Kerry Chan/Daily Journal
Fashion designer Elana Tuck shows some of her dresses she creates in partnership with
Burlingame fashion designer Elena Tuck is incorporating the work of people with Down syndrome into her intricate crochet pieces in a unique partnership she says benefits both sides.
Since the launch of Elena Tuck Designs in October, the longtime clothing maker trains people with Down syndrome to create the “elements” which she eventually purchases and use in her clothes.
“She was so patient and so great with them, she taught them in a way that I don’t think I would have been able to do,” said Norma Moran, supervisor at Community Gatepath.
San Mateo County nonprofit Community Gatepath helps people with disabilities become more independent by teaching them skills and providing support and training for parents, caregivers, schools and the community to encourage acceptance and inclusion.
There are more than 400,000 people living with Down syndrome in the United States, according the National Down Syndrome Society.
Tuck’s tailor shop is behind a glass storefront on Primrose Road. The narrow store has three sewing stations alongside the wall with two mannequins in the window display — one is in a black evening gown with intricate crochet webbing at the chest and the other a silk blouse in daffodil yellow with crocheted patterns and flowing sleeves. Tuck points out the threaded rings and braided cords that are embedded in the dress.
“These are the elements that are created by people with Down syndrome at Community Gatepath,” she said.
On the first day of instruction at Community Gatepath, she came with a PowerPoint presentation but had to quickly adapt and revise a new teaching format after realizing that most of the students could not learn through conventional methods and some did not know how to read.
“I stopped writing on the board and just found a way to show them,” she said.
Tuck is a registered nurse with experience working with people with disabilities including her aunt, Maria Oshlekova, who was born with just one thumb and had an amputated leg.
“She was very independent and did not want any pity,” she said.
In addition to Community Gatepath, Tuck recruits fashion design students from Cañada College to sew and put together her designs.
“Once you let your mind open you become more creative and it continues,” Tuck said.
Elena said her lifetime of experiences led her to finally realize her purpose and create her own fashion line. Growing up poor in Russia, her mother taught her to sew and crochet in order to make their own clothes.
When she came to the United States 13 years ago she did not speak any English and struggled to find a job.
“It was a really tough time and I think crochet helped me,” she said.
She has reached out to several organizations like Community Gatepath and hopes they will see the benefits that come from art and crochet.
“Everybody was like, see, I made it, I made it,” Elena said, adding her students at Community Gatepath are so proud when they show off the threaded rings, buttons and pieces they made.
On the ground floor of the brown wooden building on Primrose Road, Elena temporarily operates out of a friend’s tailor shop. Her designs are available online and to the buyers of boutiques. Each piece is custom and is tailored to fit.
“Everything is unique. I start with a general pattern but with crochet it always comes out different but better,” Tuck said. “I can never be able to repeat this dress exactly.”
For more information on Elana Tuck Designs go to www.elenatuck.com.