It is a truth universally acknowledged that teenage girls don’t love it when their mums tell them what to wear. So how should parents help their daughters to navigate monotonous and often degrading trends that everyone else seems to be wearing, and help them to develop their own unique style?

One approach that seems to be working is fashion and style events for young women, by young women. Just last weekend in Toronto, Canada, the TREnDS group (which stands for “Teens Reacting Effectively and Discovering Style”) held their inaugural Fashion Forum event to celebrate 10 years of monthly and annual activities – which have reached thousands of women with the aim of educating them in the areas of style and beauty. We talked to TREnDS’ President, Shannon Joseph, and Planning Committee members Sofie Wassmer and Ulrika Drevniok, about how it all works:

Could we have a quick rundown of the Fashion Forum event?

The Fashion Forum is a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the TREnDS project, and we are asking the question, “Fashion is a language: What are you communicating?”   We want to make the link for participants that this beautiful art of fashion isn’t just about clothes you throw on – it’s about communicating who you are, your style and creativity.

Today a lot of girls in particular end up having their own style eclipsed by fashion trends that are one-dimensional and sometimes objectifying – and that is too bad. Fashion can be a force for good and can enhance our dignity as young women and persons, but young women themselves have to be the ones who demand it.

The Fashion Forum event itself will run for one day but we hope it will be a springboard to spread and strengthen the message of TREnDS – a message we hope will help women embrace their beauty, both inside and out.

Who founded TREnDS and what inspired them to start it?

The organisation TREnDS was founded by four teenage girls in 2004 in Toronto, Canada. They wanted to respond in a positive way to the growing hyper-sexualisation of young women that was happening in the fashion and beauty industry at that time. They were inspired by the idea that fashion should respond to what they want to project to the world, rather than them trying to fit some unattainable standard.

Since that time, TREnDS has acted to help young women think critically – and act! – regarding the messages they receive from the media, and to build confidence in themselves to find their own personal style. As one of the founders, Shannon Hale, put it: “It’s time for us to dare to be different, to break out of the cookie cutter mould and create a unique sense of style that best expresses who we are as people. It’s time to change the face of fashion.”

What ideas or inspirations do you want teenage girls to walk away with from TREnDS events or the Fashion Forum?

At TREnDS, we say that we do “fashion from the inside, out”. In terms of our chapter activities, we want each teenage girl to walk away with the confidence that comes from knowing yourself better and being able to communicate who you are through your fashion choices. We believe that confidence influences others…We want each participant to walk away empowered and ready to share the message that fashion should serve us as persons, not as objects.

We want girls to know that they have a choice, that they are beautiful, and that they can choose to affirm their uniqueness and intrinsic value through fashion. We want them to know that the image they portray through fashion expresses their personality and tells a story about who they are. Our hope is that they leave inspired to get creative when it comes to fashion, to realise that they don’t need to follow the latest fashion trends, that they can challenge the status quo and that they have a voice!

Fashion Forum on May 23rd was about celebrating the fact that beauty has many faces, shapes and ages, and that diversity should be affirmed and celebrated. We hope that girls, young women and older women, can become allies in transforming current fashion “trends,” giving each other the confidence to stand out and to reject fashion that says that a woman’s greatest value is in her sexual appeal.

What qualities do you look for in each speaker at the event?

The event has theoretical speakers and practical speakers and they all are quite different but they share the support of TREnDS’ mission. They may be experts in hair, skin care, make up or style but in general, I’d say we are looking for someone with something interesting to say, who is involved in the fashion world, involved in media or works with women or girls on style issues.

One speaker talked about women in the media and one commented on the use of the Niqab (the face veil) in Canada – pretty heavy stuff – while other speakers talked about things like how to run a social media campaign or lead an active lifestyle. I think all of our speakers will get our participants thinking, learning and inspired.

Who are the designers who feature in the Fashion Show?

We’ve opted to buy a lot of the outfits for the fashion show from retailers that are department stores – like the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Bay feature lots of different designers from high end brands to more mid-range (in no particular order): Sam Edelman, Dex, Pink Tartan, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Ann Klein, Top Shop, Eileen Fischer, Van Furstenburg, among others.

I think an important message we want to send to all the forum participants is that you don’t need to have a lot of money or spend money on expensive designers to look your best. There are lots of great affordable options and opportunities to be creative in how your put those options together.

What kind of feedback have you got after past TREnDS events?

The kind of feedback we’ve had from past workshops is that the young women generally say they got a lot more than they thought they would be getting! Lifelong friendships have been made, career ideas have been sparked, and image myths have been dispelled!

For more information on TREnDS, see their website and Facebook page.

Looking for workshops on authentic beauty in Australia? Get in contact with The Workshop via their website or Facebook page.

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.