Students realize what a passion for fashion entails

Paige Miller

The Student Center Governance Chambers seats filled with students hungry to learn about the fashion industry from an esteemed panel of professionals at the MODIvation Conference on Saturday.

Modista Fashion Group created the MODIvation Conference to help students from all majors engage in a conversation, allowing them to gain insight into career paths in the fashion industry.

“Thank you to the attendees, you are the reason for everything we do,” said Lauren Lithgow, president of Modista.

Modista was founded in 2008 in order to unite individuals who are interested in fashion. Since 2008, Modista has grown into an organization with over 90 active members across a spectrum of majors and interests. To align with their mission, they hope to create an annual conference to continue educating individuals with a passion for fashion.

J.R. Campbell, director of the Fashion School, shared extensive background knowledge about the importance of fashion and how fashion can perpetuate a message much bigger than all of us.

“What we wear not only represents who we are, but reflects our culture and environment,” Campbell said.

Campbell focused on the need for diversity and working with a variety of disciplines to create an intricate form of communication through design.

“We have been in contact with textiles since we were born,” Campbell said. “You can use the phrase ‘Fashion and…’ with anything from technology to health; it has meaning.”

The panel discussion started with an audience Q&A, before offering intimate breakout sessions with multiple professionals.

Kori Fields, a freelance fashion blogger and stylist, as well as the co-founder of Modista at Kent State, kicked off the discussion.

“You kind of have to be a little crazy,” Fields said. “You need to be able to think out of the box; don’t be afraid to go up to people and put yourself out there. You need to be able to balance craziness and professionalism.”

The panel also discussed the importance of preparedness, persistence and commitment when pursuing a career in fashion.

Helen Castillo, an independent fashion designer and former contestant on Project Runway, stressed the importance of showing initiative.

“I can’t stress this to you guys enough: it’s not about you, it’s about your work,” Castillo said. “People judge a book by its cover, especially in fashion, you want them to look at your portfolio before anything else. You have to be professional and stay on their radar.”

The panel held a general consensus that diversity is the main force behind fashion.

“Be yourself, do your research and bring something different to the table,” Fernando Maldonado, regional visual commercial manager for Zara, USA, said. “If people are saying black and blue, bring the pink in.”

Panelist Dr. Tameka Ellington started her career specializing in technical design and apparel manufacturing at Kent State in 2005, and she encouraged students seeking career opportunities in fashion to have an open mind.

“If you know you want to do evening wear, but an opportunity comes up to do something else, don’t dismiss it—you’ll limit yourself,” Dr. Ellington advised. “You can’t have tunnel vision; be open to what new challenges and eventually you’ll have enough skills and experience to get where you want to be.”

Kent State alum, Marissa Valentino, said she started a career in fashion as junior account executive for Tommy Hilfiger, and she has also worked with fashion empires such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

“I wish someone would’ve told me, before you start in the industry, you’re going to be someone’s receptionist…I was,” Valentino said. “Those positions are the foundation for any other job, don’t look at the title and don’t take it for granted.”

Valerie Mayen, another Project Runway contestant, also joined the educated panel of fashion professionals and emphasized the importance of authenticity in fashion.

Valentino emphasized the importance of finding one’s passion in fashion and considering what area of fashion bets fits an individual after holding several positions in the industry.

“Those six months being in sales, I realized my place,” Valentino said. “The lowest of lows will catapult you to the highest of highs.”

“You have to learn how to navigate on your own in the industry as best as you can, opportunities can come up but you have to do what’s best for you,” Mayen said. “Be authentic, stick to what you know and be wise about it.”

The panel agreed students must fully commitment themselves to discovering their role in the fashion industry in order to have a rewarding career in fashion. Campbell emphasized the need to step out of one’s comfort zone to be successful.

Paige Miller is the fashion reporter, contact her at [email protected].