Student-led fashion marketing project marking hockey milestone hits market at Western

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University's Lawson Lunatics—recognized by the NCAA among the best fan sections in college hockey—have an extra reason to cheer this year: The Broncos are celebrating 50 years as a varsity team. A new merchandise line marks the milestone, and a group of Western students helped bring the vintage vibes to market.

"This generation has so much in the way of energy, style and awareness. We wanted to tap into that and give students a chance to shine in a real go-to-market campaign," says Steve Koich of Men's League Sweaters, a 2008 graduate of Western's public relations program. He connected with Madeline Fritz, a fashion merchandising student from Bloomingdale, Michigan, and made his pitch for marketing new vintage hockey jerseys and jackets. 

MODA models helped bring Madeline Fritz, Olivia Bolognia and Anna Vitale's vintage concept to life.

"This is the first professional opportunity that I have been given on this level," she says. "It opened my eyes and opened the door for me to think about different career paths. I've always been interested in creative direction for shoots because I'm not exactly a photographer. I'm not exactly a model and I'm not exactly a designer, but I love and I'm really good at bringing groups of creative people together and getting the show on the road. This project really helped me realize that's also what I have a passion for."

Fritz, who is also marketing director for Western's Merchandising Opportunities and Design Association (MODA), enlisted fellow fashion merchandising student and MODA vice president Olivia Bolognia, of suburban Chicago, to co-direct the project and booked Gwen Frostic School of Art student Anna Vitale, of New Buffalo, Michigan, for photography.

"When she reached out to me to take photos for this shoot, I was over the moon!" Vitale says. "It is extremely exciting to be able to do some professional work for the school I attend and to be able to show my school spirit in this unique way."

Koich calls empowering students to lead the project a "no brainer."

"What better way to honor this legacy than through the eyes of current students?" he says. "We put our trust in them and they ran with it to the moon."

Using the inspiration of a vintage mood board supplied by Koich, the Western contingent met a few times to coordinate a multiple day, four-location shoot that incorporated 15 different models. They styled a number of versatile looks to showcase the garments, sourcing accessories and clothing from Fritz's employer, Sizo & Peny Vintage, and set out to capture the models in authentic college environments like a pizza shop downtown and Lawson Ice Arena. 

Koich says he was "impressed but not surprised. They had my full confidence. From our first conversation, Madeline was professional, resourceful, with a clear passion to create." He adds, "As an alum, it's great to see students taking on a project like this and executing at a high level." 

The group's efforts are now live on the WMU Bookstore webpage.

"I've worked for small businesses and managed their social media and marketing, but being in charge of the marketing campaign and concept for the hockey team's 50th anniversary merch is on a whole other level for me," Fritz says. "I think it kind of opened my eyes and opened the door for me thinking about other career paths."

A photo of a clothing display inside the WMU Bookstore.

The 50th anniversary hockey merchandise is on sale now at the WMU Bookstore.

"I learned a lot from this opportunity," adds Bolognia. It was nice to be a co-director and learn how to lead a shoot as well as bounce off ideas with Madeline as the other co-director."

Vitale says her biggest takeaway from the project is the importance of collaborating with a team to move ambitious projects forward.

"I loved working with different creatives and models using all of our unique skills and ideas while bringing these photos to life," says Vitale. "WMU has set me up for success by introducing me to so many different people and helping me network and expand my career as a photographer. I am very thankful for the many different experiences and opportunities that are here at Western."

"All of us were able to bring the skills we gained from our classes to the shoot. Everything just aligned so well," adds Fritz. "This marketing concept for the hockey shoot ties perfectly into fashion merchandising because we're marketing clothing, collaborating with creatives and showcasing our skills while also bringing the models together—it's almost like seeing your thesis."

The 50th anniversary hockey line is available for purchase at the WMU Bookstore inside the WMU Student Center and online.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.