KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Samantha Morehead has always had a passion for fashion, and now she will have the chance to rub elbows with some of the industry's top designers. As the winner of Western Michigan University's inaugural New York Fashion Week Competition, she will attend one of the most significant events in the fashion world.
"If you told me freshman year that I'd be going to New York my senior year to attend New York Fashion Week, I would have laughed at you," says Morehead, who will graduate in April with a Bachelor of Business Administration concentrated in marketing.
The ability to tailor her resume with a fashion merchandising minor is what brought her to Western in the first place. It's a decision that's now paying dividends toward her dream.
“You can count on one hand the number of colleges and universities in the entire state of Michigan that offer a program and an opportunity like this,” says Alixe Holcomb, the University's trademarks and licensing consultant.
"I'm a first-generation college student. My family is ecstatic," adds Morehead, who grew up in Clarkston, Michigan. "My dad was emotional and in disbelief. Having this opportunity on behalf of the University is astounding; I'm still in shock. I may not get over it until I'm on the plane to New York. I cannot thank Western enough."
The experience is a collaboration between Western; Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), the University's trademark and licensing agency; and global event, fashion and sport leader IMG. Morehead will join a select group of about 20 students from colleges nationwide in a special behind-the-scenes tour of New York Fashion Week, which runs Feb. 11 to 16. The group will get a peek behind the curtain of some of fashion's most significant events—from runway shows and panel discussions to interactive design opportunities.
"An opportunity like this exposes the students to the fast-paced, exciting and multitrillion-dollar global apparel industry," says Kelly Weathers, a faculty specialist in fashion merchandising and design as well as Merchandising Opportunity and Design Association (MODA) advisor. "New York is the fashion capital of the world, and the experiential learning they will receive on this trip will open their eyes to so many possibilities. I believe it will change their lives."
Western's competition in November 2021 was open to all members of the MODA registered student organization. Participants had to provide transcripts and a letter of recommendation as well as write an essay about why they would represent Western well at New York Fashion Week.
A group of finalists was chosen to compete for the grand prize: designing three to five looks for collegiate apparel, conveying what it means to them to be a Bronco.
The fashion merchandising and design program is part of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Education and Human Development.
"I started researching what people already wear and what was coming into style," says finalist Grace Stibich, a product design and innovation student from Troy, Michigan. She used the opportunity to put what she'd learned in her business classes and entrepreneurial electives to work. "I wanted to create clothes with the Western logo but not in your face, so you could wear it other places."
Morehead also got to work, employing her consumer research skills.
"I looked at what students were posting on Instagram and what they were actually wearing at tailgates," she says. She also sent a survey out to female students to get the pulse of what they wore to pre-game festivities and what they wanted out of their clothing.
A panel of judges made up of fashion merchandising and design faculty, Office of Marketing and Strategic Communications staff and students weighed in on each student's collection. They saw a wide range of styles, from retro patchwork overalls and corduroy jackets to jerseys and vintage vests.
“The students' designs blew me away with their levels of creativity they came up with. It was beyond my expectation," says Dr. Mary Simpson, assistant professor of fashion merchandising and design. "That speaks to the strength of both the academic program and each student’s commitment to their personal success.”
Morehead's Western-inspired collection that included a patchwork crop top, pleated tennis skirt and casual tops won top praise from the judges. But they also had a surprise twist for the finalists: Morehead wasn't the only big winner. Runner-up Stibich also earned a trip to the Big Apple for New York Fashion Week's fall run in September 2022.
"At first when I found out I wasn't going in the spring, I was really bummed. But then I was very excited to keep reading the letter and learn that I would be going in the fall!" Stibich says. "I love Western and can't wait to advocate for it at New York Fashion Week."
While finalist Julia Lekander didn't score one of the big tickets—at least not this year—she's encouraged by the experience and sings the praises of Western's program, where she's racking up the skills she needs to be successful in the industry.
"Don't underestimate Western," says Lekander, of suburban Chicago, who transferred to WMU for the fashion merchandising and design program. "It's a close-knit community where you get one-on-one attention. We get incredible lessons from our instructors. Even my small community college couldn't offer this intensive, one-on-one attention. Western is game-changing."
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