Contributing Writer: Wendy Anderson, MTSU Multimedia Journalism, Fashion Merchandising
As Nashville’s population continues to grow, so do its industries — specifically fashion. According to the Nashville Fashion Alliance, the fashion industry in Nashville employs over 16 thousand people and is contributing over 5.9 billion dollars to the economy. Nashville also has the greatest concentration of independent fashion companies, aside from New York and Los Angeles. In order to foster this influx of talented fashion industry professionals in Nashville, Nashville Fashion Week was born in 2010. The organization works hand-in-hand with the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund, which is an annual award given to a fashion industry professional that supplies the recipient with a financial award and professional development opportunities.
Due to the region’s growing fashion industry, MTSU’s Textiles, Merchandising, and Design program (TXMD) has also seen exponential growth in recent years. The program became involved with Nashville Fashion Week and the Nashville Forward Fund about four years ago after the TXMD department noticed an opportunity for its students to get involved. The partnership sprouted after Nashville Fashion Week offered a few volunteer positions for TXMD students, but has since grown into a larger, more unique experience for the TXMD department.
“We established a partnership when (Nashville Fashion Week) invited us to be a part of the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund. That partnership led to back-of-house opportunities, and this year it went way beyond just the back-of-house stuff,” TXMD professor Dr. Rick Cottle explained.
Students working back-of-house are in charge of helping designers and models in order to assure that the runway shows run smoothly. Alumna Ayana Ife graduated from the TXMD program and went on to compete in season 16 of “Project Runway” and become the runner-up. She explained how her experience at MTSU gave her the confidence to go after her dreams.
“My experience at MTSU was awesome…The relationship that I have with my professors is very intimate, very personable, one-on-one. I can come to them and ask questions…I feel like it offered a solid foundation for me to have the confidence to go out and do ‘Project Runway’ and do different things like that,” Ife explained.
During her time at MTSU, she also volunteered with Nashville Fashion Week through the TXMD program in 2013.
“It was crazy! We did production and set up. So, we set up all the shows, broke down all the shows, and I (worked) the whole week,” she said. “It was very late nights…but it was totally worth it.”
This year, a few of MTSU’s TXMD students were offered lead positions in the back-of-house team. Rachel Crasnow is an apparel design major and was the back-of-house lead for Anna Sui’s collection.
“One of the biggest things I got out of that experience was learning how to work with a team of people that you don’t really know very well…I also learned more about how a show is run and…(that) the thing that you see on the runway is just a minute based on how much work goes into it,” said Crasnow.
Crasnow went on to explain how exciting working with Anna Sui, who’s been described a legend in the fashion world throughout her long, successful career. Sui talked about how Nashville is the growing into the place to be if you’re in a creative field like the fashion industry.
“I’m so excited to be in Nashville…people are coming here because they can express themselves, be creative and have a great life…Everybody here is so energized, and I think this is what we need. We need to have this freedom to be able
to express ourselves, to be able to have a relief from the heavy economics of the bigger cities. This is where creativity comes from,” Sui explained.
MTSU’s TXMD back-of-house team also had the chance to work with two designers who are MTSU alumni: Leslie Stephens and Julianna Bass. Leslie Stephens’ brand is called Ola Mai, which is based in Nashville, and she presented her collection for this year’s Nashville Fashion Week Nashville Designer Showcase. Julianna Bass was the first recipient of the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund Award in 2011, and she presented a collection for this year’s Ready-to-Wear Designer Showcase. They both described their experience at MTSU as being great and giving their careers a strong start.
“MTSU gave me my foundation for my career. They gave me a very good start. I’ve kept a relationship with my professors and fellow students…we call each other about jobs and work…if you have a question about sewing, you can ask. We’re all so cool with each other, and that’s why I love Nashville and it’s fashion community,” said designer Leslie Stephens.
“I went to MTSU for undergrad and my experience there was great…and it truly built the foundation for my career and my continued education…The MTSU fashion show…was my first fashion show experience,” said designer Julianna Bass.
The TXMD department hosts a fashion show every spring, and any student is able to submit garments for the show. The theme varies year to year, and students enrolled in the fashion promotion class are responsible for running the show. From promotion to budgeting to production, students get a hands-on experience with what it’s like to produce a fashion show. This year’s theme was Starry Night, and apparel design major Anna Oleis won the Senior Collection category. For winning, she received a year’s membership to the Nashville Fashion Alliance, a yearlong mentorship, a scholarship and an all-access pass to Nashville Fashion Week’s events and runway shows. At these events and shows, Oleis had the opportunity to introduce herself to and talk with fashion industry professionals from all across the country.
Dr. Cottle said every year he asks the students who participate in Nashville Fashion Week to offer feedback about their experience, and the overwhelming response is that it’s an incredible opportunity to gain experience and network.
“The responses I get back every year from the students say that it is an invaluable experience. Number one, just for the experience of being there…but another (reason) is the contacts that they’re able to make” he said. “The people that go and work as young students, usually wind up going back in a larger role in the future…so it helps the career later on too.”
The TXMD department at MTSU is continuing to work hard to supply its students with incredibly unique opportunities like working with Nashville Fashion Week, and to expand that partnership into a more valuable experience for more students even outside the department. This year, the partnership also involved the Journalism department and MTSU’s Office of Marketing and Communications.
“This partnership has grown over the last four years…and will continue to grow,” Dr. Cottle said. “For any program that it applies to…there’s opportunities for students all the way across campus pretty much.”
Everyone is excited to see the relationship between MTSU and Nashville Fashion Week grow and evolve. For more information about the TXMD program, visit their website.