New York Fashion Week (NYFW) (September 7-13) is a time for designers and people to express themselves through style and showcase meaningful causes.
World-renowned designer Elie Balleh’s goal is to bring awareness of a topic that hits close to home for him and his family: autism. Autistic people, like all people, have their advantages and disadvantages. Balleh told the Canarsie Courier, “Teaching kids how to sew, iron and repair clothing, as a designer, it’s important for me that these students know the basics of life normality.” While most 6-year-old children were playing with toys, Balleh’s interest was sewing machines. By the age of 12, he would create ready-to-wear garments.
Balleh partnered with Aveyron Academy, a vocational school located at the Canarsie Educational Campus, 1600 Rockaway Parkway, providing hands-on, day-to-day experiences such as cooking, setting the table, laundry and cleaning. This will be the second year for the collaboration of Balleh and Aveyron. For 2023 NYFW, Aveyron Academy’s 20-year-old student Lennox Richardson walked the Elie Balleh fashion runway wearing Balleh’s spring/summer 2024 couture collection. The jacket is made from the highest quality metallic brocade fabric that was imported from Italy. The material is encrusted with sapphire gems that are imported from Bangkok. Aveyron’s Principal Dr. Yvrose Pierre stated, “It’s up to us educators to make a difference. It was illuminating to see how welcoming the audience was to a special needs student; everyone was warm, and it was well-received. That speaks volumes to the work of Elie Balleh, bringing equity and diversity within a community.”
As Dr. Pierre mentioned, Balleh is all about diverse, equal opportunities and education. “This is my first time walking in a fashion show,” said Sasha, an inspiring model. Sasha explained that she never had the confidence or felt comfortable with the spotlight on her. “I auditioned for Elie’s team and was so happy that they accepted me. It was a pleasure to wear his beautiful, stylish jacket and get the practice I needed.”
So, what’s next for this designer who clearly enjoys helping others and giving back? Balleh and the Aveyron Academy is pleased to announce the “Elie Balleh Fashion Institute For Special Needs Students.” These students will learn the essential everyday chores that it takes to live a good quality of life and how to sew a button on clothes, color coordination and design. The goal is to set up a shop with Balleh’s clothing and for the students to also learn retail, customer service and how to help others pick out clothes. Dr. Pierre informed the Canarsie Courier that they are assisting these students with real-world work experience and preparing them for careers. As a result, they can help them prepare for the opening of a store, comprehend inventory and learn the cash register.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Elie Balleh Fashion Institute For Special Needs Students will take place in late September.
Photo Credit: Paul Prince / Jeff Smith