By Cynthia Drake, M.A. '08
Reprinted from Centralight Spring 2016
Most college students hope for just one promising job or internship possibility when they graduate.
Fashion design major Kaitlin Slack, '14, had three before her senior year ended.
The offers included one from her current employer, Michigan Fashion Proto, a Lansing-based short-run fashion manufacturing facility. Slack also was named a designer-in-residence at Lansing's fashion incubator The Runway, and earned a mentorship with New York City designer Daniel Vosovik, a finalist on "Project Runway."
Slack, along with 90 percent of CMU fashion merchandising and design graduates, are raising the university's profile as they work for some of the top American brands including Target, Victoria's Secret and Kohl's.
Fashion merchandising and design assistant professor Michael Mamp, himself a 1996 program grad, says the department's rigorous standards consistently earn rankings in the top 20 programs nationwide.
That makes CMU uniquely positioned to launch careers into an American fashion industry that some say is on the cusp of exploding.
Who are you wearing?
Natalie Schild, '05, is a lead textile designer for Target in the company's Minneapolis headquarters. If you've purchased girls' apparel from Target that includes graphics, plaids, stripes and other prints, chances are good that those are Schild's designs.
In 2013, she proposed an idea for matching family pajamas. Target produced them, and the PJs were still being scooped up during the 2015 holiday season. She also curated an artwork assortment at a Target pop-up shop in New York City, where guests could have an item printed on-demand for free.
"Every product I work on is very rewarding, because Target reaches such a large audience. It's so fun seeing people wearing my designs," says Schild, who has traveled throughout Asia and the U.S. for her job.
Fellow fashion design graduate Stephanie Todoroff, '10, is a designer for Abercrombie and Fitch. Her work involves painting and designing assorted prints and patterns, embellishments and embroideries for a variety of women's separates.
"I am most proud when I see the final product come together in the store," she says. "It's also really exciting to see people on the street wearing something that I worked on or painted."
Michigan stakes its claim in America's fashion renaissance
Both Mamp and Slack say the U.S. – and Michigan in particular – is enjoying somewhat of a fashion renaissance. Consider Detroit, where the city is establishing a garment district. The Detroit Garment Group just launched the state's first industrial sewing certificate program.
And in Lansing, the Runway is Michigan's first incubator focused only on fashion design. Slack is now in her second year there as designer-in-residence, which gives her access to industrial equipment, work space and networking opportunities.
Since 2010, the American Apparel & Footwear Association has noted that overall domestic apparel manufacturing has grown more than 15 percent. Kurt Salmon, a global management consulting firm, estimates that this trend will continue for the next few years, building on a growing demand for higher-quality, American-made products and faster fashion.
"It is all very exciting," Mamp says of the increased focus on domestic goods production. "And millennials are thinking differently about work and how to work than any previous generation. There is a greater focus on quality and sustainability, and these ideas are impacting the development of artisan-based fashion startups across the country."
Slack's professional trajectory aligns perfectly with that renaissance, since she has been learning more about the manufacturing side of the industry at Proto, while launching her own ready-to-wear brand, Bad Latitude (badlat.com). The brand features knitwear pieces aimed at millennial-aged women who travel.
Among the most popular items are an oversized infinity scarf that can double as a skirt and a craft tank that can be worn as a dress or a slip.
"(Fashion) is crucial to the state, not only because it's actually cheaper to mass-produce clothing here, but because we're losing this skill," says Slack, whose own brand is committed to manufacturing in-house – always.
Her brand launch is already receiving positive reviews from boutiques across the country.
Bright outlook for innovative textiles
Beyond traditional fashions, CMU's Fashion Merchandising and Design program also prepares students for the next wave of clothing and textiles.
The smart textile market – including the use of nanotechnology in fabrics so apparel can do things such as repel water and stains – is expected to grow from $700 million to $7.7 billion by 2023, according to Transparency Market Research.
CMU has been making strides
in researching smart textiles and bringing students on board for years, making use of state-of-the-art technologies such as a 3D body scanner, 3D replicator, thermal camera, environmental chamber, sweating thermal mannequin, virtual reality chamber and CAD lab.
"This type of innovation regarding textiles is incredibly valuable to students in their future careers," Mamp says.