Benefield: Runway show returns to SRJC’s Fashion Studies Dept.

With a hand from the Welfare League thrift shop, students were encouraged to repurpose pieces.|

Want to go?

The Santa Rosa Junior College Fashion Studies Department spring show is at 5 p.m. May 14 at the SRJC Petaluma Campus Student Center. A limited number of tickets are available via:

To learn more about the works of the Welfare League and their thrift shop, go to

It was offered in a modified, “virtual” format in 2020 and canceled outright in 2021. Now the Santa Rosa Junior College spring fashion show is back with an in-person exhibition of student work.

On May 14, designs made by students and worn by volunteer models, will return to the runway in a small, but wholly welcomed event on the Petaluma campus.

It’s about time, said program coordinator Emily Melville.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “Everybody loves a fashion show.”

In addition to showing off student work, the event is also a showing off of the fashion studies department’s new digs.

The fashion department moved south from Santa Rosa in March 2021 but has had limited ability to offer a look-around to students or others because of the pandemic.

“It’s also to make our presence known on campus,” Melville said. “It’s our debut.”

Tickets are limited, so those who want to go will have to move quickly.

Sustainable design

It’s been two years since the department has hosted an in-person runway show, so things will certainly feel new, but there will be a nod to the past.

With that in mind, students in the fashion studies department at the college were sent to the Welfare League thrift shop in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square where they were tasked with finding pieces they could re-purpose, re-design and re-imagine.

“These students are taking used clothing...cutting them apart, using textiles, using a new pattern, to make a new garment,” Melville said.

Students were asked to document the clothes in their original form as a sort of “before and after” format. Judges on Wednesday graded both their vision and their execution.

One student took 10 different pairs of cargo pants to raid them of their pockets and create something new, Melville said.

The idea of re-use, sustainability and re-purposing was at the fore of many discussions, Melville said.

“That is absolutely part of the conversation,” she said. “There is a reason why it’s a focus. For some, their interest in fashion comes from they want to be able to fix things and mend things.”

‘It’s going to be amazing’

Sandy Harris, shop manager at the Welfare League store, said students came in to buy all manner of things, even as visions of what they might eventually become may not have been entirely formed.

“There was some very nice clothing, some vintage clothing and a froufrou dress with lots of netting on the skirt,” she said.

All the better to create with.

Harris, for one, can’t wait to see the what comes of it all.

“It’s going to be amazing,” she said.

Not all pieces are re-imagining of old bits of clothing. Some students from a different course worked with donated fabrics with a focus on natural dyes.

From the bounty of pieces offered up by current fashion department students, general education students and program alumni, a group of judges on Wednesday scored entries that will be unveiled on May 14.

Melville called this show not only a return, but a pivot to something kind of new.

“It’s more abstract and artistic-oriented than we have done previously,” she said.

‘Be inspired and impressed’

For Harris and her volunteer colleagues at the Welfare League, the good news with the return of the fashion show is twofold. First, they got a whole class of fashion students in the door to see what they and the shop are all about.

And second, Welfare League folks hope an outfit or two from the show might be able to be featured in their store front — as a creative way to lure new folks into the store that for ages has been operating in support of the 80-plus year old league.

“It’s 100 percent volunteer here. We are here for the community,” she said. “It wouldn’t hurt for us to have a little PR for ourselves.”

Same thing goes for the fashion studies department.

The whole gathering is a long time coming and much needed, Melville said.

To start the creative juices flowing if nothing else.

Working together in class is one thing, but seeing, and gaining motivation from, the works of others is all part of the display portion of a fashion show, she said.

“It’s a great opportunity to see what other students in other classes are doing and be impressed and inspired by that as well,” Melville said.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or On Twitter @benefield.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)

Want to go?

The Santa Rosa Junior College Fashion Studies Department spring show is at 5 p.m. May 14 at the SRJC Petaluma Campus Student Center. A limited number of tickets are available via:

To learn more about the works of the Welfare League and their thrift shop, go to

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