Demeatria Boccella has spent the last 13 years making sure the fashion world has a broader idea of beauty that includes African Americans.

Now her local organization, FashionAFRICANA, is aiming to teach Pittsburgh African American youths the business behind the beauty industry—and help them to gain confidence in life by taking pride in their appearance.

The group’s first FashionAFRICANAKIDS, an Aug. 16 kids’ fashion show featuring local and world designers, will follow its first one-week fashion and arts camp for girls, beginning July 21 at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. There, workshops on the art and business of fashion will be offered to 6th through 8th grade girls. They’ll learn fashion’s art and commerce from the very designers who will take part in the show.

“It’s all built around building their self-esteem, teaching life skills to girls and reaffirming their beauty,” Boccella says.

Participating girls will learn the behind-the-scenes work of runway shows that FashionAFRICANA produces. They’ll work with designers from the FashionAFRICANAKIDS show, such as Adey Sol, whose work is inspired by Ethiopian culture. And they will design jewelry and other art pieces that may be worn during the show, and begin to work on their own designs for clothing.

The camp will touch on both fashion and costume design, including lessons on the variety of textiles, techniques for sewing, cutting and draping, rendering designs and working with clients.

They’ll also learn about the production side of fashion shows, including photography (taught by the photographer who will shoot the FashionAFRICANAKIDS show) and modeling (taught by women from the Utopia Model Agency that Boccella also founded and runs).

The weeklong day camp will give girls just a glimpse of the fashion industry, Boccella says, since many more weeks would be needed to take them fully from clothing design to production. “Our goal is to demonstrate how inspiration for modern fashion is derived from Africa and African culture,” she says. “I want them to come out inspired.”

Boccella has experience inspiring Pittsburgh youth. She was the director of grants for the Multicultural Arts Initiative at The Pittsburgh Foundation and helped assemble the group of local artists who presented their work to the White House during the G-20 summit here in 2009.

The Aug. 16 FashionAFRICANAKIDS will feature designs by Sol as well as local designer Kiya Tomlin, Three Africa’s Malawi-inspired clothing and others.

Boccella’s hope is that the show and the camp for girls will “nurture their interests in the field of fashion and connect them with mentors and industry professionals that could help them … I want them to be motivated, and I want them to feel proud, experienced and excited to participate.”

Marty Levine

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, Salon.com and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press...