For the past six years, Kent State University’s School of Fashion has invited a selection of its graduates to present their work to alumni and industry leaders in a special portfolio showcase held at the school’s NYC Studio. Each spring, a jury made up of industry alumni visits the school to review the portfolios of the senior design class and offer invaluable critique. One week before the jury were due to arrive in Ohio, the country went into lockdown. The jury members, with positions at Alexander Wang, Ann Taylor LOFT, WGSN, and DKNY among others, pivoted to conduct the process via Zoom, and the school conceived of a digital magazine to be sent industrywide to replace the cancelled NYC event.
FashionUnited highlights five standout portfolios from this year's graduating cohort featured in the magazine, and speaks to portfolio professor, Sara Snyder, about the unforgettable semester.
“It was a mish mash of Zoom meetings, emails, mural boards and Powerpoints!” reflects Snyder on the last two months. “I was experimenting and learning at the same time as the students.”
When the school closed, students’ physical portfolios were 3/4 done, but the logistics for continuing class instruction were challenging, in particular, keeping track of each student’s work and ensuring they were getting the attention they deserved. “Luckily, with the bulk of group instruction over, I could meet with the individuals via Zoom to help them finalize their work. Being able to share screens was amazingly helpful as well as breaking them into small groups to conduct critiques on elements that still needed to be covered such as website and branding.”
Prior to industry critiques the students posted their progress on mural.co which proved useful for sharing visual ideas and allowed them to comment on their classmates’ boards. “I loved that and plan to implement it moving forward even when we resume in-person instruction,” says Snyder.
Coronavirus impacts style of graduate fashion portfolios
The coronavirus influenced not only the subject matter of portfolios this year, with dystopian inspirations, repurposed materials and upcycling front and center, but Snyder notes the dramatic increase in digital illustration. To some extent a result of not being able to shop for art materials during lockdown, but Snyder believes it wasn’t the only factor. “This shift has been slowly happening over the past few years but really accelerated this spring with lots of students purchasing iPads and using Procreate.” Students battled technical issues as those who were already working digitally had an easier time formatting their work, while those who worked by hand had to do an exhausting amount of scanning and photographing, and those who relied on the school equipment found it difficult to obtain the same quality of resolution outside.
Concern about the employment market was a focus during the last month of portfolio creation and Snyder admits she still has to respond to emails from students asking “What do I do now?” The level of anxiety for those graduating in the midst of a pandemic around job searching, moving cities, starting their careers, is unprecedented. A recruiter from 24Seven agency, via Zoom, presented her students with a realistic outlook on what the industry was facing and how they could best prepare to enter it. "The message was to keep perfecting their work, creating new projects and building their networks. I am also encouraging them to enter different online competitions such as the Artsthread + iD Global Graduate Showcase and anything else we can find that gives them exposure,” says Snyder. “So many of them had plans of moving across the country and beginning new adventures immediately after graduation. This all seems to be on hold as they wait to see what happens.”
Snyder is optimistic that Kent State’s digital magazine will be effective in promoting the Class of 2020. “While it's disappointing that we couldn't have the Portfolio Showcase in its usual in-person format, I am hoping that the magazine will have a longer and wider reach than the 3-hour event. It’s shareable throughout the year as companies open and opportunities pop up.” She hopes to continue to do a digital version of the showcase in conjunction with the NYC event.
What’s lacking in digital fashion portfolios
Snyder still hasn’t seen her students’ physical portfolios. While an online portfolio appeals to the convenience of our digital world and the facility with which we send, upload, and view visuals, there are essential aspects missing from the experience. “I love seeing the little things such as the paper they print on or feeling their fabrics and yarn development,” says Snyder, “the textural element of how they get their aesthetic across.”
There is a psychological absence too, for both instructor and student: “It’s a great time to be able to celebrate their achievements and have finality to all their hard work,” she says. “That’s a more complex thing to do digitally, but hopefully they all know the faculty is very proud of their resilience and achievements even if we couldn’t simply hug them in the end.”
Her Class of 2020 is one to be watched for another reason: “The emerging pool of talent is such an important aspect of the big picture of how this situation evolves. I am eager to see how things pan out for them this year.”
5 standout fashion portfolios from Kent State University 2020 graduates
Katie Scott’s inspiration ranges from Kate Bush and Roxy Music to Albrecht Dürer and Carhartt, with a focus on denim and knit. She extracts a narrative for her mens and womens ready-to-wear from the storytelling in her favorite songs, translating the sounds and emotions into yarn qualities, stitches, decorative motifs and fabric manipulations.
Helen Legg’s portfolio is a timely imagining of alternative future scenarios based on man’s response to the events of 2020 alone: the Australian fires, flooding in Indonesia, swarms of locusts in East Africa, and COVID-19. Her passion to make a positive environmental impact comes through in upbeat colors, repurposed yarns and exuberant knit experimentation.
Marielle Lentz’s unique womenswear embraces oddity. Quirky proportions, whimsical prints and an attitude of bold naïveté emerge from inspiration ranging from vintage Valentines, the trinkets and knick knacks that spark joy and the carefree innocence of girlhood.
Mi'angel Daniels’s gender-neutral aesthetic, influenced by her athletic background, questions the human compulsion to reject individualism by constantly trying to fit in. Interested in uniting the performancewear of her athletic life with the traditional feminine aspects of luxury clothing, she layers voluminous and draped silhouettes with snaps, buckles and frills for garments which morph and adjust as we move through our day.
Knit and textile specialist Shuntaro Ogawa plays with self folding structures and jacquards in a fiery palette, finds inspiration for stitches from the texture of fruit, and utilizes the latest Stoll digital technology. His specialism route so far is already global, from knit research assistant at University of Michigan’s Architecture College to a study abroad term at Regents University, London, and then the Netherlands for a Stoll knitwear internship at Knitwear Lab.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.
Photos provided by featured KSU students.