Westport designers fashion their own future


By Ella Bloomingdale ’20

Staples students have many outlets for their interests inside the high school — academics, athletics, music, arts, politics.  Sadly, apart from general fine arts classes, there is no specific practical course in fashion design. The good news is that for those students interested in a future in fashion design, there is an important local resource to fill the void, the Ellen Gang Design Studio (EGDS).

Founder Ellen Gang has a long history both in the field of fashion design itself and as a teacher and mentor to young designers.  Gang has been involved in the fashion industry for over 35 years, most notably as the Director of Design and Merchandising at Knitwaves, Inc., where she earned three Ernie Awards for Excellence in Children’s Wear.  She has a huge passion for sharing her experience with up and coming designers which sets her apart from other designers. As a professor for over 20 years at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, Gang wanted to bring the fashion design experience to younger students.  And so was born the EGDS, located in Westport, where she offers design and construction classes to middle and high school students as well as summer and holiday design camps.

The studio has made a great impact on Staples students who hope to have a step up in the design world.  Her past students have left Staples to move on to highly respected design programs around the country including the Parsons School of Design, the Pratt Institute in New York, the Rhode Island School of Design and design programs at Marist University and Drexel University.  Alyssa Domenico ’17, currently at the Pratt Institute, credits her experience at the EGDS in her college application success. “I feel I had the advantage of being able to show that I had sewing/construction knowledge,” Domenico said, adding “[Gang] definitely had a part in helping me get into the colleges I wanted to attend.”  

Stephania Urist ’07, currently a sculptor who graduated from the RISD after Staples, agrees that the EGDS helps focus college plans.  “My experience with Ellen definitely pushed me to go to art school and become a sculptor,” and “my interest in fabric and clothing has continued to influence my artwork ever since,” Urist said.

In private lessons with students, Gang helps them to to develop collections that can result in a finalized portfolio. Michael Ippolito ’20, a current student at the studio, notes that Gang “has helped me with learning specific technique” and is someone who “knows a lot about all aspects of fashion design.”  And the skills go beyond design and construction skills.

Students who don’t go on to a design program in college still feel the value of being a part of the EGSD while at Staples.  Susie Zec ’16 found the studio place to “destress while having fun with fashion.” Zec took classes at the EGDS from seventh grade through high school and has “the best memories being at Ellens with friends and using fabrics to make beautiful, trendy and sometimes crazy designs.”  These include a dress made out of newspaper, a project which highlights Gang’s use of innovative challenges aimed to push design limits and encourage creativity. “Westport teens are really savvy, and I need to keep up with the trends which will excite them,” Gang said.

Ellen Gang is very involved in the Westport community.  She has participated in the well-known Westport Mini Maker Faire in 2016, held a “Fashion Talks!” fundraiser at the Westport Art Center in 2015 and partnered with Mitchell’s Department Store for a fashion show to benefit Kids in Distressed Situations/Fashion Delivers in 2014.  Excitingly, coming up on Sunday May 20, the EGDS will hold their annual Fashion Show.

Students interested in exploring options for fashion design classes should consider the 12 session “Designer for a Day” classes or one of the summer 2018 fashion camps.  More experienced designers interested in pursuing a career in design could consider taking private lessons or the “College Prep and Portfolio” courses. Regardless of whether you’re a serious designer or want to give it a try as a fun and creative outlet, the EGDS has something for everyone.

Gang has a true passion for fostering creativity in students.  “I have always loved sharing my knowledge and experience with others,” Gang said, “and I truly enjoy working with all age groups.  I love mentoring students on their journey to do what they love to do, and I love to see my younger students develop and blossom as they grow.”