When Kristen Dees and Mercedes Curran made high school visits on behalf of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles to speak with adolescent students, many of the pupils seemed unsure about pursuing a future in the industry.
"It was almost too late, like they were too scared to know if this was something they wanted to do for the rest of their lives," Dees said. "Some parents wanted tutoring and mentoring geared toward the college-bound kids. But what about the age before that?"
Dees and Curran decided to create Designer Camp, a Los Angeles-based company that held its first Orange County camp last month for students ages 11 to 17.
The weeklong Designer Camp 101 at SOCO in Costa Mesa exposed its participants to the elements of design, color theory, personal branding, trend hunting, sketching and draping.
On top of those building blocks, the camp aimed to teach the students life skills such as teamwork, public speaking and setting deadlines for projects, said the camp's Orange County directors Anne-Marie Lockmyer and Rhonda McCaughey.
The 15 students took part in workshops with professionals in business, photography and fashion and interior design.
"The designers are real with them," Dees said. "They'll talk about how hard it is, like how you need to know math for measurements and science so you know what materials wash well, what fades in the sun or what works well with ironing."
During the weeklong camp, the students broke into different teams to create their own benefit corporation, also known as b corp.
"We highlighted b corp, a brand that is for profit but gives back to a social good," Dees said. "The whole goal is for them to come up with a company that gives back to a social good and to have them brand that company."
The campers came up with ideas such as selling long socks to help donate pairs to families in colder countries like Mongolia and designing special water bottles to help install clean water pumps to third world countries.
The first Designer Camp 101 took place in Los Angeles in 2015. Since then, the programs in L.A. have grown to include three more camps focused on fashion and styling, interior design and photography.
Dees said she hopes more extended camps will be able to take place at SOCO in the future.
"A lot of students [in the L.A. camp] were driving up from Orange County," Dees said. "Different brands and companies were also encouraging us to expand."
A cozy nook within the Drifter storefront at SOCO served as the Orange County camp site for the week, where the students could find colored pencils on the table and fabrics hanging on a rack.
"Fashion is what really interests me because of how you can express yourself through the clothing," said Jacob Aguilar, 15, a student in the camp who draws inspiration from designers like Jeremy Scott and Charles Jeffrey. "I really want to pursue that in the future."
Carly Tawney, 13, attended the Fashion & Styling Camp in L.A. the week before she came to Designer Camp 101 in Orange County.
"I would love to work in editorial or be a stylist for a magazine," said Carly. "Meeting the different designers has really helped because it's shown me that you can go from styling to being a buyer to then marketing. You don't have to narrow down your career to one specific thing in life."