Graduating fashion majors will tell their stories through their collections in upcoming event

At last week’s “Sneak Preview” for CCAD’s 2018 Senior Fashion Show, to be held May 11, visitors were greeted inside the rooftop bar at Juniper, atop the former Smith Bros. Hardware, with a large, sculptural sign: “COLUMBUS IS FASHION.” And while that statement might appear a bit bold, the six graduating students whose work was being showcased at the event were themselves a kind of Exhibit A. Several of the fashion majors said in interviews that they hope to stay and work in the Columbus area after graduation.

Senior Kathryn Geraci, for instance, has already lined up a job at the New Albany-based Abercrombie & Fitch for next year. Chelsea Funk is working to convince Justice (also in New Albany) that they should hire her to create adaptive clothing for tweens with disabilities. And Erica Rodney, who came to CCAD in 2002 from St. Croix, left to join the U.S. Marines and is now back getting an MFA, is eager to work at Express.

While many of the students said that ultimately they would like to develop their own line or brand, the availability of real jobs with actual salaries–8,200 of them in our local fashion and retail industry headquarters and distribution centers, according to Columbus 2020—offers an excellent reason to stay after graduation. Columbus has the third-highest concentration of fashion designers in the country, behind New York City and Los Angeles.

But while many of the graduating students are looking to big-brand retailers for work after graduation, their designs are anything but mainstream. Luyao Zhang, who goes by “Echo,” brought to the event an intricate white dress made from knitted strands of yarn that she braided, then sewed together into a free-form creation with a knitted, ruffed collar and a train. Her grandmother and mother knitted clothes for her when she was a child in China, she says, but she “was not into knitwear. I thought it was not trendy.” Now she’s interested in continuing in knitwear—whether or not she will be hand-knitting the pieces.

The stories the student designers shared at the event were a natural fit for the celebrity guest of the evening, New York Times style columnist Emily Spivack, who did a Q & A session with the students for the assembled crowd. Spivack’s Worn Stories project, about clothing and memories, has spawned two books. “I think about clothing in a way that’s not just fashion with a capital F,” she told the crowd. “It’s about the things we put on our body and why we wear them and what they say about who we are.”

That message resonated with Rodney, who showed a cape and pants set from her collection, “Kanekalon #1.” The collection features elements made from artificial black hair. “When I was searching for a material that could represent me, I landed on hair,” she says. “My mom braided with this hair. Many women of color for years have used this. Hair is very important to fashion in my culture.”

Funk, who grew up in Columbus, also incorporated her own story into her collection. Funk is missing a hand and part of her left arm due to amniotic band syndrome, and she struggled with buttons and zippers as a child. She presented an outfit specially made for a boy in a wheelchair, with zippers at the ankles to accommodate leg braces, a comfy ribbed waistband and a zipper opening for his feeding tube. “There are over 56 million differently-abled people in America who aren’t being served by the fashion industry,” she says. “This is something I can help with.”

You can see the students’ full collections, along with those of nine others, at the annual CCAD Fashion Show, May 11 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Early-bird tickets are on sale through March 31. Funds raised at the event support student scholarships.