Detroit fashion designer Tracy Reese launches arts enrichment program for kids

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Growing up in Detroit, renowned fashion designer Tracy Reese remembers Saturdays weren't just for play in her family. They were for learning outside the classroom and being immersed in the arts.

"My mom enrolled us in extra classes -- whatever it was we liked -- whether it was art or music classes or swimming or tennis," said Reese, who moved her studio from New York to Detroit in 2019. "You name it. We were busy on Saturdays." 

Now, Reese wants to expose other kids to the arts in Detroit and broaden their cultural horizons through a new free arts enrichment program. She's kicking it off with a pilot program this weekend at her Hope for Flowers studio on Woodward in Detroit. Classes and workshops officially begin in early October.

Designer Tracy Reese said throughout her childhood in Detroit, Saturdays were for outside art, music or any other kind of classes.

"There are so many families that have don’t have access" to these kinds of programs, said Reese, who also previously styled former First Lady Michelle Obama. "...I think it's important to get out of house and do something else and learn something new. And be creative. (It) gives kids ways to express themselves."

The program -- which Reese is launching as part of her sustainably designed Hope for Flowers line -- will offer weekly Saturday classes to kids in two groups -- one for 7- to 9-year-olds and another for those 10-12. Classes will feature a rotating roster of arts educators.

Being exposed to the arts not just through her family but in the Detroit Public Schools Community District was what eventually put Reese on her path to becoming a fashion designer, she said.

"I took art classes and music classes throughout school. I had some really amazing instructors and I learned so much," said Reese, who after graduating from Cass Technical High School got a full scholarship to Parsons School of Design in New York. "They really opened my mind to the possibilities. I didn’t realize (fashion design) was a career until an instructor said, 'This might be something you want consider." 

Fashion designer Tracy Reese, far right, who grew up in Detroit and moved her studio to the city in 2019, is launching a free arts enrichment program for kids in the city.

Reese worries about public schools programs that have cut arts programming because of budget issues.

"It hurts all of our hearts," said Reese. "A lot of schools have lost all of their arts programming and that's scary. Full schools have maybe one arts teachers or one music teacher."

Reese's enrichment program also will teach kids about the importance of sustainability.

Sustainability has become a big part of Reese's fashion sensibility. Her Hope for Flowers line is made from sustainable fabrics while still featuring her signature silhouettes, color and pattern.

"I had to change my textile sourcing dramatically once I learned what the end game is for some of these fabrics that we’ve gotten really comfortable with," said Reese. "I want to create things that are much responsibly sourced...It's a huge industry and we can do so much more."

Designer Tracy Reese, speaking to a reporter at the opening of the "Black Fashion Designers" exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2016, said it was her time as a student in Detroit Public Schools that put her on the path to becoming a designer.

After the pilot, the Hope for Flowers arts enrichment classes -- open only to Detroit Public Schools kids -- will start Oct. 2 and run through Nov. 20. 

And Reese eventually plans to offer workshops to adults too. She said planning for these classes has been in the works for months but had to be pushed back because of COVID.

"We want to broaden some horizons here," said Reese.

Hope for Flowers arts enrichment classes

Created by fashion designer Tracy Reese

Open to Detroit Public Schools Community District students ages 7-12

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