"We want you to see firsthand that a solid education and the willingness to work hard is really at the core of what it's going to take to achieve your goals," the first lady said Wednesday after opening the White House to student fashionistas for workshops and networking with industry professionals, including designers Jason Wu, Lela Rose and Zac Posen and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.
"Education and hard work. It's that simple," Mrs. Obama said.
People too often think the fashion industry is all about catwalks and red carpets, she said.
"The truth is that the clothes you see in the magazine covers are really just the finished product in what is a very long, very complicated and very difficult process, as I've come to learn working with many designers," the first lady said.
One of those designers is the Taiwan-born, Vancouver-raised Wu, whom Mrs. Obama chose to design the inaugural ball gowns she wore in 2009 and 2013.
The first lady also noted that the fashion industry is important to the economy. She said Americans spent $350 billion last year on clothes and shoes, a sum that helps keep 1.4 million people employed by retailers and others with ties to the world of fashion.
"Fashion is about so much more than just a pretty pair of pumps or the perfect hemline," Mrs. Obama told more than 150 students seated in the East Room for a lunch of chicken taquitos and mini red velvet or vanilla mint cupcakes. "For so many people across the country it is a calling, it is a career and it's a way they feed their families."
The first lady spent a few minutes making the rounds at two of five morning workshops, which covered such topics as fashion journalism, construction and wearable technology. She wore a navy blue sleeveless dress with a racer-style front and full skirt that was made by a Fashion Institute of Technology student who won a design competition and attended the workshop.
Mrs. Obama exchanged cheek kisses with Posen as she entered one clinic, looked at a design mock-up on a mini mannequin on a table and said it "looks like something I would wear."
In her formal remarks, Mrs. Obama singled out the travails of designer Maria Cornejo, who spoke no English at age 11 when her family left Cornejo's native Chile for England but now has a company in New York, and Sara Blakely, who repeatedly was turned down before her idea for the now-popular Spanx undergarments, into which Blakely poured her life savings, got off the ground.
"I want these stories to show you that there's no magic to being successful in fashion or anything else," the first lady told the students.
The fashion workshop was the latest in a series of similar career-oriented events Mrs. Obama has held for students since becoming first lady.
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