A new generation of fashion designers learned how to get ahead in the industry last week.

Celebrity designer Christian Cowan, headliner of Fashion Week Columbus, shared his experiences in the industry during a Fashion Meets Philanthropy session at Columbus College of Art and Design Thursday night. Cowan spoke about his inspirations, balancing business with art and his meteoric rise to fame due to his work with pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Cardi B.

After a reception in the lobby of the Joseph V. Canzani Center on CCAD’s campus, fashion design students draped in loud patterns, edgy leather, and vibrantly dyed hair filed into the auditorium to hear from one of the brightest stars in the current fashion scene. The event provided a thrilling chance for budding young designers to hear first-hand how their personal brand could blow up overnight.

Ryder Teach, a junior in fashion design at CCAD, says he has been following Cowan for about a year. “Something like this, it really shows you that it’s worth it.” Teach says. “It’s possible, and it’s inspiring.”

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Cowan, himself, is not far out of fashion school. It was in his first year at Central Saint Martins art school in London in 2014 when his designs were noticed by award-winning pop singer He claims that Gaga’s music was playing on repeat as he created the designs. Not yet knowing how to properly sew, he glued the pieces together. After a friend of Cowan posted the looks on Instagram, he was contacted by Gaga’s team. “As a creative kid in the middle of nowhere in England, she was such an inspiration for me,” he told Thursday’s audience.

Soon, Cowan was designing for pop artists across the U.S, even loaning out his school projects to stars such as Miley Cyrus. Music, he said, is always a huge inspiration for him. That inspiration shows in both his boldly patterned looks and the people who often wear them. It was Cowan’s design that Cardi B donned on the cover of her 2018 album “Invasion of Privacy.”

Throughout the talk, Cowan described his origins, his inspirations, and his struggles in the fashion industry. The students in the audience hung on his every word as he laid out his strategy for building his brand. Cowan cited social media as the foundation for his success. It is where he was discovered, and where he conducts much of his business. Student questions at the end of the event were all laser focused on how to grow the business end of a brand. Still, Cowan stressed the passion that is necessary to make it in the industry.

“You’ve got to express yourself in this world. The world’s so busy, but also we’re in such an oversaturated industry with so many people trying to get into it. So you’ve got to do something that’s uniquely you,” he said.

Afterward, eager students lined up to meet the famed designer. Events like this represent a small part of the close relationship between CCAD and the Columbus Fashion Council, the nonprofit that organizes Fashion Week Columbus and supports designers in the city year-round. In addition to events such as Philanthropy Meets Fashion, the council offers scholarships and a platform for young designers.

Cowan says he is proud to be a part of an event like this, designed to inspire and uplift new voices in the fashion industry. “If I had had more opportunities to get real talks from people in the industry who give a realistic perspective of it, it would have helped me so much. I always want to help students achieve their dreams,” he says.

Cowan joined seven other designers at Saturday’s finale event for Fashion Week Columbus, where the most extravagant and cutting edge looks of the week made their debut. Cowan thinks that smaller markets, such as Columbus, can produce a uniqueness needed in the fashion world.

“Everyone’s much more authentic,” he says. “I think in the large cities a lot of fake bravado comes around, and everyone’s trying to be something they’re not. I like that people [in smaller markets] are like hard working and creative and talented and they really focus on the creative element of the industry. They aren’t here for clout.”