SIOUX CITY -- Just like contestants on TV's "Project Runway: Junior," students of a Sioux City Career Academy fashion design class vowed to "make it work."
However, their "client" was a 4-year-old boy, from Indianola, Iowa, who posed unique challenges.
Justin Hines recently underwent his second surgery for hip dysplasia. For the next few months, he will have to wear an orthopedic spica cast, which requires his legs to be extended.
The bar in the middle of the cast makes it impossible for Justin to wear regular pants. This was a concern for Kelly Heaton, a Career Academy instructor and Justin's grandma.
"Mrs. Heaton approached me with a design challenge," Fashion Design Pathway teacher Jill Risdal recalled. "She wanted my class to create a pair of pants for Justin."
After watching an entire season's worth of Tim Gunn's "Project Runway: Junior" episodes on Lifetime, Risdal's students began corresponding with Justin's family as a way to ascertain his personal sense of style.
Justin's favorite colors were easy to decipher. He loved everything that was red, pink or purple.
Liked many 4-year-old kids, his favorite superhero was Spider-Man and his favorite cartoon character was Charmander, the Pokemon personality whose tail is always lit with a flame.
"At the time, my students simply knew Justin by the photos his grandmother shared with the class," Risdal said. "Once they discovered his personality, Justin became a real person in their eyes."
This was exactly the approach she wanted her budding fashionistas to take.
"With design, you need to experiment and adapt to the needs of a person," Risdal explained. "Fashion means it needs to look good and it needs to function well for the client."
That wasn't lost on Grace Perrin, an East High School junior who is a relative newcomer when it comes to fashion design.
"Unlike some of the other design students, I'm just learning how to sew this semester," she said. "I'm taking a couple of sewing classes in addition to a design class."
Analyzing the situation, Grace knew putting on and taking off a pair of pants might prove challenging for Justin.
Snap or stud fasteners, she surmised, would be too hard, while Velcro would also prove problematic.
Instead, Grace hit upon a compromise. Working with her group, she suggested that snap tape would be the ideal fastener.
Risdal can't help but be proud of the passion exuded by her students,
"The kids knew they were working on a tight deadline," she said. "They had a little more than three weeks to come with a concept, a prototype and, finally, a completed pair of pants for Justin."
According to Risdal, students even paid for all of the material that they used.
In the end, Justin received multiple pairs of "designer" pants, a camp-inspired pillowcase and, even, a Spider-Man costume made for Halloween.
"Justin's surgery actually occurred on Oct. 30, so he didn't get to wear his Spider-Man costume for trick-or-treat," Justin's dad Jacob Hines said. "Justin's worn it a few times after Halloween though."
On Nov. 5, Justin, dad Jacob and mom Lauren stopped by Risdal's class to thank her budding young designers.
"It really warms my heart that (the students) took the time and effort to do all of this for us," Jacob said. "It just means a lot to us."
Indeed, he said the family will donate the specially made clothing back to the hospital in hopes that it will be used for another child needing hip dysplasia surgery.
Risdal is happy that her students were able to receive some real-world experience by working with a client they actually got to meet in person.
"That's the real treat," she said. "Seeing Justin wearing their design really brought things home to the kids."
Grace Perrin nodded her head in agreement.
"It was cool to see Justin wearing the pants my group designed," she said with a laugh. "Justin's a cute little kid and I'm just so happy we had an opportunity to help him out."