On the table sits a long black jacket with a sleeve covered with itty-bitty gold shapes, glued in place in a houndstooth pattern. It looks like something a pop star might wear.

In the background of the white, sterile room, 16-year-old Frank Fu toils with a machine that hums and smells of burnt plastic.

Inside, a laser slices through a sheet of acrylic covered with blue painter’s tape. It traces lines through the material, mimicking those marked in red on a MacBook laptop screen on the desk nearby.

From the machine, he pulls out the hot, sliced sheet and pops triangles out one by one onto the desk. He peels away the painter’s tape and reveals the shimmering surface. Soon, he’ll adhere these pieces to another article of clothing. One geometric bit at a time, he constructs a wardrobe.

Might this be the future of fashion?

Maybe it is. Fu is one of a few local designers giving it a shot.

For Fu, this is an experiment. He’s not really a fashion designer. At least, he doesn’t see himself in that light.

He has a lot going on. Fu goes to high school during the day — he’s a senior at Brownell-Talbot — and college at night. He’s on track to earn an associate degree in architectural design technology from Metropolitan Community College before he even finishes high school. He’s also an intern at an architecture firm and, about once every other week, he teaches at Do Space, the same place he’s cutting triangles with lasers on this day.

Tonight, he’ll show his first collection of fashion designs at Omaha Fashion Week. He’ll present alongside people he helped teach this summer when he hosted a training session on laser cutting and 3-D design for local fashion designers.

“I actually never touched thread and needle until I started doing this,” Fu said. “This is the first dress I made, the first thing I sewed ever.”

This journey started in the spring.

Fu, focused on his studies in architecture, wanted to branch out. He had designed buildings for plots of land, so why not take on the challenge of designing a structure for the human body?

“With clothing, it’s almost like a re-identification of spatial sense for the body,” he said. “A body can be so various. Plots of land are pretty generic.”

But, well, he didn’t know anything about designing clothing. So he sought help.

One day, when attending a class at Do Space, he met Margie Trembley, a veteran Omaha Fashion Week designer and milliner — a hat designer. The two started talking, and they formed a friendship. One where she could help him find the guidance he needs in fashion and he could help her learn some new technology to further her designs.

“It’s almost like a mother and son who talk to one another, or maybe I should say grandson,” said the 70-year-old Trembley.

Trembley put Fu in touch with the Fashion Institute Midwest, a nonprofit entity that provides grants for local fashion designers. The institute paid for Fu to take a trip with other designers to Chicago to learn about and buy fabric, and they helped coach him. Fu formed a relationship with Old Market store Pretty in Patina, which offered to sell some of the jewelry he laser-cuts and also gave him a grant to help build his line for Omaha Fashion Week.

When the Fashion Institute Midwest learned that Fu planned to 3-D print and laser-cut pieces for his fashion designs, they asked him to train other designers.

So, this June, he held a three-hour class at Do Space. He taught them the basics, just enough to print their own logo in plastic, leather, metal or any other material compatible with the laser cutter.

“Knowing that (the technology) exists opens up a new avenue of exploration,” Fu said. “Rather than conventional cutting and sewing methods, they can now utilize laser cutting and 3-D printing to make their designs more dynamic and perhaps even more functional or different.”

The class gave fashion designers a place to start and someone to look to for help. It’s something Fu needed for himself when he got started.

Fu learned how to laser-cut from Terri Chappell, an instructor at Do Space. When he showed an interest in fashion design and wanted to start laser-cutting jewelry, she helped him learn how, and he started to shadow her classes, filling in as a substitute teacher.

“He’s never done any of this stuff,” Chappell said. “He just jumps in and figures it out and does it.”

Fu knows this won’t be a fashion revolution. But maybe the new technique will help a few designers make some of their ideas a reality, when they might not have known how before.

“A lot of traditional tailors are going to stick with their tailoring method — they aren’t going to learn a whole new approach to what they have been taught,” Fu said. “But I think the newer waves of people will see this technology as an advantage. If it’s fashion, they’ll pump up their clothing aesthetic.”

As for Fu, he’s not sure if fashion design will be a one-off or the start of another new side project. But if he chooses to pursue it, Chappell has no doubt he’ll succeed.

“He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever met, I think,” she said. “He’s really open to new things, he’s open to new people. He’s just a whirlwind of possibility.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1734, chris.peters@owh.com


Omaha Fashion Week

What: Six-night run of fashion shows, culminating in a best-of-the-week finale

When: 8 to 10 p.m. today through Saturday

Where: Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St.

Tickets: $40 to $150


The Fashion Week Ahead

Here’s what to look for each night, including the fun before and after the shows, which begin at 8.


Designers: Aubrey Sookram, Orchid Richards, Frank Fu, Abbey Parodi, Sydney Moore, Karissa Goosic

Prize: $500 for top designer

Before the show (6-7:45): Omaha Fashion Magazine unveiling and photo exhibit


Designers: Juantiesha Christian, Ciara Fortun, Miranda Hanson, Jenny Pool, Elda Doamekpo, Breanne Reiss

Prize: $500 for top designer

Before the show (6-7:45): Joslyn’s Kent Bellows Mentoring Program students live platform painting


Designers: Paulie Gibson (headliner), Alejandra Buenrostro, Style Save, Mitchell Henderson, Stella Bernadt, Christopher DiGiorgio

Prize: $500 for top designer

Before the show (6-7:45): Free fashion week-attendee painting on canvasses


Designers: Terri Buckner (headliner), Lauren Birkentall, Madison Durant, Borsheims, Jane Round, R and F Plus, Monnie Winslow

Prize: $500 for top designer

Before the show (6-7:45): Ballet Nebraska performance


Designers: Dan Richters (headliner), Chessna Fernald, Leah Kettelson, Buf Reynolds, Andy Kollath, Audio Helkuik

Prize: $500 for top designer

Before the show (6-7:45): Live dual DJ collaboration

After the show (10 p.m.): Runway Wrap Up, a condom fashion show and dance party organized by Nebraska AIDS Project. Tickets start at $15, available at nap.org.


Designers: Aubrey Sookram, Madison Durant, Jane Round, Chris DiGiorgio, Monnie Winslow, Buf Reynolds, Abbey Parodi, Mitchell Henderson, Breanne Reiss, Audio Helkuik, Karissa Goosic, Leah Kettelson

Prize: $15,000 prize package and Fashion Cup for top designer

Before the show (6-7:45): Pop music cover band Eckophonic performs


From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., meet the designers, buy from their collections and enjoy free Pettit’s Pastry doughnuts, a mimosa bar, a bloody mary bar and coffee in a new pop-up shop at the Omaha Design Center. Admission is free.

This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready

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