Brooklynites have been setting trends in fashion for years, and now a select few of them are getting the chance to create those styles from the ground up thanks to what might seem like an unexpected source: The Brooklyn Public Library.

The BPL just began piloting its first-ever Brooklyn Fashion Academy, an intensive 12-week course that enables 15 aspiring designers to not only create a mini fall/winter women’s wear collection to present at a May fashion show, but also meet mentors and learn valuable business skills to develop and market their brands — for free. The students, chosen from 51 applicants, needed to be a borough resident with a BPL card and some sort of fashion background, whether it was schooling or simply knowing how to sew.

“We wanted to make sure we got a good mix of designers so even if they’re at the beginning stages, the ones with more experience can have the opportunity to help them,” said program manager Lynnsie Augustin.

The 15 students included in Brooklyn Fashion Academy have a wide-range of experience, from Jennica Drice of East Flatbush, who had no formal training but taught herself how to crochet and knit and is taking the course to expand her skill set, to Sharufa Walker of Bedford-Stuyvesant, who has a full-fledged brand called Jinaki. 

 

“I loved the fact that this is an incubator that really cultivates what you started with and enhances it to evolve it into something better,” she said. “It’s definitely going to take Jinaki above and beyond.”

Classes are held at Pratt Institute's Brooklyn Fashion & Design Accelerator (BF+DA), MoodU and Central Library, where the academy will culminate with a fashion show on May 11 featuring runway-ready pieces inspired by “les Sapeurs,” a vibrant Congolese fashion subculture. 

“We thought it was very Brooklyn,” program manager Winnie Siclait said. “It’s not just African print — it’s juxtaposition of colors, fabrics and quality.” 

Due to funding, there are no set plans for another Brooklyn Fashion Academy beyond this pilot, “so everything’s riding on how we do,” Augustin said.

“We’re hoping, based on the success of the fashion show, that we’ll get more funding to make it recurring,” she added. “There’s so many designers in New York City and Brooklyn alone that an opportunity like this, where they can have these classes and access to all these resources free of charge, is something that can really help them along.”