Hands-on work offers students experience in the fashion industry

Like so many others starting their own business, Marcelle Gakam had 1,000 things to do, and only herself to do them. She was determined, though, and in October she opened her own shop in The Westchester mall selling high-end women’s clothing that she designed.

It was a dream come true for the entrepreneur. However, in between sketching her designs, researching, ordering fabrics, signing contracts to have her clothing made and so many other things, she had little time to pay attention to her social media platforms or to properly set up her merchandise in her newly opened boutique.

Ms. Gakam soon found help thanks to the Work-Based Learning program at Southern Westchester BOCES. The organization’s Center for Career Services had enthusiastic students wanting to learn about the industry, and she had work for them to do.

On the morning of Dec. 8, four students from the Fashion Design and Merchandising program arrived at her store for an internship. After welcoming them and thanking them for their willingness to assist, the interns got right to work. Two students dressed a display mannequin, one took on the job of steaming clothes to crease-less perfection and another tackled updating her customer email list.

“The location blew me away,” Ms. Gakam said of her shop located on the first-floor, steps away from Neiman Marcus. “It was challenging, and exciting too. There is still a lot to be done.”

When she was introduced to BOCES and learned about the WBL program, she thought it could be beneficial. She’d have a few extra hands to take care of things around her store so she could focus on other things, and the students would gain experience.

“It’s a learning experience,” Kayleanne Delarosa, a junior from Woodlands High School, said. “I’m not really social, I’m getting out with people and will have to interact with customers,” she said of why she decided to go for an internship.

Stephanie Saldivar, a senior at Port Chester High School, said she was impressed with Ms. Gakam taking all of this on her own.

“It’s only her,” she said. “She designs and makes all of her clothes, which I think is really cool.”

Stephanie said she plans to study fashion design and is looking at the programs offered at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, Drexel University and Marist College.

Joining them were Heaven Brown, a junior from New Rochelle High School and Kailyn Feliciano, a senior at Port Chester High School.

Before students arrived in her store, Ms. Gakam had visited the Fashion Design and Merchandising class on campus. She discussed how she decided to become a fashion designer, having been influenced by an aunt who worked in the business. Soon, Ms. Gakam said she was making her own clothes that were often admired by friends and colleagues.

“I was studying health care,” the immigrant from Cameroon said. “But there was a side of me that was very entrepreneurial,” and was doing some design work on the side. After some encouragement, she decided to focus on her fashion work, and as they say, the rest is history.

The interns will be working with Ms. Gakam at her store twice a week for the foreseeable future.

Fashion teacher Carmen Galiano said two students will come in at a time and assist with whatever the store needs. A big part of that is assisting with the shop’s social media.

“It’s very smart of Marcelle to say, ‘I can’t do this,’” Ms. Galiano said of the shop owner recognizing she needs assistance, and it’s a great opportunity for the students too.

“An internship in retail is an excellent opportunity for fashion students to practice real world skills such as customer service, folding, hanging, tagging, sorting and steaming the merchandise,” she said. “My hope is that they experience a range of skills that they can use in the future. This will look good on their resumes and give them insight on what sells, what customers want, and all the things that happen behind the scenes in fashion.”

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