The Village Journal

 Sewing an Arbor of Opportunities

By Elise Donini | Dawn McKinstry Photography


Copyright Dawn McKinstry Photography


For any fashion designer, creating the dresses that will be featured at beauty and talent pageants is an incredible accomplishment. Generating enough reputation and buzz to become the go-to for crafting the perfect look for premier local events is a great indication of a designer’s skilled ability and passion. But for Jacquelyn Brooks, owner of “Jacquelyn Brooks: Fashion Design and Tailoring Studio,” accomplishing these milestones were simply steps towards a greater vision and an honorable opportunity.

Sitting in her studio on West University, sewing orange fabric and meticulously placing blue ribbon, Brooks was answering the call to serve the Gainesville community. A community where she was raised and proud to call her home. A community that she is honored to be a part of, and even more proud to lend a helping hand, or needle, when needed.

In order for any nonprofit, community serving organization to function, it must have the support and involvement of the community it serves. Arbor House, who’s mission is focused on supporting local homeless women and mothers, is one such organization located right here in Gainesville. How does Arbor House fulfill such an ambitious, honorable and worthwhile, cause? It is simple. Only by the support and generosity of groups and individuals who are also right here in Gainesville.

Arbor House’s second annual “Arbor of Opportunity Fundraising Luncheon,” which was hosted on September 26th at The Vineyard of Gainesville, was a fantastic opportunity to see that support and generosity of this community on display. All proceeds collected are going directly to benefit homeless women and children in need, as well as funding Arbor House’s many educational programs.

To the delight of Arbor House Executive Director Christy Finnegan and the others involved with the organization, this year’s luncheon boasted roughly twice as many participants as last years. “It was extremely exciting,” said Finnegan. “Arbor House volunteers made an enormous effort to try and reach out to people who didn’t already know about our organization so we can gain their support.”

Finnegan believes this cause, although widely unknown, is one that is unique to the Gainesville area and that these women and children are very under-served in the community. “These women are part of a cycle that is very hard to break. Here at Arbor House, we don’t give them a fish, we teach them how to fish, as the old saying goes.” The Arbor House hopes to make a significant, life-changing impact on the women and children who are served by the organization, as well as the volunteers and attendees of the event.

With the lunch and guest speakers noted as a complete success, most excitement was saved for the main event: a clothing fashion show and auction featuring local clothing designer, Jacquelyn Brooks. “Last year’s Arbor of Opportunities event was incredibly successful,” Fennegan said. “But we wanted this year’s event to be more unique; to add a little more fun, which is what lead us to Jacquelyn Brooks’ involvement. Fashion shows and luncheons kind of go together and she was a natural pick.”

As a first time partner with the Arbor House, Brooks was very motivated and dedicated to raising as much support and awareness as she possibly could. “It’s very important to me to support these women and children,” she said. “It’s a cause that’s very dear to my heart.”

By donating her time, energy and five original orange and blue gator “game day” dresses to be auctioned off completely for Arbor House fundraising, Brooks was pleased with all the progress made, and was extremely happy that something she created would go on to help someone in need.  “Giving back to the community by donating my work makes me feel more fulfilled, I’m doing more for society,” Brooks said. “Being a mom is one of the most important, yet most difficult jobs in the world. Raising a child alone would be much more challenging than it already is. Arbor House is an incredible organization that is often overlooked because it’s not as large as others, so it needs even more of our support.”

Taught by her own mother, Brooks learned to sew when she was a teenager. She received a B.S. in Apparel Design from Florida State University before returning to Gainesville in 2000 to pursue a design career in her hometown. She ultimately opened her own studio called “Jacquelyn Brooks: Fashion Design and Tailoring Studio,” under the slogan, “Haute Couture on the Avenue.”

The studio’s services include fashion design and individual customization, alterations and tailoring and tuxedo rentals. Design examples include bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, formal gowns, game day dresses, casual dresses, children’s apparel and canine apparel. Couture tailoring and alterations of bridal, bridesmaid/formal dress and men’s and women’s business suits are Brooks’ specialty.

As a clothing designer and business owner, Brooks is responsible for the entire design process. She starts with a fabric (her favorites are silks and taffetas) and asks herself, “What can I make out of this that I would want to wear?” She thinks about what she desires out of a piece of clothing: she wants to look good, stand out in a crowd, but still be comfortable, she said.

“One source of my inspiration is actually myself. I try to design pieces that I would want to wear. I think this gives me an advantage over men in the fashion industry.” After the brainstorming stage of the design process, Brooks cuts the chosen fabric pieces and sews them into a fabulous piece of clothing. The final step of the design process fitting the garment to on the customer. She also handles the financial transactions and records of her business.

Brooks said she is most passionate about designing women’s formal wear and that her favorite recent piece was a very unique, blue taffeta wedding dress that she customized for a local bride.

“I like being able to use unique colors, patterns and fabrics,” Brooks said. “The greatest part about designing for clients is the creative freedom allowed.”

Brooks has designed gowns for events for local charities besides Arbor House, such as The American Heart Association’s annual Heart Ball and Haven Hospice’s “ViVA! Polynesian Bash”.  She also designed the live auction piece for the Cure by Design Fashion Show, which supports cancer research. Her designer original raised $5000 for the American Cancer Society.