Zambra Gutierrez, a recent graduate from Cato Middle College High, has turned her family’s home into a makeshift art gallery.
A hodgepodge of paintings hanging on the dining room wall features bright yellow and orange, coupled with strokes of dark gray and black. Most of the paintings depict the human body, where Zambra said she gains her fashion inspiration.
“I’ve always been into the arts,” Zambra said, though her career goal a year ago was to become a pharmacist. “But I realized I was going into pharmacy for all the wrong reasons, and I wanted change,” she said.
Today, she dreams of creating a line of couture clothing. In the fall, she will attend Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, with hopes of becoming a successful fashion designer.
“It was surprising, but deep down inside, as a mother, I knew (changing careers) would happen,” said Airam Gutierrez-Hammond, Zambra’s mother.
Airam now sacrifices living space for Zambra’s latest creations. In the corner of the dining room also stands a dressmaker’s mannequin, which displays the prom outfit Zambra created for herself. The suit-inspired ensemble features a floral print pant and black suit jacket. She paired the two with a purchased red silk shirt.
“I was the only one wearing pants at prom, but people liked it,” Zambra said, smiling.
Her first sewing projects were small, she said, mainly constructing purses. She still has her first purse, brown cotton fabric that she sewed together before attaching wooden handles.
She advanced to designing dresses and skirts. Zambra’s first dress was a denim color with white polka dots and crossed spaghetti straps.
“I can see her being really successful,” Airam said.
While Zambra said her talents are centered on the sewing machine, she also excels in the classroom. In late May, Zambra graduated from Cato Middle College High in the top 10 of her class, with a 4.6 GPA.
And she has come a long way in her studies. Zambra moved to the United States from Venezuela when she was 9. Airam, a Venezuelan teacher, moved her family to Charlotte after she completed an international teacher exchange program.
Upon their arrival to the States, Zambra did not speak English, but said her mother pushed her to learn the language.
“Every day, when she picked me up from school, she would ask me questions in English,” Zambra said.
She quickly advanced out of the English as a Second Language classroom, and by sixth grade was fluent in English.
Today, Zambra said she looks forward to attending college, then plans to move to New York City and start a clothing line under her name.
A portion of her profits will go back into the community to start a college fund for youth who want to go into the arts, but may not be able to entirely afford a college education – much like herself, she said.