About 60 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, OSU students aspire to become the next Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren or Tom Ford. They envision themselves one day as the merchandise buyer for an upscale boutique or department store, or maybe opening their own shop. They study, learn and polish their skills, not only in class but by landing desirable internships across the country.
Oklahoma State University’s Department of Design, Housing and Merchandising is the only four-year program in the state. Nationally, the department ranks No. 14 in fashion design and No. 18 in fashion merchandising, with those numbers seventh and fifth in the Southwest region, according to Fashion-Schools-org. It is also one of only 13 schools to hold affiliation with the American Apparel and Footwear Association.
Dr. Lynn Boorady, head of the department, says fashion is one of the top five businesses worldwide, and OSU has positioned itself to help graduates secure those jobs. She says fashion merchandising students go to work in logistics and sourcing, buying and management. In the design arena, careers range from production to technical design, pattern making and 3D and functional designs, which also includes protective gear for police and firefighters.
Going forward, 3D designs and virtually created patterns that come to life on the computer are becoming even more important. Instructor Diane Limbaugh said fabric isn’t going into landfills anymore;
the university also offers a minor degree in sustainable design. Conversations and learning focus on eliminating waste and how to create garments that don’t hurt the environment, Limbaugh says.
“When a student comes to us, we don’t want to train them for the jobs in the industry that moment, we want to train them for the jobs that will be there in four years when they graduate,” Boorady says.
Not only is OSU’s state-of-the-art equipment and technology a draw for students, the relationship with faculty and a strong advisory board add to the appeal.
“We don’t just teach the pretty side of it. There’s consumer protection behind it. How to fit a garment. It’s all very math- and science-oriented; I think that surprises a lot of people. Technology is catching up to the creativity,” Boorady says.
One of its yearly highlights is the annual fashion show that showcases the students’ creations. Here’s a look at what a few OSU students are creating.
Kristina Nhi Le, 27, senior from Oklahoma City
Fashion has been Le’s dream since she was young. “My family used to own a tailor shop in Vietnam. I found myself in love with design when I saw my uncle’s fashion sketchbook and the garments my mom made for me,” she says. “From there, I started to design and make clothes for my dolls.”
She describes herself as a detail-oriented person and a perfectionist. She said she pays close attention to small details and works hard to minimize the flaws.
Le says she finds inspiration and motivation all around her. “As a designer, I never know when inspiration will strike. It can happen when I’m walking down the street, while concentrating on something or maybe before I fall asleep. It can be a person, natural or social events.”
Her personal style is romantic and feminine. “I am sensitive, gentle and I love feminine details such as lace, gathers and frills. Sometimes I change my style to suit a specific situation, but there are still decorative details or accessories that show femininity.”
Crystal Emerson, 47, graduate student from Oklahoma City
Emerson never expected a search for classes to improve her novice sewing skills and to learn the art of draping would lead her so close to home.
“I immediately enrolled and have been living my dream ever since,” she says.
While speed can be important, Emerson says construction technique is her primary focus when designing and creating a garment. “I am not happy until all seams match, the zipper is inserted correctly, the hem is done by hand and the pressing is perfect. I highly value execution of designs. What good is a great idea if it cannot be carried through to completion? I will rip out a seam and resew as many times as necessary to have a final garment I’m proud to put my name on. I am not afraid of failure. In fact, I experience it so much it’s just a part of who I am. I cherish the growth that occurs in me because of it.”
Emerson is inspired by anything and everything. Nature may seem a cliché answer, but the shape of a twig on the ground can bring inspiration for a dress silhouette, she says.
Adam Judkiewicz, 23, senior from Edmond
Judkiewicz’s interest in fashion was later in coming. “I would say I spent most of my life oblivious to fashion beyond what was maybe cool or uncool. I had always been interested in design, though, as well as music and art in general – and sometime in high school, my obsession with art and music evolved into clothing as well.”
He likes to create backpacks because guys don’t have as many acceptable on-person storage options. “I always feel comfortable with a backpack on.”
Describing his personal style as erratic, he finds inspiration in good music. “Right now, it’s the Rolling Stones, but it can all change at a whim.”
Looking ahead, he sees himself in fashion, but the exact arena isn’t clear yet. “Definitely owning my own company of some sort. Whether it’s my own brand or a factory or some sort of auxiliary business, or all the above, even.”
Lauren Huntley, 24, junior from Ada
Huntley’s goal is simple: She wants to be a fashion designer. “Ideally, I would love to work up to being the creative director of a womenswear brand. I love the idea of leading a design team.”
She’s already getting national attention. Twice she has won the prestigious Fashion Scholarship Fund Case Study Scholarship, a program that supports promising fashion students. For the most recent study, applicants were challenged to design a line dedicated to satisfying Generation Z’s unique buying habits. “My line revolved around a recyclable textile I designed,” she says. “The textile is made from leftover fabric waste that is created when factories cut out patterns for clothing production.”
Huntley describes herself as “very detail-oriented. I like analyzing situations from as many angles as possible.”
Her personal style is a hodgepodge of different fashion genres. “One day you’ll find me in a soft floral sundress, the next day I’m in a leather jacket and combat boots.”
OSU’s Department of Design, Housing and Merchandising will present its annual Euphoria Fashion Show in a virtual format this year. The work of fashion design students, including eight seniors as well as sophomores and juniors, will be showcased April 16. For information, go to https://education.okstate.edu/departments-programs/design-housing-merchandising/euphoria-fashion-show/index.html