KANSAS CITY — She's the future psychology major in the room, so let Johnea Watson will unravel this flock of teenage fashion designers and entrepreneurs. Their school, Paseo Academy, is opening a student-run store to sell their lines of clothing and art. In every direction Johnea turns, she sees students putting themselves on the line.
Start with "those eyes."
They peer out from the label Koh-ree Lewis drew himself to market the line of clothing he designed and sewed. They belong to the figure of a woman with tossed hair, her face half-hidden as she glances over a bare shoulder in a black dress; a striking piece of art.
"I remember when he didn't care about anything but dance," Johnea, a senior, said of her classmate Koh-ree, recalling their freshman year. "He did not want to use his talent."
They have migrated here from throughout the Kansas City School District — writers, musicians, dancers, technicians, designers and performers — and soon they will fan out, pursuing dreams that span from California to New York and overseas to London and Paris.
But right now, they are gathered around the idea of a store named Urban Edge, roosted together in beautiful colors.
It's a bit scary, too.
Koh-ree is putting himself out there with his clothing line, Lilliette Frau.
Fonneisha Wright is presenting her line, Fohnii.
Across a work table slung with exotic and embroidered fabric, Johnea pointed to Marcus Herring, who wants to hit the market with his nature-themed dresses and blazers under the name Vam'pierre Dobson.
"People thought he was going too 'Wow,'" she said. "Now you see that look and you say, 'Wow, that's unique.'"
Johnea recalled that Marcus used to be so frustrated, having to unstitch and re-stitch. Everyone has learned so much, she said.
"I've watched them bloom."
What's funny to Trevelle Stewart, a senior in the entrepreneurship class who plays bassoon in the school band, is that when his teacher told the students they would manage a school store, he figured they would be selling candy and pens.
"I didn't know it was going to be this," he said.
Dozens of students are involved. The school is combining efforts from three disciplines: the marketing and entrepreneurship classes, the digital and TV production classes and the fashion and costume design classes.
The first group plans and manages the business, the second promotes it in multiple media and the third creates the product.
Students developed business plans. The artists calculate their costs as vendors and sell their creations to the store.
They selected furnishings and clothes racks. They list inventories, setting prices — $10 to $30 for blouses and skirts, $25 to $40 for dresses — and tag merchandise with bar codes.
"We even have a dressing room," theater student Donesha Tinsley said.
The students took the project over, just as marketing teacher Laresa Slater thought they would.
"Students even came in over spring break to work," Slater said.
"Everyone feels the entrepreneurship," said Pamela Lucas, who teaches fashion and costume design. "Everyone's getting it. ... Fashion is not frivolous."
Consider the gathering energy, senior Courtney Smith said, and where it is leading.
"All these students are here," she said, nodding to the safe and productive aura inside Paseo's walls. "Not out there."
Courtney, with her clothing line Draped, was the featured designer when the store opened recently. She is continuing a passion for clothing that struck her when she was fitted for a dress for her role in a school musical.
Courtney remembered gazing at the luxurious red crushed-velvet dress, stunned that classmates had made it right there in the school's costume department.
Courtney is a singer who will major in vocals at Columbia College in Chicago. But she will minor in fashion. She is shaping a dream with her mother, who for years has sewn clothes for children while working as a nanny.
Mother and daughter want to open a boutique someday.
Fonneisha plans to head to California and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.
Junior Vanessa Lawton means to take on Parsons the New School for Design in New York, then move on to Paris. It's the University of the Arts London for Koh-ree.
Everyone's trying to do the same thing, Johnea said, whether they are the designers, the artists, the marketers — or, like herself, a dancer and designer who will study psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
All of them are nervous. Johnea has watched the struggle as they have become "more than other people think they are," she said.
They are "bringing that 'different' to us — bringing a change."