Sterling Heights teen girls show off their design style at the library

By: Sara Kandel | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 19, 2013

 Abigail Pierce and Emily Elizondo work on one of the winning designs, worn by model Elena Fusco, at the Sterling Heights Public Library Project Runway competition Feb. 9.

Abigail Pierce and Emily Elizondo work on one of the winning designs, worn by model Elena Fusco, at the Sterling Heights Public Library Project Runway competition Feb. 9.

Photo by Sara Kandel

More than a dozen fashion-trendy teen girls gathered at the Sterling Heights Public Library Feb. 9 to show off their design prowess and for the chance to win a little spending money.

The objective of the library-hosted “Project Runway”-style competition for students in grades six-12 was to design an outfit made of newspaper and debut it on the runway.

“I’m a huge fan of the show ‘Project Runway,’ and some seasons ago, they did a challenge for their designers using newspapers and I thought that we have so much newspaper at the library, it would be a fun program we could do,” said Barbara Van Havermaat, a youth services librarian at the Sterling Heights Public Library.

“We are recycling as we are doing it, and it promotes the kids to do designing and things like that. Our young women are such fashionistas that I thought it was something they might be interested in, and I thought it would give them a little spark of creativity.”

Van Havermaat was hoping for a good turnout, but she had no idea just how good the turnout would be; 28 girls showed up for the competition, which started at 2 p.m. Feb. 9. There were 16 designers, total — some working in teams of two — and 12 registered teams with designers and models.

At the end of the two-hour design period, the teams were asked to show off their outfits in a judges runway show where three teams would be chosen as winners. Winning designers received $50 Visa gift cards, teams with two designers received $25 each, and the models wearing the winning designs received $25 Visa gift cards. For most of the girls who participated, though, the money was just an extra perk for doing something they love.

Davis Junior High student 13-year-old Mandy Yaxley worked solo on a gown her sister Miranda wore.

“I’m interested in fashion,” Yaxley said. “I’ve worked with fabric before and sewing machines and hand sewing. This is going to be, hopefully, a full-length ball gown when it’s finished.”

“I just really like fashion and I just thought this sounded fun,” said 12-year-old designer Hailei Benedict. “We really just made this and we thought it would be really fun to add waves in the dress and then, when we found out we got to do the animal-print stuff, we thought it would be cool to do an outline going down the dress and a flower that popped out.”

Just like in the TV show, the designers at the Sterling Heights public library that day received a surprise twist just moments before the start of the competition that they had to incorporate into their designs: animal-print scrapbook paper.

“The secret item was just to have something a little bit different and fun because, to me, animal-print fashion is always fun,” Van Havermaat said.

For many of the girls who had pre-sketched and practiced making their design at home, it wasn’t a welcome addition, but others just ran with it.

“When we heard there was a twist, we got really scared because we thought it would be something crazy,” said 12-year-old Brianna Hekinson, who was modeling for Benedict. “We rehearsed a lot at home before coming and we didn’t know what the surprise was going to be.”

They weren’t the only ones to rehearse at home. Before competition day, Eisenhower student Megan Scalzo, 16, worked on 10 sketches, eventually narrowing down to the one she thought would work the best with newspapers and still impress the judges. The prep didn’t necessarily prepare her for work with the finicky medium, though.

“Newspaper isn’t that easy to work with. It’s very difficult to work with, actually,” Scalzo said during the competition. “I came up with about 10 sketches and narrowed it down ahead of time, but we are modifying it now, because the paper is so difficult to work with.”

For more information on programs at the Sterling Heights Public Library, call (586) 446-2665 or visit