Student Uprising

I have had an up and down term. There have been unfortunate incidents with students who would be fired within a week on the job and then again I have witnessed some flashes of brilliance. But one student’s story stands out as a beacon of inspiration.

What initially struck me about this girl was her spic and span appearance. That and how she always responded to my questions with a decisive “Yes, ma’am”.  Spotless little button up shirt, tailoring that sat just right on her trim shoulders, men’s socks and well-shined lace-up brogues. No jewellery, no make-up, no extraneous.


But for three weeks she had not turned in any work. When I had a word with her in private, she told me that there were a few things going on in her life.

She went on to explain that she was ex-military and due to a past incident was under court martial until it was cleared up. As a vet, her tuition was paid for. I remembered she had left class early in Week 2 to attend a job interview, returned victorious the following week. But it turns out she lost this position when they did a background check. The military were taking all her money. She  was homeless as she had been unable to pay her last three month’s rent and, the previous night, had begged a women’s shelter to take her in even tough they usually only accept abused women. She was so grateful for a place to sleep but more importantly, she said, to take out her markers and sketch pad. She spoke stoically, without whining or blaming. Her eyes were sparkling with moisture but she did not shed a tear. She promised she would find a way to turn in all remaining projects and pass the class.

It was a Specialty Markets class and the next project up was Bridalwear. I could see the horror pass before her eyes. I told the class Bridal can mean anything you want it to mean provided you can demonstrate there is a market for  your designs. She gave it some serious thought and came back with an interesting idea. As a lesbian, with many lesbian friends excited that gay marriage was now legal in many states, she outlined their dissatisfaction with the bridal offerings currently on the market. “These women don’t want huge poufy dresses,” she said. They want to look pretty and demonstrate some femininity. But not that much. She wanted to bring menswear touches into bridal and play with androgyny.

“This new emerging market needs to be catered for,” she said.

“Alrighty,” I replied.

Vera Wang Spring 2015

Vera Wang Spring 2015

Between then and the following week, she did more research. She made trips to the Vera Wang and Brioni stores. What a great coupling, I thought. She touched the fabrics, scrutinized the work that goes into those poufy skirts, befriended the staff, collected look books. She reported that everyone was very nice. But her research had caused a significant shift in her thinking. She was left in awe of Vera Wang’s dresses. They were light as air, she said, poufy but controlled. She said any woman would feel great in one. Again her eyes were sparkling with moisture.

I was struck by several things: that a homeless girl could find herself at home in Vera Wang. That, when so much was dark in her life, she could still find beauty, and in places she least expected. That she was not so stuck in a tribal mentality that she was afraid to break with the codes and strike out on her own.

I gave her an A.

Watch her rise...

My novel, set in the international fashion industry, is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here



  1. Karen Mc Causland

    So beautiful … You are an amazing tutor x

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. An ex-military future fashion designer with such a bittersweet story is a walking inspiration, I think. An A student indeed!

  3. The stories that we will hear from students (if we have the courage to invite them to speak) can inspire, break a heart and make teaching well worth the effort. So glad you could invite this woman to speak and witness her story.

  4. What a sweet story! I forgot to tell you that my friend’s daughter who just completed her second here at St. Martin’s is loving every minute of it. She is now doing an internship in Portugal and has a Summer job lined up in LA but it looks like she will end up staying in Europe after she is done.

    • I meant to ask. So glad her experience is a good one. And she’s getting around a bit too and lining things uo which sounds very promising. Wish her well from me. Maybe one day you’ll feature her work…

  5. Hung Tran

    Great student, and she’s lucky to have you tutor her! And I’m lucky to have discovered your blog 😛

    • Thanks Hung, she is a true diamond in the rough. Not all are like her unfortunately but I like to focus on the good. Thanks for looking in. The luck is all mine 🙂

  6. Loved this – wish we could see her project..has my minds a bubbling. But even more happy she has you in her corner. Loved the light, dark and greys in this xxxx

  7. Oh — Jackie. That is why you teach and often find the students end up teaching you. XO

    • I guess you’re right, Dievca. There have been several remarkably bright sparks in an otherwise particularly trying term–maybe the hardest I’ve had. The good deserve the spotlight…yet why is always the bad ones that stick in mind..?

      • Because with the bad ones you feel like you didn’t win (you are success driven) and they will NEVER have a clue (irritating). If you can, just remember that it is the small things in life that truly bring one happiness.
        You are good and you have done your best.

  8. Hi Jackie,
    I loved this post. Bittersweet yet so inspiring. Thanks for sharing.
    xo Natasha

  9. All the best teachers inspire their students,no matter how tough it maybe to just get out of bed…..if you have one that is. I love the mix of Vera Wang and this student. My fashion tutors favourite word was juxtaposition….very fitting here. Great job! Both of you!!

  10. That is a lovely word-and truly a favorite of tutors worldwide 🙂 Juxtaposition makes the world go round. xo

  11. A teacher’s purpose is not to create students in his own image, but to develop students who can create their own image. ~Author Unknown

    That’s what you did for your student Jackie!
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story…
    sending you the shiniest {virtual} red apple ever!!~ xo

    2 Teach is
    2 Touch lives
    4 Ever
    ~Author Unknown

    • I really need to keep a little notebook for all your apt and wise quotes. I need to have them all in one place as they’re all so PERFECT!
      You leave me a juicy apple every time whether I deserve it or not!

  12. Wow- what a beautiful story!!

  13. Great story. You’re amazing!

  14. karen mc causland

    Hi Jackie….sending you this voucher to use at the new store!!! love this collection …hope you like it too!!! K

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