COVID-19 effect on fashion’s graduating Class of 2020

Fashion students have been left reeling as the coronavirus shuts down their schools and wipes out all promise of graduate fashion shows and portfolio presentation events. As a snapshot of the larger global picture, FashionUnited interviews four students from Ohio’s Kent State University whose sense of anticlimax has replaced the camaraderie usually experienced by a graduating cohort concluding its four-year odyssey. Dispersed and contemplating a radically diminished industry, they are reexamining their ambitions and voicing their fears.

Sage Dye’s unisex, sustainable ready-to-wear, Anthropyre, is inspired by a personal experience in which a 15-year-old boy caused a forest fire that raged in her hometown for 3 months and destroyed the forests she loved as a child. Exploring the modern relationship between humans and nature, and how an environment can heal after being corrupted, she created raw-edged pieces from fully recycled or dead stock yarns, threads, and fabrics, with emphasis on hand embroidery and knitting.

COVID-19 effect on fashion’s graduating Class of 2020

How does it feel to learn the fashion show has been cancelled?

I've been working on my thesis for a year and a half now, so it's quite heartbreaking to have finally completed the collection but not have a chance to celebrate and display my work with my peers. We spent all year hyping up the show, and being able to introduce ourselves as designers. I understand we're all making sacrifices during this time, but I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me.

How would you describe your general state of mind?

I've been trying to take things day by day. I am staying in Kent since my family lives on the other side of the country where the virus is much worse, and every day there's new information coming out that feels scary and unknown. I'm trying to stay positive, and focused on making art and making the most of the social distancing.

Are you thinking of other ways you can get your work out there and seen?

I think the world’s digital presence has never been greater so I am trying to photograph my collection myself right now, letting this experience influence how I look at it. I am incredibly proud of my work, and still want to share my voice. I think more than ever, art is so important to our well being.

Have you given any thought to the job search that inevitably follows thesis completion?

To be frank, I was fully expecting to have a job by the end of March. I went from having interviews lined up and feeling very comfortable about my future to total chaos within the course of a few days. It still feels very surreal, and I think my career is what I have the most fear about right now. I don't expect many brands to be hiring in the coming months, and I'm hoping that as long as I stay creative and hardworking, I'll be ready.

Is there any silver lining to come out of all this?

I think I'm going to come out of this situation much stronger, and more sure of the people around me. I've been forced to look at my relationships with others, with my family, my future, and my art, with new eyes. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have time to focus on my work and have so much to draw from. I'm focusing on good food, meaningful work, and connecting with my loved ones. I think that's pretty amazing.

COVID-19 effect on fashion’s graduating Class of 2020

Shannon Marshburn’s conscious techwear-focused collection addresses the mindless consumerism and overproduction that has pushed the environment and earth’s resources to breaking point. Her range of core pieces featuring unique elements of unconventional linings, natural textiles and new dye processes, is designed to stay out of landfill.

How does it feel to learn the fashion show has been cancelled?

It’s heartbreaking to hear that the event I have been looking forward to and working towards for the last four years is not going to happen––as well as so many things within the fashion show: the catalogue containing our collections and bios, the immediate recognition of our work, the photoshoots and other collaborations with amazing creative minds within the fashion school. There is an empty hole in me because it happened so suddenly and the other students and I never got to properly round out our year with the celebration it deserved. It may seem dramatic, but this is our life. We are students, our life is academic, this was our time to really hit it hard and all was going so great–-now we are left with our collections hanging in garment bags in our apartment closets.

How would you describe your general state of mind?

I was numb for a while. After turning in our collections, every day we received news about the school closing for a short time, then for the rest of the semester, then came all the cancelations of events and the university making students move out of dorms and back home. It was one obstacle after another but I kept trying to stay positive. But it’s a dangerous situation and we can’t play ignorant to the current health threats so as devastated as I am I try to remind myself that everyone is in the same boat, and it is a time where we all need to slow down and collectively take a break, and a break sounds good for now.

Are you thinking of other ways you can get your work out there and seen?

Yes, and that is one way I am keeping a more positive mindset. With so many social distancing guidelines and the university shutting, sending so many potential models and photographers who lived on campus home, it’s another obstacle, but this is where creative people strive. The fashion school president and our instructors know well how much work we all put into the fashion show, they understand more than anyone how devastating this is, so they have been trying their best to have options for us.

Have you given any thought to the job search that inevitably follows thesis completion?

Yes and no. Before the completion date I was completely focused on my collection, hoping that it would pay off on the runway and create exposure with the sponsors and industry professionals in attendance. We were also gearing up for the portfolio review with a panel of professionals, to interview with them and share our portfolio, and the top students get chosen to present their work in NYC with more industry and job scouts. I was really looking forward to both of these opportunities to help me in the job search. With those avenues changed, I have my mom poking at me every day to job search. Kent State has a great post-graduate program. Now that I have more time I will be figuring out all of those fun details.

Is there any silver lining to come out of all this?

I have yet to see a big silver lining to the cancelation of my last four years. If there is one though, I would say it’s seeing how strong all of my fellow students are and how resilient we can be. If this is how our careers are going to start, if we can still strive and create beautiful things in isolation, then it is a good sign that we can take on anything.

COVID-19 effect on fashion’s graduating Class of 2020

Abigail Rudolph’s thesis “Urban Desert” reflects on two environmental extremes she has experienced, the city and the desert, which she translated by juxtaposing tailoring with draping, pleating with soft folds, quilting with embroidered florals or prints.

How does it feel to learn the fashion show has been cancelled?

