In elementary school, Emerson Kobak was the target of bullies.
“I was really short. I wore glasses. People just weren’t nice,” Emerson recalls.
The result, she says, was that “for so long I didn’t feel like I had a voice. I was always nervous about speaking. I worried that whatever I said was wrong.”
Emerson Kobak, in elementary school.
Middle school — with its intense social pressure — was even worse.
Looking back, she says, if she saw someone sitting alone during lunch, she’d go over and join them.
“One act of kindness can change a whole life,” she says.
When Emerson entered Staples 3 years ago, she looked around for kindred spirits. She founded the Fashion For a Cause Club with like-minded designers. On weekends she studied drawing and sewing at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
As a sophomore, Emerson joined Kool To Be Kind. Last year she discovered the Anti-Defamation League. Emerson co-wrote the introduction to a schoolwide “Truth About Hate” assembly, then spoke at it. She also addressed Staples’ school climate assembly.
The girl who was once afraid to speak up had found her voice.
That voice — and Emerson’s drive to fight bullying — has found an important outlet, thanks to her passion for fashion. Her 2nd annual “Fashion For a Cause” show is set for this Sunday (September 24, 5 p.m., Toquet Hall).
Emerson Kobak, before the junior prom. She made her dress herself.
Emerson will show one collection. Fellow senior Alessandra Nagar will show another. Students will model all outfits — all of which were created by club members. There’s also live music by a Staples band, and food from local restaurants.
When new shops open here, they often ask for an “06880” shout-out.
I’m happy to oblige, I say — provided they give me a strong Westport hook. It can’t be just “new store in town,” I tell them. Give me something local to sink my teeth into.
I seldom hear back.
Bags on display at WEST.
That’s why I’m glad to talk about WEST. The new fashion/art/jewelry/ accessories place on 117 Post Road East (across from Bank of America) cleverly incorporates a Westport sensibility with influences from the “WEST Coast” (and even further west, Australia).
But it also carries the line of a very local designer — Emerson Kobak — who is still just a Staples High School junior. (One more reason to like WEST: The owners discovered Emerson through this “06880” blog.)
The new store is the brainchild of Westporter Laura Maged. A Long Island native who spent many “magical” years in her 20s and 30s in Southern California, she heard about our town after she and her husband moved to New York.
The folks she met here seemed to always do intriguing things. The “rich arts heritage and easy style” attracted her. She loved Compo Beach (and the playground), while downtown reminded her of Brentwood.
Laura thought she could “recreate a little of my special LA life here.” Starting in 2002, she did just that.
Now WEST, she says, will be a place where Westport and the West Coast’s “casual, easy lifestyles” mix. Her vision is for “a cool, easy place to shop.”
But while she’s all about bringing the coast vibe east, she’s also excited to team up with Kobak. The teenager studies every Saturday at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. She spent this summer in Cornell’s fashion design program, and now adds her line — Emerson Isa Designs — to WEST.
It’s always good news when a new mom-and-pop — or, in this case, “mom” shop — comes to town.
It’s even better news when the owner truly gets the local vibe.
And gets what “06880” looks for in a story. After all, this blog’s tagline is “where WESTport meets the world.”
“06880” regularly praises Staples High School’s astonishing actors and musicians, robotics whizzes and talented writers.
Occasionally, I shine a light on great athletes (though that’s really the job of newspaper sports pages).
Yet Staples’ halls are filled with less heralded, equally remarkable boys and girls. Very quietly — but quite passionately — they do wonderful things.
Here are 3 of them.
Art Kelly always enjoyed helping around the house. At 3 years old, he was outside watching lawnmowers.
A few years later he walked around the neighborhood with a weed whacker.
At 10, he helped neighbors with chores like raking. His $15 fee was a lot cheaper than “real” landscapers — but he did a great job.
Six years later, he mows, mulches, weeds, edges, plants, aerates, prunes, tills and de-thatches. He has dozens of regular customers, 8 employees — all fellow Stapleites — and a great name for his own company: A Work of Art Landscaping.
Art owns a truck and trailer — along with plenty of equipment. But he’s just a sophomore, with only a learner’s permit. So his father drives him around.
Art bought everything with his own money. That’s exactly the way this independent teenager thinks it should be.
Art Kelly, with some of his equipment.
