Fashion designer and educator Karron English has launched an innovative fashion design program at MJCCA. Photographs by Isadora Pennington.

On any given day, the sprawling grounds of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) are positively buzzing with life. Adults and children alike bustle back and forth between buildings and their cars, coming and going from classes and activities. For adults, seniors, and kids alike, the MJCCA has plenty to offer. 

The 52-acre Zaban Park MJCCA campus in Dunwoody features an incredible array of amenities including fitness facilities, multiple pools, tennis and pickleball courts, and a 7,000-square-foot gymnastics pavilion. Their offerings include multiple athletic facilities, day camps, a performing arts theater, a kosher style kitchen, running trail, boating and fishing lake, a Holocaust Memorial Garden, and a number of buildings including the Kuniansky Family Center where I found myself on one sunny Thursday evening.

The MJCCA’s impressive 52-acre campus has so much to offer. Courtesy of MJCCA.

As I stepped through the glass doors into the brick building I was greeted by happy sounds of children laughing and talking in a nearby classroom. Inside, a flurry of activity surrounded instructor Karron English who worked diligently to help a student lace up a booklet while other children looked on.

Karron English surrounded by students. Photograph by Isadora Pennington.

This is the Future Fashionistas: The Art of Fashion Design Fall ‘23 class that is teaching kids how to design and create like a true designer.

When I visited, the students were hard at work on their croquis design, a roughly sketched fashion figure. These characters were also incorporated into a corresponding story written in handmade books. As I walked around the class, I saw a wide variety of designs and storylines. One student’s story dealt with bullying, while another was about a girl dressing up as a marshmallow in a school play. 

Some designs were elegant, others were fanciful, and some were just plain fun. The croquis designs were beautiful, no doubt, but it was especially inspiring to see those characters incorporated into their handwritten stories as well. 

Seeing that integration encapsulates exactly what English hopes to do with this class: inspire kids to draw connections between fashion and life. 

“Fashion design is one thing, creativity is another,” English told me as we sat together after the end of her class. “I want them to think creatively, to think outside of the box, and to experiment. This is just one form of art, and that’s what I’d love for them to see.”

For English, fashion is really the throughline of her life. Originally from Queens in New York City, she first became involved in the fashion industry when she took a job at Bugle Boy Industries in 1997. Later, when her then husband moved her and their children down to Atlanta, she landed a job working as an Associate Brand Alignment and Design Manager for Coca-Cola. 

While the corporate world was certainly a great experience for English that taught her a lot about business, she found herself wanting more. And so, after seven years, she quit and started her own business, the English Design Laboratory. 

For this program, English developed classes that taught computer fashion design, sewing, patternmaking, trend and portfolio development, and fashion styling for teens and tweens. Not only does she teach techniques, but she also offers insight into the fashion industry and all of the jobs that are actually attainable for emerging designers and fashion lovers. 

Always eager to learn, she decided to enroll at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where she received her MFA in Fashion Design in 2015. English also teaches Fashion at Bauder College and is a Professor of Fashion at the Art Institute of Atlanta since 2014. 

Karron English helps a student with their stitching. Photograph by Isadora Pennington.

And so, when English was casually discussing MJCCA with her friend Chef Lisa Long, Director of Culinary Arts, she mentioned that she thought a fashion class would be really successful there. “One day it just hit me, and I’m like, I really do know this well. I already have the program worked out,” said English.

The initial reception to the Fashionistas class was positive, to say the least. Initially MJCCA Director of Arts & Authors Pam Morton had intended to enroll only eight students, but when all spots were filled they started hearing from other parents who weren’t able to get their kids in. 

”We had parents banging down the door, and even one dad who said ‘Please you will save my marriage if you enroll my child, I was supposed to enroll her and I missed the deadline.’” Morton recalled with a laugh. 

And so, the first ever Fashionistas class was launched at the MJCCA this summer. The eight week course has been a hit and I overheard several parents mention that it was their child’s favorite camp when they were picking up their kids at the end of class. Morton mentioned that they are looking to open up a new round of the workshop towards the end of the year. 

“Coming full circle, back to what I know and how to grow it, can do these great fashion classes and shows with the students,” said English. “I love working with these kids, they are so fresh. They are fresh about what they see and feel.”

This first session will wrap in October, with students having learned many aspects of fashion design including inspiration boards, fabric techniques, collaging, design, and assembly. On the last day of class they will present a fashion show featuring the pieces they constructed in the class. 

“We are so lucky,” gushed Morton. “We feel so lucky to have Karron with us because she is so passionate, so enthusiastic, and so creative. We are hoping to keep going with this.” 

If you’ve got a budding fashionista in your life who would like to pursue fashion design and work in the industry, you can keep an eye out for the next round of classes on the MJCCA website. To hear about all offerings and news, consider signing up for their mailing list.

The MJCCA is open to people of all ages, faiths, and backgrounds, and is located at 5342 Tilly Mill Road in Dunwoody.

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.