Students Who Work the Runway - Behind the Scenes of App State's Fashion Showcase

Every graduating senior in the Apparel Design and Merchandising Program in Appalachian State University’s Department of Applied Design ends their college career the same way – with a high-stakes fashion showcase. This year’s showcase, which serves as an exhibition of the work that 29 seniors have done in their studio design courses, will be held on Saturday at the Holmes Convocation Center at 4 p.m. 

Each Apparel Design and Merchandising student spends years awaiting their senior showcase.  Though some students arrive at App State with little to no experience in textile design, by their senior year, each student is equipped with the skills needed to make an original, intricate collection.

“This is something they’ve been preparing for from the moment they declared their major,” Wilson said. “Everybody knows this is what happens when they join this program. Everybody knows that this is what they’re working for.”

Senior Apparel Design and Merchandising student Ryenne Blake said that she’s always had showcase at the back of her mind. 

“I’ve been drawing little doodles and keeping them since sophomore year for inspiration, but I really started thinking about it over Christmas break because we had to have our ideas ready so we could get to work as soon as we got back,” Blake said.

Once the spring semester began, she, like the other students participating in the showcase, threw herself into her work. 

“I at least pull two all-nighters a week. I’m in the studio anywhere 25 to 30 hours a week,” Blake said. “We’re all stuck down here in this studio laughing, crying, telling stories.” 

Image courtesy of Ryenne Blake

Ali Aita, another senior designing a collection for the showcase, said that although the process can be trying, it’s worth every minute. 

“As a designer, it brings me so much joy to see these garments look so good on these people and see the looks on their faces when they put them on,” Aita said.

The showcase is planned over a period of four months, and during that time, each participating student must recruit models, purchase their own textile materials, and design and construct a cohesive, three-piece garment collection for the showcase.

“In a perfect world, we’d take the whole year to plan it, but we do it all over the course of one semester,” Anthony Wilson, faculty director of the showcase, said.

Wilson oversees the committees of students that help plan the show. It takes a lot of time and effort from multiple groups to plan the showcase and ensure that it runs smoothly; over 10 committees see to every aspect, from hair and makeup to sponsorships, to keep the show on track. 

The showcase, and all the preparation that goes into it, prepares students for careers in the fashion industry and beyond post-graduation. 

Over the course of the semester, showcase participants present Wilson with inspirations for their collections, an execution plan that includes their fabrics and sketches, and then Wilson helps them decide which three of their sketches each student will produce for the show where their garments will be judged on construction, fit and presentation.

“Creating a garment is just problem-solving and learning how to navigate through the complications that arise,” Wilson said. “That bleeds into a lot of different areas, you know? On the surface, it seems like it’s kind of frivolous and that we’re just making clothing, but there’s a whole set of skills that goes into this that can translate to other areas in these students’ lives and careers.” 

Image courtesy of Mackenzie Francisco

Unlike some others, App State’s Apparel Design and Merchandising program prepares students for a variety of careers in the fashion industry.

 “Our students are on a dual-track program,” Wilson said. “Most other programs are either strictly design or strictly merchandising and retail, but we require students to do both because we think it makes them more marketable, and that’s also the feedback that we’ve from employers. They really like our students because they do understand both sides of the industry.”

Aita said that App State taught her nearly everything she knows about what’s to come in her future in the fashion industry. 

“This program has really rounded us out,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot here. It’s time for me to go.” 


Image courtesy of Mackenzie Francisco


To learn more about showcase, click here. To learn more about Blake and Aita's designs, click here.