Big Brain Awards 2013

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"In any spare moment, I'm doing design work," says Cooper, 26. "I need that creativity to balance everything else."

Working in the evening doesn't put a damper on Cooper's love of color and prints, which she's appreciated for as long as she can remember. That's thanks to her mom, Sandy Carder, an interior designer whom Cooper credits with teaching her basic design principles.

Cooper's foray into fashion is new. She used to work as an aesthetician specializing in skincare (she still does it sometimes as a side hustle), but Cooper always had a keen interest in fashion. The problem? She wasn't sure whether — or how — she'd fit in. Then, she took a few classes through MCC's fashion program and discovered textiles.

"In my first semester, I knew this was something I could pursue," Cooper says. "It really fueled my creativity."

That creativity has landed Cooper big opportunities. Based on her fashion sketch of a cobalt blue minidress, she was one of four student finalists selected to go to New York in February in the nationwide Aquafina and Project Runway Pure Challenge. She and the other finalists faced a PR-style challenge during their trip: Make a simple white shirtdress into an original design.

Cooper didn't win that challenge or the $5,000 prize money, but she says the experience was priceless. She got feedback from former Project Runway contestants Uli Herzner, Emilio Sosa, and Bert Keeter. And rubbing elbows with former model and Real Housewives of New York City cast member Kelly Bensimon was a pretty good consolation prize for the Bravo fanatic.

Choosing textiles as her focus allows her to stand out among countless high-fashion designer wanna-bes. Anyone can go online and buy her prints by the yard via Spoonflower.com, and her surface designs like laptop skins, tote bags, and stationery cards are available at Society6.com. (Both are similar to Etsy in that anyone can sell through the site's interface.) Want a laptop skin covered in Cooper's purple, pink, and orange Modern Brushstrokes? That's $25. How about two yards of the blue and green, kid-friendly Giraffes print in cotton? That'll be $17.50 per yard.

Because of her presence and accessibility on Spoonflower, Anna Richardson of Lucia Paul Designs found Cooper's orange and white Kim print in a wedding that's being featured in the spring/summer 2013 issue of Weddings Illustrated.

It's great exposure, but she's ambitious and always looking forward.

"Anything that could have a print on it, I'm going after," Cooper says. Watch out. — Becky Bartkowski


Keytha Fixico is prepping for prom night. The 17-year-old Mountain View High School senior is trying to help his date, a friend of his, find the perfect dress. Rather, dresses. He thinks she should have two: one for dinner and another for dancing. She might need some convincing, he says.

He knows he can't be too bossy about what other people wear. But he designed the flowing navy dress his date wore to the junior year winter formal. So he wants at least a say in his prom companion's ensemble.

Fixico's own prom outfit is all set. He'll be decked out in a tailcoat that reminds him of the formalwear that patriarch Lord Grantham sports on PBS' Downton Abbey.

He's not afraid of standing out and compares the hallways at his Mesa high school to a fashion show. Some of it's good, and some of it's bad. "I like to dress up a lot," he says of his day-to-day style choices, adding that cuff links are one of his favorite accessories. It was his love of dressing well that led to Fixico embarking on a career as a fashion designer.

Fixico wants to dress women who turn heads, women like Audrey Hepburn. He wants to hear them say, "I'm wearing a Keytha," and have it result in oohs and aaahs. (You can see examples of his work at facebook.com/keythafashion.)

Born in Oklahoma, Fixico is of Creek and Muskogee descent. He sewed his first button at age 7 and moved to Arizona about eight years ago with his father after his parents divorced. He made his first dress in February 2011, his sophomore year. He says the draped red frock took him five days to finish.

In five years, he wants to work as a full-time fashion designer. And there's not much standing in his way.

Fixico plans to take a year off from school after he graduates. He's hoping to land a gig in retail, preferably something high-end like Prada or Neiman Marcus. Then, he wants to attend the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles. He scoped out the school in March 2012 and was impressed by its offerings. Meeting former Project Runway contestant Nick Verreos there didn't hurt, either.

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