Business & Economy

Young, low-income Dominicans designing their futures in fashion

By Maria Montecelos

Santo Domingo, Apr 6 (EFE).- The sound of sewing machines mixes with the conversations among students at the workshop school of Dominican fashion designer Martin Polanco, a space where young, low-income people can design for themselves a future in the world of fashion.

The creator, who made a name for himself in New York and has a loyal clientele, launched his altruistic initiative a year and eight months ago in Santo Domingo Este so that young people from humble origins, as he once was, can create productive futures for themselves stitch by stitch.

Polanco, who initially had some trouble setting up the school, for years had been taking young people off the street to work in his Santo Domingo workshop, along with one in New York, before launching the National Foundation for Caribbean Art and Design, where EFE was able to catch up with him and learn about the project.

The school is conceived as a place where people can get into “a profession where you need a good bit of investment to position yourself,” both in terms of materials and equipment, but these things are freely available to the participants who really want to earn their livings designing apparel and accessories, Polanco said.

The project also seeks to break the stereotypes that question whether a person from humble origins can become a designer, although that was Polanco’s situation. Thus, he said he fully identifies “with each one” of the 75 students who so far have passed through the school, to which some have come by word of mouth.

“I try to seek out those young people who are on the street corners, in the (poor) neighborhoods,” to bring them to a place they never thought they could get to. “They’re young people who don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives and I give them this opportunity and, suddenly, they discover that they have an immense talent.”

That’s the case of Adonis Leandro German, who Polanco took out of poverty at age 14, brought to his workshop and now – at age 26 – he’s part of the team and is starting to work as a teacher.

“I like to sew, by hand and by machine. I’m very competent,” but “I’m always open to continuing to learn,” he told EFE, adding that he’s confident about the future that awaits him, thanks to Polanco and to his own efforts.

Adonis has spent years sewing but in three months at the school some are already demonstrating their talent with the needle, including Iara Abigail Agramonte, a 28-year-old model who wants to remain in the fashion world.

She came to the school without having ever sewn on a single button and her evolution there has been noteworthy. “I love it. We’re learning a lot. The teachers are very good, they’re patient with us,” she told EFE beside the sewing machine on which she practices, adding that everyone feels “like a family.”

Other students, like Jonathan Chalas and Maria Esther Medina, exhibit great determination to achieve their goals, never doubting for a moment that they will become great designers.

Polanco inculcates his work philosophy into them: “Being and doing to win.” That is something that’s applicable to any discipline and which, in this case, means devoting yourself to creating all sorts of garments and other items, including accessories, but with a special spot reserved for the “chacabana,” the emblematic Dominican garment similar to the guayabera.

The challenge posed to these young people in exchange for the free training and paying their expenses to get to and from the workshop, is to “create a fashion show.”

In fact, last year the eight brightest students participated in the Dominicana Moda fashion show and their collection was a great success, Polanco said.

The designer has his own challenge, which is to leave this project as his legacy, saying “I promised myself that … we’d be on the world level of Oscar de la Renta,” the inspiration of so many fashion designers.

EFE mmv/mp/dmt/bp

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