Rising Stars: Let’s Talk Fashion and Collaboration

Posted December 20, 2015 in Alumni, Collaborative Design, Fashion Studies

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015/2016 issue of Portfolio. View the complete issue here.

Finding an unmet need and filling that niche is the story of the American dream. It also sums up the experience of two new Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) programs and the first students to graduate from them.

Fashion Studies and Collaborative Design were added to KCAD’s curriculum in 2011, creating two new majors that would equip students for 21st-century careers. Each program saw its first graduates walk across the stage at this year’s commencement ceremony in May.

The unique Fashion Studies program at KCAD’s Pamella Roland DeVos School of Fashion was built to serve a need for world-class fashion education in the Midwest. KCAD students benefit from a strong design foundation and introduction to the industry, allowing them to enter the competitive field of fashion with a solid skill set and professional connections. This full four-year program includes the opportunity to spend a year in New York at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and has grown its enrollment to 50 students from an initial cohort of nine. Its comprehensive approach covers everything from handmade processes to design technology. To date, every Fashion Studies student who has applied to spend his or her senior year at the extremely competitive FIT has been accepted, and two more KCAD students will begin the program next year.

Program Chair Lori Faulkner also places a strong focus on collaborative community projects. Just in the past year, her students designed costumes for Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet, collaborated with Spectrum Health Innovations to create garments for children with neuromuscular diseases, and produced fashion shows for the April 2015 DisArt Festival, the opening of the Ferris State University Fine Art Gallery, and the historic Felt Mansion in Holland, MI. “These real-life design experiences give the students instant feedback on their work and allow them to see how their work affects other people,” Faulkner says. “It’s also a great opportunity to create community connections.”

garment designed by Fashion Studies student for children with neuromuscular diseases(above): Garments designed by Fashion Studies students for children with neuromuscular diseases were showcased at the DisArt Fashion Show; (below): Fashion Studies student-designed garment from the "Disparate Elements: A Steampunk Revolution" event, which celebrated the opening of the Ferris State University Fine Art Gallery

garment from the Steampunk Fashion Event

At the end of the program, graduates emerge with a wide range of skills to work in many areas of the fashion industry. The first Fashion Studies graduates have already embarked on their careers, with Joanna Bronicki working as a creative assistant for a menswear label in New York and Matthew Poszgay serving as a supervisor at a newly opened Calvin Klein Store and styling photo shoots for a modeling agency.

Poszgay says, “KCAD’s Fashion Studies program lets you focus on your strengths as a designer. I’ve always loved graphic design, and I was allowed to create my own prints and brand my own company for my collection.” The strong sense of design he developed at KCAD has already proved valuable in Poszgay’s career, and he expects it to provide a solid foundation when he moves to New York City in the near future. “I definitely see a need for my graphic abilities and fashion eye,” he says. “There are not a lot of people who have that particular skill set. I’ve realized how valuable it is, and the modeling agency reminds me every day, telling me they’re so glad I’m here!”

The Collaborative Design program is also going strong, equipping students with design thinking and problem-solving skills that will help them understand, advocate, and facilitate good design wherever they go. Program Chair Gayle DeBruyn says, “This is the beginning of our fourth year and we are at a healthy 28 majors and 10 minors. Each year, we’ve added additional courses. With this growth we also see new and exciting faculty filling our ranks.”

In 2014-15, the program welcomed KCAD alumna Laurel Stanley (’99, Visual Communications), an expert UX designer, to teach a course on Service Design, and Marjorie Steel, a poet working in copy writing, to teach a Business Side of Design course. Other instructors are active professionals working in architecture, interior design, improvisation, industrial design, communications, sculpture, and digital media.

Like Fashion Studies, Collaborative Design has engaged in a variety of community projects to provide real-life experience and professional contacts, including work with the DisArt Festival and Goodwill. Internships provide another avenue for students to develop and test their skills. “Our current students are finding summer internships working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on the promotion of state parks, The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum on waste stream metrics, and Visual Hero as design support,” says DeBruyn. “Current graduates are off to explore their passions in community projects, join family businesses and begin their own entrepreneurial endeavors.”

Bluescape at Haworth(above): Collaborative Design students exploring Bluescape, a wall-size touchscreen in Haworth's Holland, M headquarters; (below): Collaborative Design student presenting in class

Collaborative Design student presenting

Recent Collaborative Design grad Leah Cannaert, now working as Assistant Creative Director at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, says the most valuable part of her education was the connections. “We did several semesterlong projects with outside organizations and got a lot of awesome real-world experience. It definitely helps you prepare for the real world when you’re working with a real client. I was able to do an exhibit design project where I met a really cool local designer, and last summer, I did an internship at ArtPrize that led to my current job.” In the future, Cannaert hopes her education will take her even further, enabling her to land her dream job at a graphic design firm on the West Coast.

Steve Bender, who also graduated from the program last spring, says, “For me, the highlight was all the different people who came in to speak with us. We had a broad range of introductions and connections, ranging from nonprofits like Goodwill to for-profit companies.” While Bender is currently overseeing the landscaping business he began in college, he is also exploring possibilities that relate to his career.

“This degree allows me to go anywhere I want to take it. Design thinking gives you the tools to tackle any problem from your business to your personal life. It changes the way you look at things and gives you guidance to make sure you’re asking the right questions and going in the right direction. It really opens the doors. I use it all the time.”

Expect to hear more about rising stars and successful careers as these two programs continue to grow and enrich their fields