How a passion for fashion got these students out of the classroom and into a studio

From left, Shelby Caul, Roa’a Awad, Hadie Hazari, Feta Deza, M.J. Couch and Claire Odiwa gather at Melanie Jacqueline’s St. John’s shop. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Five eighth grade students from Leary’s Brook Junior High School in St. John’s wanted to learn more about the world of fashion design — so they went straight to the source for a real-world lesson.

The teenagers recently spent an afternoon with designer M.J. Couch at her Melanie Jacqueline shop in downtown St. John’s, instead of doing a traditional research project.

“They’ve each chosen a topic that they are interested in, a passion that they’d like to learn more about,” said teacher Stacey Hopkins.

“Then they are going to make something and present it.”

Hopkins said the “Passion Project” is a chance to show students what they can learn when they meet people in their community who are making a living following their passions.

Couch said she had no hesitations when the school approached her about a visit to her newly opened location on Water Street.

“I thought it was an awesome idea,” she said. “It’s a great way for them to see what’s available out there for a career path.”

Couch was about the same age as the students touring her studio when she started making her own clothes: a skirt for her Grade 9 prom. 

M.J. Couch gave each student a turn to sew a little. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

She’s also no stranger to teaching children. Her original passion was to be a school teacher, which she had been until her clothing line starting taking off.

Couch has since shown her designs at fashion weeks in both New York and London.

“I always wanted to be a school teacher,” Couch said. “That was my dream, until it wasn’t any more. But your dreams can change. I am living proof.”

Expert advice that each student can use

One by one, each of the students stepped up and asked Couch prepared questions about the business: how she got started, where her ideas come from, what her favourite part of the business is. 

“I think it’s good because she has done it for such a long time so she would know a bunch of stuff about it,” student Shelby Caul said.

Shelby Caul and Roa’a Awad spent an afternoon learning about fashion from designer and entrepreneur M.J. Couch. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

When the questions were asked and out of the way, Couch set up at a sewing machine and let the students each have a turn. 

“I am interested in fashion because my mom sews clothes so I like seeing them and making them,” said Hadie Hazari, 13. 

The five Leary’s Brook students then took a look at some of her patterns, her previous lines and the colourful clothes in the shop. They will likely serve as inspiration for the next step in the project, as they create something using some of the skills learned from Couch. 

“They are learning so much and they are really learning from an expert in the community, stuff they couldn’t just Google. The journey, the experience, where the inspiration comes from,” Hopkins said.

“They can take that back and use that as they go on their own learning journey.”

M.J. Couch offered up fashion and life advice during a field trip to her St. John’s business. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Sprinkled in with the sewing and fashion tips, Couch also offered up some solid advice.

“Do what makes you happy,” she told her visitors.

“Don’t try to be like everybody else because you are going to lose yourself completely.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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