Almost everywhere around the world, tuition fees have been considerably increasing these recent years, with degrees costing in average from $5,000 to $50,000 per year. And so, for many in the region, accessing higher education has become impossible. This is why seven years ago, 32-year-old Lebanese Parsons-graduate turned activist Sarah Hermez founded Creative Space Beirut, a non-profit free school of fashion design. Located in Beirut, her revolutionary school offers three-year programs to people who can’t afford education, making sure they confidently make their way into the industry.
Although Hermez grew up in Kuwait with a mother who loved fashion— she recalls seeing her wear designer brands like Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons when she was still a kid— Hermez wasn’t truly sure she wanted to pursue a career in the industry until she actually started university. Driven by passion and unafraid to try her hands at something new, she decided study in India, where she lived with Tibetan refugees and Cambodia, where she volunteered in an orphanage. “These experiences change the way I see the world”, she says referring to the moments when she realised that above else, she needed to have a purpose in life.
The idea behind Creative Space Beirut came to life through Caroline Simonelli, an 82-year-old Parsons professor who used to teach Hermez. As she notes, “After my graduation, I was telling Caroline how I wanted to merge my passion for fashion with my dedication for social justice and equality, but didn’t know how. And she just said, “Start a school!” And that’s how it became obvious to me that I wanted to devote myself to education”.
At first, Hermez and her team started collaborating with NGO’s and refugee camps. Now, Creative Space Beirut receives up to 70 applications every year, from which, after interviewing and testing the applicants during a workshop, they only select five to eight students. “We’ve got Lebanese students coming from all over the country, Palestinians, Syrians; people who would have probably never met otherwise”, she says discussing how her school, despite being exclusive in number, is literally open to anyone. “Diversity is inherently engrained in our DNA”, she continues.
Creative Space Beirut has recently launched three in-house brands— Second St, csb ready-to-wear, and Roni Helou— and is soon launching an e-store, as they now aim to essentially function as a self-sustaining social enterprise. Seven years after opening the school, Hermez bridges the gap between philanthropy and fashion: “What defines us at Creative Space Beirut is our fundamental commitment to give back”, she says.