By Meg Barone

A holiday project undertaken by the Fashion Merchandising and Design students at Fairfield Warde and Ludlowe high schools combines elements of "Project Runway" with "The Apprentice," challenging students to create trendy clothing, accessories and home décor items for their in-house boutiques and then market them to the public.

There is no competition between the schools to sell the most inventory. Students' only reward is the satisfaction of doing their best while preparing for careers in the fashion industry.

"They're acting like the manufacturers, they're acting like the buyers (of merchandise to stock their stores). They learn by doing. The (text) book can only tell them so much," said Nancy Malafatopoulos, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Fairfield Warde.

Students at both schools are not only responsible for making items but coming up with the visual displays in their retail spaces and determining how to get the word out of fellow students and the public.

"A lot of students come in with the notion that fashion is just about looking good. In order to implement and (operate) a successful boutique, there's a lot of hard work that has to go into it," said Donna Huber, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. "They have to conceptualize, design and execute finished products and see how well their designs have been received by the customer. The big question is did their merchandize reach their audience or target market?" Huber said.

She said the students often want to make items that they would buy or wear but if they want to work in the fashion industry they have to make apparel and accessories that appeal to a broader market.

At Warde on Tuesday the students took inventory, put finishing touches on designer cloth bags and oven mitts, and worked on the concept for their Trends Boutique.

"What about black table cloths on some tables and pink on the (center) one," suggested Victoria Byers, 18. Classmate Jillian Tallent, 16, liked the idea. "That will attract attention," she said, but they weren't sure they could go with the trendy color scheme because they couldn't find enough tablecloths or fabric bolts in those colors.

Ludlowe students went with a black-and-white theme for their Bella Boutique. Both boutiques were to open Thursday with preview parties at their respective schools from 2:30-5:30 p.m.

In preparation for the opening, Sofia Bogannam, 16, and Sophia Catandella, 18, the store managers of Trends Boutique, helped fellow students brainstorm advertising ideas and placement of items in the store to maximize sales. Malafatopoulos reminded them they had to come up with eye-catching displays in the store front windows to get shoppers in the door and then to draw them to the back of the store.

"You have to think about what people will see when they walk by and what will get them to the back of the store," said Malafatopoulos, whose students made tie-dyed T-shirts, aprons, oven mitts, tote bags, jewelry, decorative laptop computer bags, and other items.

"I like setting up and getting people to come inside and hopefully come out with something. I like designing the displays inside and out and capturing people's imagination," said Alessandra Solorzano, 16.

Ludlowe's Bella Boutique is stocked with student-made coin purses made out of orange juice containers, tote bags, memo boards, jewelry, bandeaus and spandex shorts, cosmetic bags, and other accessories and items.

"We got to come up with our own products to make and sell. I did earrings because this store mostly has accessories and home décor products," Bogannam said.

Sophia Catandella made several photograph holders using a rock into which her father drilled a hole. Then Catandella inserted heavy gauge wire that she curled into decorative shapes to hold the photos in place.

Warde's Trends Boutique will be open from Dec. 3-10, 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; and Ludlowe's Bella Boutique will be open those days from 7:15 to 7:40 a.m. and from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and after school from 2:30 to 3 p.m.

A portion of the proceeds from the boutique from the Ludlowe Boutique will be donated to the Lazaro family, who has two members battling cancer as well as two scholarships to a summer fashion program. The proceeds of the Warde Boutique will be donated to Children's Miracle Network as well as two student scholarships to a fashion program.