Definitely had some good cries over this one. While I fully understand the need for it, I wish the director of our school would have considered rescheduling for early fall. On a basic level, fashion design is a 3D art and meant to be experienced that way. The fashion show is many things. It is not only what we have been working towards for a year and a half since declaring our BFA degree, but it is also the only moment where we as students have the opportunity to come together with each other, family and friends, and celebrate what we have spent so many sleepless nights and long days working towards. It’s like our commencement ceremony with speakers, alumni and potential employers in attendance. Seeing the amazing things that my classmates have achieved and knowing first hand what it took them to get there, I feel sad for my class as a whole.

How would you describe your general state of mind?

This is a challenging question; it’s in flux much like the changing situation of our nation. There are lots of social movements promoting positivity and “artists supporting artists” which are great. In a time when we have feelings of loss, anxiety and uncertainty, these movements promote checking in on each other. It has been hard for me rapidly shifting from being with my classmates so many hours of the day to being alone in my apartment with no sense of closure or celebration. Thankfully we live in a digital age and have Zoom and Facetime. As for my collection, it took me a while to look at it and face the ongoing requirements for school like our thesis magazine, which still needs photographs. One can imagine how hard those are to get now. It is unfortunate to have to work on something that would have been so exciting to put together but now feels so compromised and more like picking a scab, quite honestly.

Are you thinking of other ways you can get your work out there and seen?

I am, but none that I can jump on as of now. I recently saw a GoFundMe in London for 2020 fashion grads to have a student funded show in the fall. That was exciting to see and I hope more opportunities like that will pop up in the US.

Have you given any thought to the job search that inevitably follows thesis completion?

This is a concern I’m sure all graduates have, given our slide into recession. I have told myself with the upcoming job losses everywhere, the chance of me getting hired won’t be likely until late this year, if that. Probably I will have to stay local for longer than I would have liked and work freelance. A recent Kent grad in the NY fashion industry told me to not lose hope, so I’m trying to focus on finishing out this school year.

Is there any silver lining to come out of all this?

I am not sure that I have found one just yet, maybe in time. It has been cool to see some big players in the fashion industry flipping over their production to help, from Christian Siriano and Dov Charney stepping up to produce masks and gowns for medical staff to LVMH producing hand sanitizer. Maybe after all this we’ll see a greater demand for Made in America as we support bringing back our economy and greater appreciation for our local businesses.

COVID-19 effect on fashion’s graduating Class of 2020

Alexandra Laurenzo’s collection, But The Muses Were Not Silent, is inspired by the suppression of the Soviet Union and the will and strength of the Russian people in spite of it. Merging a sense of elegance with steadfastness, her contemporary evening wear reinterprets traditional Russian costume fused with aspects of the State approved Soviet Art movements. Traditional motifs that made an impact on her childhood emerge in embroidery and hand work such as honeycombing and wool appliqué celebrating the cultural importance of artistry, craftsmanship and creative expression in the face of hardship.

How does it feel to learn the fashion show has been cancelled?

We learned that the show was postponed in the middle of our first day of industry critiques. We then had to combine both days of critiques into one, since the campus would be shutting down that evening. That was the first shock. From that point on we all knew that the possibility of the show getting canceled was very real, so when the news came that Friday that the university would be closed for the semester it was stunning but not entirely surprising. I was and still am very depressed about it. While I'm fully aware that it’s a necessary measure to combat the spread of the virus, it's hard to process. I've sacrificed so much of my senior year to constant work, put a lot of money into the collection to make sure it could be as authentic as possible and 16 hour days in studio were the norm. All of it felt worthwhile knowing that my work would be presented at the end. Now while I'm still extremely proud of having completed the collection, it's hard not to feel extremely disappointed that I won't get the gratification of seeing it on the runway. It's difficult to put into words because the emotions are so complicated and there isn't anyone to be mad at or disappointed in.

How would you describe your general state of mind?

Everything about this situation still feels surreal. All of the things I set as motivators for myself to get through every all nighter and push through are essentially gone. Anything I do now is for myself and to better myself. But, I've also been given a lot of time to catch up on work and sleep and relaxation. So my general state of mind could be described as messy. I find myself super grateful at times, at other times I find myself overcome by sadness and feeling like I wasted a lot of time, money and sanity which I'm not sure will ever feel justified. Also, the switch from having every second of my day planned and barely spending any time in my house to suddenly having no structure and being home all day is definitely a shock.

Are you thinking of other ways you can get your work out there and seen?

I'm really banking on getting great photoshoots of my work. I found a very talented photographer who understands my vision, and we're excited to work together. I'll be pushing the imagery through my Instagram and other online platforms, and my website. It's just a matter of how to properly photoshoot with social-distancing and self quarantine. There are several design competitions that I could still submit to after graduation, permitting they still run this year, which would be another great platform to try and get my name out there.

Have you given any thought to the job search that inevitably follows thesis completion?

Oh my, the job search. I've looked forward to it and dreaded it for the past four years. Once I'm finished perfecting my portfolio, put together my thesis magazine, and fully updated my website I'll be ready to jump down the rabbit hole of searching and applying for jobs. It's a process I don't really want to rush right now, especially as the world feels at a standstill. I don't want to be passed up by a company I aspire to work for because of something I didn't really take time to perfect. I am very anxious about what the job market will look like.

Is there any silver lining to come out of all this?

In regards to the show itself being cancelled, I can't find a very convincing silver lining. But in regards to how the rest of my life has been affected, I'm so grateful to actually be able to get a full night’s sleep, and have more time on my portfolio. I adopted a cat to keep me company in self-quarantine, and I'm super grateful for him. Still, aside from that I really do wish that I could graduate and present my body of work like all the past years of BFA students, and to experience that moment of pride. But in the end, this is what life looks like right now.

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photos by Cori Matlock, Matlock Photography, and Lisa Helland

 

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