He prides himself on being more conscientious than some “professionals.”
“You have to protect gardens and beds” when mowing, he explains. “A lot of companies just shoot stuff into it, without even caring.”
Art has learned many other aspects of business. He uses QuickBooks for invoices and estimates. He’s well versed in the world of credit cards and taxes. Right now, he’s finishing paperwork to be an LLC.
Every lesson is profitable — even when, as with a few early estimates, he took losses. “That’s the only way to learn,” he says philosophically.
Of course, some customers think they can pull one over on a high school kid. “I’m not afraid to walk away if someone tries to take advantage,” Art says. “This is a business. If your goal is only to get the lowest dollar, it’s not worth it for either of us.”
A Work of Art Landscaping’s work of art.
Art is currently running a promotion: Show him last year’s mowing bill, and he’ll take 10% off it.
And if you’re worried about him leaving in 2 years for college: don’t. Art plans to stay around here for school, to better serve his customers.
(To learn more about A Work of Art Landscaping, click here, call 203-557-4457, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“My whole world is fashion,” says Emerson Kobak.
“I love creativity and art. Whenever I sew or draw, I’m happy.”
Since she was 7 — when her grandmother taught her how to make a skirt — she knew that’s what she wanted to do.
The next year, Emerson’s mother bought her a beginner’s sewing machine. At 9 she made and sold pillowcases at charity events. She called her business LOXO — “lots of hugs and kisses.”
At 12, Emerson made her own bat mitzvah dress. “I wanted it to be different, and special,” she notes.
For every big event since, Emerson has created her own clothes. She made her sister’s elementary school graduation dress (and her own).
Every Saturday at 7:30 a.m. for the past 3 years, Emerson has taken the train to New York. She’s there all day, studying drawing and sewing at the Fashion Institution of Technology.
Though only a freshman last year, she started the Staples Fashion Club. She researched similar groups in other schools. She found like-minded designers and models.
Then she made a business plan. Her goal was to organize a fashion show.
“Fashion For a Cause” takes place Friday, May 13 (7 p.m., Toquet Hall). All proceeds go to Dress for Success — an organization that provides support and professional attire, to help underprivileged women succeed.
Emerson is making 12 different outfits for the show. Other designers contribute their own.
Emerson Kobak, modeling one of her creations.
Emerson has taken care of every detail. Westport Pizzeria, Matsu Sushi, Oscar’s Delicatessen and Davids Tea are donating all the food and drinks. There’s music too.
The upcoming fashion show is a great — and generous — way for Emerson to follow her passion.
But it’s not the only one. This summer, she heads to Cornell University’s fashion design program.
Where she will continue to make her very distinctive, and quite fashionable, mark.
(To learn more about “Fashion for a Cause” — or to buy tickets — click here. To check out her website, click here.)
The first time Dylan Horowitz flew a drone, he crashed it.
But he’s got great hand-eye coordination. He soon had the hang of it.
He also realized that neighbors and realtors were looking for better images of homes than Google Street View.
His first job was nerve-wracking. Lots of people watched, and there were mechanical complications.
But — as with flying his drone — Dylan quickly figured things out. He’s now got a thriving business: High in the Sky Imaging.
Dylan Horowitz, with his drone.
He charges $100 to $400 an hour — far less than the $3,000 homeowners pay for helicopter photos.
Plus, Dylan says, “My service is better.” His high-quality images are available within 2 days.
“People love seeing their houses from a new perspective,” Dylan says. “There definitely is a ‘wow!’ factor.”
Every house is different, of course. Dylan designs a new plan for every flight. He includes a wide variety of angles, and soars over lawns, gardens, pools and outbuildings.
The biggest challenge is trees — but not because of the flying. They interfere with a drone’s satellite connection.
His goal is to show homes in the best possible way. However, some owners and realtors have noticed things like rusty roofs, and decided not to post the videos.
One owner fixed his roof, then invited Dylan back again. Another embarked on a landscaping project, after noticing cracks on his property.
Dylan hopes to branch out. He’s a golfer, so golf courses are a natural. Drone photos show off different aspects of each hole. Dylan’s voice commentary is an extra bonus.
After that — who knows? For Dylan Horowitz, the sky’s the limit.
(To learn more, click here; email email@example.com, or call 917-797-2034.)
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