Letter from Our Founder
I founded the Children’s Institute of Fashion Arts (CIFA) in 2017 because I was concerned that creative children were having a hard time. I know that I thrived because I had art, music, and crafts to keep be centered, entertained, and challenged. In 2012, I had the vision for the CIFA to create a place where children could explore and create and learn in order to begin to know themselves and learn to be authentic.
Our mission is to create progressive, broad-based, child-centered, educational programs to meet the requirements of our changing world while exciting and invigorating creative children to embrace challenges with courage and confidence, becoming active thinkers, producers, and problem-solvers.
The idea for the CIFA came out of a deep concern for the future. In 2012, when I saw how quickly the world was changing, and how these changes – in the economy, media, technology and the environment – were affecting children. I intuitively felt that children were becoming disconnected from basic life-sustaining activities Because I have personally found solace and inspiration in my ability to make my own clothing, I felt that this was an area that I would be able to give back to young people and bring to our collective future. My motivation for founding the CIFA comes from an urge to support our children in inheriting this complex world with confidence and have the ability to take charge of the challenges to come.
Fashion, to me, has always been about expressing oneself from a very personal and creative point of view, or making a social statement against oppression through one’s appearance. I am critical of the way fashion emphasizes the elevation of some people over others through exploitative labor practices, an inequality integral to its very nature, and, of course, wasteful practices of consumer culture. The Children’s Institute of Fashion Arts is devoted to educating children through a progressive, child-centered pedagogy that will foster self-understanding as well as a social awareness that unfolds as the child grows.
Because of the advent of new technologies, young people today have access to vast amounts of information at a pace that is unprecedented, and we are seeing young people increasingly disconnected from reality, and suffering from mental health challenges. Hopelessness is at a high point and projections for the future consistently point us to the need for better ways to connect with kids. This was true, even before the global pandemic of 2020. Our programs help kids slow down, connect with reality, and establish a steady rhythm progressing from idea to completion, and therefore are specifically focused on helping kids manage anxiety and stress. By instilling in them the fact that their simple actions can make a practical difference in their lives, they build confidence in their abilities and knowledge of processes and materials.
The fashion industry has been flagged as a primary contributor to the climate emergency. We are educating children in a different type of culture, one that invests in repairing clothing rather than discarding it. Most clothing consumed is made from fossil fuels that will not biodegrade naturally. Clothing waste contributes to 35% of the microplastics that pollute our oceans, and 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. Even though the fashion industry is not regulated, and consumers are not educated in these issues, we are slowly seeing more attention on these important issues. The CIFA is working on the ground with children to begin this cultural change.
My background as an interdisciplinary artist, designer, and sociologist, and mother, has led me to recognize the essential need for connective, contextual, educational programs. Children are naturally inquisitive and interdisciplinary. The basic skill of sewing leads kids to engage with their worlds in new ways, opening up all kinds of possibilities for creativity, science, math, and engineering. Developing skills of logical production through small projects with manageable outcomes leads to continued interest in learning and creative enterprise, like one student told me: “Sewing is like Legos!” An education that combines scientific exploration with creative, artistic endeavors–that is the type of education our children really need!
I hear from children the confidence, joy, and happiness they get out of learning to sew and creating their own designs. Kids tell me that learning to sew gives them the confidence to change things they don’t like about their clothes so they can better express who they really are rather than feeling powerless to do so. Kids tell me they feel proud when they make their ideas become real and that they don’t often get the chance to actually make things they want. We help kids realize their own visions!
Our vision is to educate all children in the simple and empowering skills of working with fibers, making textiles, constructing clothing and experimenting with design, so that they can have volition over their own thinking, making, and doing, leading to increased awareness of how everyday practices of caring for themselves is integral to caring for their world.
Please support the Children’s Institute of Fashion Arts by making your tax-deductible donation to our fundamental educational mission.A contribution to CIFA is an investment in fostering the self-worth and happiness of children, and in helping them prepare for their future.
Thank you very much for your support.
Britta B. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Founder and Executive Director
The Children’s Institute of Fashion Arts