to be nice to people, even when people aren’t nice to you… How you treat people… is how the universe and everything comes back to you… nice people get really, really, far.” She also spoke about how she runs her business with no physical store. “I don’t have a living room anymore… my whole living room is like construction junction,” she said, when describing how her studio space gradually took over her home. “Its not about paying a lot of money id you want to build something from the start…I’m sacrificing my living room for my business… I love it. I can’t believe I can just do something from the comfort of my own home and people like it.” Running a business on your own isn’t easy, and she spent a large chunk of time talking about how she maneuvers that. “To do something by hand, you have to know your work. People get paid at jobs… you should get paid for your business… Don’t cut yourself short because this is your time [and] it takes time upfront.”

As the dinner drew to a close, Ms. Shimira handed out the closing gifts, and told the students how proud she was of them. “[Even if you fail,] you gotta keep trying and trying and changing little things… You committed.”


Arwen Kozak Arwen Kozak is an 11th grade student at Pittsburgh CAPA hailing from friendship.  She has been a youth reporter for Pittsburgh Youth Media for 2 years and enjoys acting and reading in her spare time.

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