At The 6IX Academy, high school students design and market their own clothes. The design is wow-worthy, and rivals any back-to-school gear being pushed at big box stores.
Launched in 2015, The 6IX Academy is a successful and beloved cross-curricular programme at Central Toronto Academy, a richly inclusive TDSB high school in Toronto’s west end with small class sizes. The program helps connect students with local designers, artists, and business owners for real-world experience. Students from this programme have created several capsule collections, including a collection of hijabs, ethically sourced tie-dye shirts, a gold/silver-plated 3D printed jewelry line, and even winter jackets with anti-pipeline messages.
“The program goes beyond traditional arts programming. Our goal is to inspire students to apply their creative skill set into real life experiences and build social entrepreneurship,” says CTA Visual Arts Director Beckie DiLeo.
Award-winning designer George Sully (Sully Wong, House of Hayla), who founded Black Designers of Canada, is one of the mentors who has worked closely with students at The 6IX Academy since the program first launched. “I did it for the kids,” Sully shared. “Everyone has a dream, this is a great way to help students understand that if you have the right people helping you facilitate them, those dreams can become a reality.”
The latest design that Sully helped realize is the “HEX-Duffle”, a gender-neutral weekender bag. The collaboration brings together coding design work from Grade 9 math students, as well as contributions from the Grade 12 graphic design class, and marketing efforts from the school’s business department.
“The innovative, community-based curriculum teaches students to make socially conscious decisions and develop brands for social good while preparing them for leadership positions within the school community and beyond. Staff and community partners foster a climate where student voice makes a direct impact on the curriculum development,” reads the mission statement.
Renowned artist Yung Yemi is another notable Toronto creative that has mentored students at The 6IX Academy, helping them through the steps it takes to create a giant mural, which was then turned into a t-shirt collection, with the help of mentor Matthew Romero of My Dope Tee.
Beyond developing the products, students are also responsible for managing the pop-up markets, maintaining the e-commerce site, running community fashion events, and creating content for social media promotions. The programme really does pull from a variety of faculties and skill sets.
The programme demonstrates that success requires a supportive community, and helps students grow their networks while in high school. Past mentors have included Roger Gingerich, CEO of Canadian International Fashion Film Festival, and Melissa Austria, founder of Gotstyle Clothing. The school also works closely with cultural organizations, like the Bata Shoe Museum, which showcased 6IX Academy footwear designs.
“Students have now created enough merch to be the envy of any classmates with their original, student-designed street style collections,” says DiLeo. Forget heading to Walmart, these teens design their own back-to-school gear, and what they’ve created is really cool.