Pawtucket’s Shea Fashion Show: Bringing students together in style

Photo by Gabinichi Photography.

In 2010, Will Lopera was a senior at Charles E. Shea High School of Pawtucket. During an internship class, nobody could find an internship for him, so Lopera took matters into his own hands: he asked if he could host a fashion show event instead.

Lopera was inspired to create an entertainment consortium that went beyond walking down a runway — picture a multi-scene fashion show, complete with sets, lighting, and dancing. Lopera personally trained student models and partnered with local clothing stores. This became the inaugural Shea Fashion Show, which Lopera has hosted every year since, and watched it blossom into a wide-reaching community event.

As it grew, Shea Fashion attracted a larger and more diverse group of students from a range of social groups and learning levels. “It was nice to bring all those people together in one place,” Lopera said. “And then kids started telling us what an impact it made on their self-confidence and their overall experience in high school. That’s when we noticed we had something going.”

During the pandemic, Lopera and his partner-in-crime Phyllis McHale, a now-retired home economics teacher at Shea High School, decided to rebrand the Shea High School Fashion Show as the Shea Fashion Program. They developed the program as a yearround nonprofit that offered programs and workshops related to fashion and entertainment with a focus on the socio-emotional learning of the students, specifically with regard to building confidence and self-worth.

As they approach their fifteenth show this May, Shea Fashion is now a city-wide registered 501(c)(3) organization with at least 150 students involved, including models, dancers, performers, as well as volunteers for lighting, audio, and event ushers. Now that the organization is city-wide, students from nearby high schools get involved, including students from Shea, Davies Technical School, Blackstone Academy, and even Pawtucket residents who attend charter schools. “And they all make it to practice every week!” Lopera laughed.

They have even been showcasing student fashion designs by McHale’s students, urging students to align themselves more closely with the organization’s grassroots ideologies by upcycling clothing and learning how to rework and restyle different pieces. “We tell the students – you need to put yourselves out there and get out and show the world who you are,” Lopera said.

Lopera’s goal is to have Shea Fashion run as a brand, perhaps in the future with a building where students can go after school and work on programming for the show. “We do it for the students, we let them have fun and hold them to a standard that they follow,” Lopera pointed out, adding that they are always making sure they have all cultures, ages, shapes, and sizes represented in their shows.

The Shea Fashion Showcase 2024: Haus of Cards takes place Saturday, May 4 at Tolman High School. Tickets go on sale a month before the show and are likely to be a hot commodity – last year, they sold over 850 tickets. “It doesn’t hit until you watch the show,” Will told me. “You really need to come to the show to see what we can do and who we are.”