The premier publication for high-quality, hyperlocal news and announcements in Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Teen Scene

By Lori Draz and Felicia Mattioli

Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is Colts Neck’s 19-year-old Felicia Mattioli, a sophomore at the Fashion Institute of Technology. This month, The Journal is focusing on beauty and fashion, but our author has been focusing on fashion her whole life. Like the creations of the designers she will be working with, Felicia created her life’s unique design. There weren’t many who shared her passion for fashion in high school, but that didn’t stop Felicia from pursuing the life of her dreams. Here is Felicia’s story.  

My sixth grade backpack was blueberry blue. My jaw dropped when I saw it online, and my mom encouraged my purchase, saying it matched my Catholic school uniform and that I would look unique. I don’t know how many sixth graders strive to be “unique,” but I went with it anyway because I loved the color. Without a sliver of doubt, I walked through the Holy Cross front doors with my back straight and a smile from ear to ear. Every day during that winter, I paired my blueberry blue backpack with my white fur bomber jacket and my Mary Jane shoes. People would stare and my teachers would say I was “daring,” but I brushed it off. I liked expressing myself and looked up to the few older students who would dress like me too. It was then that I realized I really loved fashion. 

Fast forward to high school, and I was even more determined than that sixth grade girl with the blueberry blue backpack. My dream was to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and no one was stopping me. My mom and I would go to college fairs, and I brushed past every table. My eyes were locked on the letters FIT. Twice a year, I skipped school and jumped on NJ Transit to volunteer at New York Fashion Week, acting like I belonged when really the only place I belonged was my biology class at Colts Neck High School. Fashion Week seemed so surreal. Everyone was well dressed, professional and extremely passionate about fashion. Then, the next day came, and I returned to school, feeling like I was in a bubble.

I can’t blame my peers for not understanding. Colts Neck is filled with fashion moguls but not necessarily with fashion industry moguls. I was automatically grouped with artists, musicians and other creative minds who didn’t conform to the norms of post-graduation life. It wasn’t that we were lesser than or illegitimate, but simply different. At the time, it was difficult to differentiate between the two, and I would constantly go home defeated. Unlike my sixth grade self, it was hard to be unique and stand out from the crowd. While my peers discussed their college applications, millions of essays and plan B schools, I sat waiting for a single letter. At the end of the day, there was only plan A for me. If I didn’t get into FIT, I was going to apply over and over until I did. This was a hard concept for people to grasp, and I constantly found myself clarifying, rationalizing and defending myself to others. 

“What are you going to do at fashion school?” They would ask. “You can’t even sew.” 

I told them, “I won’t be in the design program. I’m studying Fashion Business Management.” 

“How are you even going to make money?” 

Fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry. 

“That school must be so easy to get into, it’s fashion.” 

FIT is the No. 1 ranked fashion school in the world, so it’s actually really hard to get in. 

I robotically repeated those every single day for a year, and still no one got it. There was one girl, two years older than me, who committed to FIT. Even though I didn’t know a thing about her, she was automatically my hero because she was living out my dream. But despite these small glimpses of hope for my happy ending, I remember one night when I almost folded. My mom and I went for ice cream which was code for a serious life talk. I told her that I changed my mind; I wanted to go to a state school in the south and have a normal college experience. At the end of the day, FIT doesn’t have sororities or football games; it has internships and career seminars. She was shocked and thought I was kidding. I assured her that I was not and that I didn’t want to miss out. I will never forget what she told me. “Miss out? I know you. While all those girls from high school are going to sorority mixers, you’ll be interning for Chanel. You know what you want deep inside, so go get it.” 

I am now a sophomore at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I not only got into the school but was also accepted into their Presidential Scholars program. I study Fashion Business Management and love every minute of it. Even though I come home to see my family so often NJ Transit should cut me a frequent traveler’s check, New York quickly became my home. I am constantly inspired by my environment, my peers, my professors and most of all, my mom. Through it all, she has been my biggest supporter and believed in me when no one else did. It’s hard to be persistent when most people aren’t necessarily cheering your name, but I think that’s what makes true success. The fashion industry thrives on those who are confident, unique and determined. You have to be unapologetically you, and once I realized that, the world seemed to open up. In the end, I still have that sixth grade girl inside of me and carry her to school every day with the same blueberry blue backpack.

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