Just as Hannah Montana doesn’t do much for the generation she belongs to (but she’s sweet music to 10-year-olds), teens usually look to role models in their 20s. Bad news, given the current crop of scuzzy celebs and supermodels who’ve had every spot Photoshopped out of existence. Add in peer pressure, and it’s tougher than ever being a teen, especially if you’re eager to evolve your own style rather than follow the fashion herd, harder still if you don’t conform to the media’s increasingly narrow view of ideal womanhood.
“Teens hardly ever accept advice from adults,” says Maria José Zatarain, a mentor with the Vancouver branch of TRENDS, (www.trendsfashion.ca/). But if you’re being encouraged by people in your generation, it’s a very different situation. That’s the whole point of TRENDS (Teens Reacting Effectively and Discovering Style), which bills itself as a “fashion and image project” for teens by teens, and “helps teens navigate in the world of fashion and image from the ”˜inside out’.”
“I realize how everyone, specifically teenagers, needs to realize the value of inner beauty,” says Zatarain, going on to describe the links between that and happiness, confidence, and leadership. She experienced similar pressures growing up in Spain. Everywhere, teens are “more vulnerable to the media, and what society understands by role models.” Any good ones locally? She names sisters Eileen and Kathleen Higgins of the Higgins, a country-music group.
Think of it as feminism in fashion. TRENDS was founded in Toronto in 2004 by four teenage girls who were concerned about the conformity they saw encouraged in fashion, and its objectification of women. The organization now has chapters in that city, as well as Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Calgary, and Vancouver. Zatarain, who has a day job in the financial industry, learned about TRENDS when she was living in Toronto. “I thought it was a great idea to bring to Vancouver,” she says. Zatarain is the mentor, not the president of that branch. That’s Erin Thorpe, 16, who writes on the Web site: “So many girls need to see that modesty doesn’t mean to be unstylish, it is treating your femininity with dignity.” Zatarain stresses, “It’s themselves developing and creating a positive image.”
On a chilly Saturday, close to 30 local members (out of a total of around 50) meet up at the Arbutus Shopping Centre. Today they’ll continue their work on an upcoming fashion show designed to raise awareness about TRENDS, as well as practise the interview techniques they’ll need if, as a quarter of them aim to, any of them choose to go into the fashion business. What unifies the girls, who come from all over the world, is the confidence they show through the individual touches they’ve given their outfits—for instance, accessorizing jeans with espadrilles or a lacy shawl rather than the usual runners and hoodie.
Teens who join (there’s a $40 annual membership fee) can take part in twice-monthly meetings with activities ranging from makeup sessions to discussions on movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Fashion shows and beauty workshops are balanced by advocacy and conferences. Visits to seniors “help girls realize beauty isn’t just physical”, says Zatarain. Learning about trend forecasting and sessions with Kwantlen University College fashion-design students bring home the realities of the business of style.
Part of today’s meeting involves breaking into pairs, with one person interviewing the other on personal style and reporting back to the group that one participant “doesn’t like to blend in with the crowd”, while another “likes gypsy style, and she doesn’t like to follow the trend”. Elena Bitelli, 14, says, “I usually like to dress casual, with a pinch of elegance. Jeans and maybe an elegant blouse. I sometimes look at magazines [but] I don’t pay attention to ones with lots of celebrities. I think celebrities are often children who haven’t grown up. I also look at how people on the street dress.” Bitelli’s favourite stores are Le Chí¢teau, Sirens, Hangers, and Stitches. Her most prized new wardrobe addition? A spaghetti-strapped black-and-white dress her mom recently bought her.
Later, the girls will rehearse runway walking for the fashion show, which will also feature local design talent. “We met up [and] we’re going to do a spring dress inspired by the ’50s,” says Michelle Legaspi, 15, who has teamed up with Devil May Wear designer Stephanie Ostler. Along with Melissa Taylor of Love, Deming; Dahlia Drive’s Wendy Van Riesen; Christie Clayton of Carny Love; and Miriam Melanson of Flaming Angels, Ostler helped judge an essay contest—topic: beauty and leadership—with the five prizes being a one-on-one collaboration with a Vancouver designer.
“Working with these girls and seeing them grow into themselves is very rewarding,” Zatarain says. “But it is the teens’ own leadership and beauty that drives the program.”