The fashion merchandising program at Oklahoma State University is shaking up the fashion world by providing its students unique learning opportunities both in and outside of the classroom.
Whether they’re planning music-inspired photo shoots at OSU’s satellite campus in New Mexico, designing content for the program’s student-run magazine or working behind the scenes to plan all the intricacies that go into a fashion show, students working in the fashion merchandising program are gaining important knowledge that translates into real-world skills in the fashion industry.
“Our students are always pushing us to look at things in new and different ways,” said Cosette Joyner Martinez, associate professor of visual communication in the Department of Design Housing and Merchandising at OSU. “We’re connected to an industry where we’re always reinventing something, so to work with young people who do that kind of work is so exciting.”
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The students learn the many ins and outs of the fashion industry, including much of the work that goes into creating and presenting a product to consumers, Martinez said.
OSU’s fashion merchandising students are taught the science of textiles, the complexities of product distribution, the process of creating a story for a brand to facilitate customer connection, the planning needed to achieve a fashion company’s financial goals and much more, Martinez said.
“Our fashion merchandising program is shaped around helping students understand the product itself and everything it takes to get that product to the customer from start to finish,” Martinez said.
Fashion merchandising students have diverse interests, Martinez said. Many graduates of the program pursue careers as fashion buyers, product developers or brand managers in the e-commerce space, while others choose to specialize in digital marketing, web content creation or personal styling.
“What’s exciting about our degree is how fundamentally versatile it is,” Martinez said. “Having a broad skill set makes our students very marketable because they can bend and flex and do a lot of different things in their careers.”
With the skills taught in the classroom and the hands-on learning experiences facilitated by OSU, the fashion merchandising program seeks to provide students with an unparalleled educational experience that will allow them to make a positive impact on the fashion industry.
“We try to impart to students that every decision we make in fashion affects the environment and other human beings — there’s a real responsibility in the choices we make,” Martinez said. “In our curriculum, we’re on a journey with students to figure out how to keep this $3 trillion dollar industry moving in a direction that connects people and helps them find their own personal expression in a healthy, positive way.”
Workshop in Taos, New Mexico
This past May, several fashion merchandising students traveled to the Doel Reed Center in Taos, New Mexico, for a two-week learning experience in editorial styling, led by Martinez.
The center is located in the former home and studio of Doel Reed, a noted printmaker and founding chair of OSU’s art department. Donated to OSU by Martha Reed, Doel’s daughter, the center is fulfilling her vision of an educational community that is befitting of her father’s work and legacy.
“During the two weeks they were there, students were preparing for a photo shoot, and they learned everything from developing a visual narrative to learning to see through a photographer’s lens,” Martinez said.
In order to find inspiration for their projects, students were asked to select a rock ’n’ roll album and redesign its cover. They sourced their own models, garments and props and scouted locations to reimagine iconic album covers such as Prince’s “Purple Rain,” Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” and newer releases like WILLOW’s self-titled 2019 album.
Throughout the two weeks, students played multiple roles in the creative process, assisting and modeling for each other’s shoots while learning to communicate with a professional photographer, Kelly Kerr. They learned post-production techniques that allowed them to create their final product: a vinyl album or CD package.
The cultural landscape of northern New Mexico allowed students to gain a new perspective and find inspiration from the natural environment of the desert and the history of the land itself, Martinez said.
“It was an ideal location to help students learn about narrative — it’s a place where there’s a collision of cultures from those that are Indigenous to a variety of colonizers,” Martinez said. “It brought students’ attention to how stories are shaped based on one’s cultural perspective. They took in the incredible landscape of mountains and deserts and were able to draw upon the aesthetics of the environment, and also the themes that underpin that place, from artistic expression to lack of representation.”
modmuze is the fashion merchandising program’s student-run fashion and lifestyle magazine, which serves as an opportunity to give students creative freedom while teaching them different facets of fashion journalism, photography, editorial styling and more, Martinez said.
“Students do everything to bring the magazine to life, from the images, the layout and advertising to the writing,” Martinez said. “We love to connect students to real-world experiences, so the magazine is a place where we really see the rubber hit the road.”
The magazine is published three times each school year and involves students from a host of majors and disciplines, in addition to fashion merchandising. Each magazine has a theme and consists of articles and photo spreads dedicated to trends within the fashion industry, as well as style and beauty tips and personal essays from student writers.
This April’s issue touched on the changing landscape of the fashion industry, said modmuze editor-in-chief Faith Bollum, a senior at OSU.
“We’re talking about the cultural reset in fashion: Things are changing, and our generation is becoming the leaders of the fashion industry and deciding what’s in and what’s out,” Bollum said. “The magazine talks about being less afraid of what you want to wear and wearing whatever you want to, which hasn’t always been the norm.”
Through the hands-on process of creating a magazine from start to finish, students are able to take their skills learned in the classroom and apply them in a realistic setting, Bollum said.
“It’s given me a creative outlet and an opportunity to fine-tune my leadership skills,” Bollum said. “It’s completely shown me that the things I’ve learned being editor-in-chief are going to be useful in the future as a career.”
Euphoria Fashion Show
Each year, OSU’s Department of Design, Housing and Merchandising hosts the Euphoria Fashion Show, an event featuring collections created by students specializing in fashion design.
This year’s show featured designs covering a wide range of themes and subject matter, from Chinese streetwear-inspired garments to clothing created using recycled metals and plastics meant to shed light on marine pollution.
Students help plan the event in a fashion show production class, where they select a venue for the show, choose music for models to walk to, create marketing and promotional materials for advertising and design the event program, ensuring the show flows smoothly from beginning to end.
The class allows students to get hands-on experience producing an event that they may draw on in their future careers in the fashion industry, Martinez said.
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