Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes

Women with a Cause 2018: Ann Tillage

Cause: Sewing camps for underserved youth

As owner of Sharmooz Los Angeles, an online boutique specializing in satin charmeuse designer apparel and beauty products, Baton Rouge’s Ann Tillage has garnered national acclaim from CBS, Essence magazine, and on the runway at New York Fashion Week. Her success in the fashion industry can be traced back to childhood days spent at the sewing machine, taking her place as the third generation in a lineage of seamstresses and designers.

But, she insists, she would have never gotten to this place on her sewing abilities alone: “I’ll never forget growing up, having those great mentors who were so critical to my growth, who were just really there for me when I needed them.”

Tillage believes in paying it forward, which is why she has dedicated so much time—alongside her work as a business owner and a mother—to being a mentor for young people in Baton Rouge. She’s joined this philosophy to her love of fashion in her Mobile Fashion Camps, programs that educate girls and boys on the art of sewing and design. That education is provided free of charge to 70% of the campers, who are unable to afford other similar camps.

“But, you know, it’s not all about sewing,” she says. “The end game is really about building confidence that they can complete anything they set their minds to.”

In these camps—often hosted in partnership with organizations like the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, YMCA and churches—students learn about fabric selection and pattern cutting alongside historical contexts of their projects and how to use a sewing machine. Fabrics and supplies are donated by the Baton Rouge chapter of the American Sewing Guild, local churches and other organizations, and the sewing machines themselves were purchased using funds donated by the local chapter of Jack & Jill of America. Attendees are recruited through organizations that support the underserved, and camps are held primarily in the Mid City area.

“It’s such an opportunity for self-expression,” she says. “They get to hone their own creative skills and have fun with it. Their personalities really come out at the end of their projects, and it’s validating for them.”

Over 300 young people in Baton Rouge have taken part in Tillage’s camps since their inception seven years ago. Tillage says that while she would be thrilled to learn that her influence helped spark a creative passion, her real hope is that her students were able to take away a sense of self-worth and purpose from her classes, and that they will take that with them throughout life.

“It’s a domino effect,” she says. “I hope that each person I impact grows up with a desire to impact others in that way as well.”

Tillage says everything she does circles back to a few words of Maya Angelou’s quiet wisdom: “People will forget the things you said. They’ll forget the things you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.”


What do you love about the volunteer efforts that you do?
Volunteering is a way of paying forward the positive external influences I was fortunate to have in my life, as well as the opportunity for me to make possible, for others, things I wish I had received.
What do you hope to achieve?
My husband and I have two children, and we have been blessed to facilitate a life for them that neither of us had; however, we understand we can’t keep them in a vacuum. Our hope is that we continue to positively affect as many children as we can in order to ensure the community that they will grow up in is both happy and safe.