Cassidy and Kelsey Tucker, co-founders of Detroit-based label Deviate, are helping local youth develop professional skills in a real-world setting
By Jamie Ludwig
Featured photography by Hayden Stinebaugh
Since 2018, sisters Cassidy and Kelsey Tucker — the co-founders of Detroit-based label Deviate — have embraced opportunities to enrich the city’s fashion industry. They’ve been doubling down on that commitment since the pandemic hit in March, producing standardized PPE for medical workers and developing a training program for college students and recent grads to learn PPE production before moving into management and fashion production roles within the company.
In November, Deviate launched another initiative geared toward nurturing rising talent — but this time, they’re focused on some of Michigan’s youngest designers. In a partnership with downtown retailer Good Neighbor, the Tuckers presented a series called Next in Detroit Fashion, which features collections by five local designers and highlights items produced by local youth who are part of Deviate’s apprenticeship program with the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan (BGCSM). “The kids are so talented, and funny, and they just are picking it up so quickly,” says Cassidy. “It’s really cool to see all the talent that exists here.”
The program is part of an initiative from BGCSM’s Industry Club aimed at providing young people the opportunity to develop professional skills in a real-world setting. “We want our youth to leave our clubs at 18 career ready, startup ready and homeowner ready,” says BGCSM President and CEO Shawn Wilson. “Those three things…lead to economic mobility, which is basically the core root of the issue that most of our kids face.”
After Roslyn Karamoko, founder and CEO of Detroit Is the New Black, connected the Tuckers with Wilson this summer, nearly 100 BGCSM youth collaborated with Deviate on a social-justice-themed design competition in September. Eleven of them went on to participate in Industry Club with Deviate throughout the fall.
As part of the pilot program, which wraps in mid-December, BGCSM youth members worked with the Deviate team three times a week, and learned about retail at Detroit Is the New Black two days a week. The paid positions provide a chance to develop career skills (pertaining to job interviews, fashion design, patternmaking, industrial sewing operations and entrepreneurship) in an environment where they can connect with their peers in person — a somewhat rare opportunity these days. “It is really important right now [with] kids going to school virtually and missing out on that social aspect,” says Cassidy. “They’re able to get that through this youth program.”
Working with Deviate also gives them a chance to tap into their creative side and, for some, to build on personal dreams. “At the start of the program some [kids] had never designed anything, whereas [others] already have their own businesses,” says Kelsey. “We have been honing in on what makes each of them unique as designers, and then helping them understand their style and resources to bring their ideas to life.”
Dianne Avila, a Next In Detroit Fashion designer who went through Deviate’s training program and now works as the company’s director of operations, says the youth members who go on to pursue a career in fashion will leave the program with a competitive edge in the workplace. “My co-workers and I didn’t learn a lot of these techniques until we were in college when we decided to major in fashion design,” she says. “That’s what we’re teaching them now, so they have a really big upper hand.”
Kelsey agrees. “You can have all of these creative ideas and styles but the magic comes from being able to understand your own creative style,” she says. “These are skills that took me years to develop.”
It’s rare that a young person from any walk of life has the chance to work with a team of professional fashion designers before they’re even out of their teens. Wilson says that’s part of the intention. “We want to provide our youth with a world-class experience. [People] shouldn’t look at Boys and Girls Club programming and be like, ‘Oh, that’s good for ‘those kids.’ It should be something like ‘Wow, any kid would be blessed to be in that program.’”
In a year marked by tragedy, loss and loneliness, the accomplishments of these young designers serve as a source of inspiration and hope in Detroit’s fashion community and beyond. “The talent that we’ve developed within the Boys and Girls Club is top talent, they’re elite,” says Cassidy. “You know, I’d love to hire some of these kids right now.”