Indigo Justice Collection to benefit victims of abuse

Indigo Justice Collection to benefit victims of abuse

Children fashion designers wear creations for the Indigo Justice Collection, which will be launched at a fashion show on June 11 at The Melo Project Runway for the Youth in Lincoln. The collection’s purpose, Tina Melo says, is to raise awareness about children who are victims of abuse and raise funds to benefit families in unsafe situations.
Young designers creating clothing line through Melo Project Runway for the Youth

LINCOLN – For Tina Melo, fashion design has always been her passion, but with her latest collection created by children, she hopes a message will go far beyond the runway stage to help victims of abuse.

The Indigo Justice Collection, Melo told The Breeze, is about raising awareness of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse.

“It’s one of those subjects that no one really wants to talk about,” she said.

Melo, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, has worked as a clothing designer, and, in November 2015, officially launched Melo Project Runway for the Youth in Lincoln, at 85 Industrial Circle. Melo uses her RISD education to show students how to create their own patterns and design and craft fashion wear.

Melo’s latest project is the Indigo Justice Collection, which she hopes will raise awareness about abuse and benefit victims of violence. The students in her classes are working on a line of blue pieces, and her youngest student is 5 years old.

Under her direction, students will finalize their outfits for an upcoming fashion show scheduled for Saturday, June 11, at the studio in Lincoln, where Melo hopes to sell each piece.

Sarah Elsahmi of Cumberland, 9, and her 6-year-old sister, Marwa, both students at Garvin Memorial Elementary School, will walk across the stage for the first time wearing their creations.

Sarah explained that under Melo’s direction, “you can make anything you want.” The 9-year-old said she wanted people to know that “sewing is not just for women, it’s for everybody. It’s for boys and girls.”

She said she enjoys the creating her own clothing, but noted that measuring can be challenging. The 9-year-old said every color needs to match, and she has to find the right pattern and neckline for her outfits.

Allegra Catanese, a 6-year-old student at Blackstone Valley Prep Elementary School, has made eight pieces so far during her time working with Melo. She told The Breeze she likes picking out fabrics, being “almost finished” with her projects and adding sequins to her designs.

Jamie Catanese, Allegra’s mother, said it was hard to find someone who could teach her daughter at 5 years old how to sew before she met Melo. Now, Allegra talks about continuing fashion design and attending Rhode Island School of Design, and is constantly sketching at home.

The mission behind Melo’s latest project is an issue that hits close to home for the Cumberland native. Her two children, she alleges, were victims of sexual abuse.

After Melo graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, she had moved to Munich, Germany, and met her now ex-husband Dominik Kufner while working in the fashion industry. They had two children, who are now 17 and 18 years old.

Melo had worked as a knitwear and sweater designer, traveling through Europe and Asia as a fashion analyst. In 2006, Melo told The Breeze, she found what she described as pornographic photos of her children on her ex-husband’s computer.

“I was horrified, I was traumatized,” she said. Court documents read that a total of 49 photos were found in a folder on the computer. Melo returned to Rhode Island in 2007 with the two children.

Following court rulings in U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, Melo’s ex-husband was awarded custody of the two children, after the court ruled that the children were wrongfully removed from Germany, “within the meaning of the Hague Convention and ICARA,” or International Child Abduction Remedies Act, court documents read.

Melo said she has not seen her children since May 2007.

Melo said she was so disturbed by the way the court system worked that she became a certified paralegal in 2008 through Boston University. Since then, she’s been trying to help other families dealing with unsafe situations, and has returned to her fashion design roots.

“Everyone knows that art heals,” she explained. Melo had begun teaching design classes to children for free around 2014, and received a citation from the Rhode Island House of Representatives to be an advocate for children from The Parent Leadership Institute.

Through her design classes at Melo Project Runway for the Youth, Melo said, she’s helping her students grow not only in design and fostering their creativity, but teaching them about different causes. Her dream, she said, is to see the Indigo Justice Collection in stores, and aims to bring the pieces to New York Fashion Week in September.

For now, she said, the line is “one of a kind,” and is about making a statement. Melo credits her students, whom she works with one-on-one in lessons, with designing what the awareness campaign will look like.

Though her students are as young as 5, she said, they’re serious about their work and talented when it comes to bringing a piece from paper to life. The students learn how to measure, sew and produce a technical sketch, just like designers do in the industry, Melo said.

Her students come from all over Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and she’s seen an interest from children in other states as well. Through word-of-mouth, she said, more and more people have come to her to talk about their struggles with abuse.

Many times, Melo said, she’s helped children and their mothers get away from unsafe situations through the court system. One day she’ll have children in class, she said, and the next day they’ll have moved to another state to escape a harmful situation.

Her courses, she explained, are taught with the Montessori model of schooling, where children are responsible for the choices they make and aren’t bound to certain guidelines and expectations.

This educational model, she said, has been a huge success for artistic students and allows them to shine.

“When they want to make something, I will never say no anymore, and because I don’t say no, this is the kind of things that they can do,” Melo said, gesturing to the many dresses, outfits and concept boards displayed throughout her studio.

Her students don’t want to leave class when their time is up, Melo said. “I like seeing that sparkle in their eye.”

The fashion designer said she’s been overwhelmed with how talented these children are, calling them “prodigies” who are always surprising her and creating more intricate pieces than some adults are capable of making.

Melo also partners with the Broken Chain Ministries in Providence, and meets victims of abuse through that organization. “They feel safe in here, and they feel safe with me,” Melo said.

To Melo, fashion is more than just a form of art – it’s a representation of what’s going on in the world. She said she’s determined to help as many children as possible who are victims of abuse, adding, “If we continue to ignore it, it gets worse.”

For more information on The Melo Project Runway and the Indigo Justice Collection, visit melo-international.com .

Talia Coppola of North Providence, 11, works with fashion designer Tina Melo at The Melo Project Runway for the Youth, which is based at a studio in Lincoln. Students as young as 5 learn how to sew, iron, design patterns and bring sketches to life for fashion shows.