PACTFashion sews up new opportunities for at-risk youth

Aziz Mohammad walks into The Make Den, a small and cozy studio above 69 Vintage on Bloor Street West.

The 16-year-old, armed with Selena Gomez-inspired sketches and a selection of songs, joins other students creating prom dresses for an upcoming fashion show, put on by PACTFashion.

Mohammad joined the program two years ago. It’s changing his life, he says.

“You should have seen me,” says Mohammad, who moved to Canada from Afghanistan when he was eight. “I was so quiet and shy, and I never spoke because I was bullied at school and people kept judging me.

“This program has built my confidence and I’m slowly starting to be the person that I feel inside.”

PACTFashion is a life-skills program of PACT (Participation, Acknowledgement, Commitment and Transformation), a Toronto-based charity that works with at-risk youth 13–20 years old.

This program has built my confidence and I’m slowly starting to be the person that I feel inside.

—Aziz Mohammad

Sometimes, though, the age rule gets stretched.

“I have a kid so that puts me at-risk, but the problem was I was over the age,” 24-year-old Huda Eldardiry says. “So I called in and they made an exception for me.

“Honestly, if it wasn’t for [project lead and fashion designer Irene Stickney] and PACT, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She’s amazing and PACT is great.”

Participants in PACTFashion are split into two tiers: beginner and advanced. After learning the basics of swing, beginners move to the advanced group, which meets Fridays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. to work on a project.

Mohammad’s project, the prom-themed fashion show, is set for April as part of Alternative Fashion Week. PACTFashion participants picked a celebrity as inspiration for their prom dresses, which when done deserving students will get the chance to win.

PACTFashion landed Mohammad an internship over the summer, he says. He volunteered with Toronto Fashion Week, where he worked backstage with models.

“I always would tell people, I love fashion,” he says. “It opens your eyes to things that you didn’t have access to.

“I always knew I wanted to do something with fashion and I didn’t want to live a normal life, but I didn’t have the money and the confidence.”