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Claire Zielinski: FSO President and Hong Kong Study Abroad

Claire Zielinski is what I consider a girl boss. Claire has worked incredibly hard to get where she is today, from taking chances with studying abroad, taking advantage of different opportunities that the fashion school offers, asking for advice on things she was concerned and intrigued about, to pushing to be the best she can be. Claire has grown up immensely from the nervous freshmen she used to be, into a woman that holds a president position, traveled out of the country alone and is ready to use her knowledge to make the fashion industry more sustainable.

Get ready to find out all about Claire; her journey in Hong Kong, all about FSO and her amazing internship at J.Crew!

Year: Senior

Major/Minor: Fashion merchandising with minors in sustainability and marketing


How did you become the president of the Fashion Student Organization (FSO)?

I started out my sophomore year as project manager. I had always wanted to be President of FSO since I saw Jess Ballas my freshman year. I tried to work a lot with the President, Hannah Gates, as project manager to see what she did and how to manage everything. Hannah has really been a great role model for me and a great support system as I began to figure out my role as the president.

What is your main role in FSO?

My main role in FSO is to put together the meetings. I contact all the speakers that come to the meeting and try to get more opportunities for members. I try to fill in where I can to help the board when we have a fashion show coming up or an event.

What in your opinion is the best part about being a member of FSO?

The best part about being an FSO member is the opportunity it gives; we have meetings where industry professionals come and talk about what they do, alumni from the fashion school engage in meetings as well and we offer two scholarships. Another huge benefit is the many networking opportunities within FSO. I know when I had a question about my resume, an interview or anything related to fashion; I was looking for a job or internship someone I met through FSO could always answer it for me.

Can you describe your experience in Hong Kong for study abroad?

Hong Kong was amazing, I miss it so much. I honestly never planned to go, I just knew I had to apply for a study abroad program and gave Hong Kong a shot. I had never been out of the country (besides Mexico and Canada). While I was there I met so many interesting people and learned so much about a different culture. I was also able to travel to 6 different countries in southeast Asia (Thailand, Bali, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and China). I had originally wanted to go because of PolyU’s (the university in Hong Kong) focus on fashion production and sustainability in fashion. By going to PolyU, I was able to visit a garment factory in China that major retailers source from (Tommy Hilfiger, Levi, Zara, Ann Taylor, LOFT and more). Another cool thing about the Hong Kong program is that it is an exchange program so we had events for exchange students which was cool to meet other students from all over the world.

Was it hard to adjust to how life was like in Hong Kong?

In the beginning it was hard, I’m not going to lie. It’s not like the Florence program where they set you up and orient you. You are sent to Hong Kong and treated like a local student. I had to find places to grocery shop, restaurants, transportation and get general life things you don’t think about like cell phone plans. I had to do all of this while trying to communicate with people who spoke little English (most were good at it but they could not speak it, just understand it). I am a creature of comfort and I like to know what I am doing and where I am. Being in a completely new place, it was hard to be comfortable and knowledgeable about where I am. I didn’t have culture shock until about a month after I arrived, I think I wasn’t registering that this would be my life for the next 5 months. Once I realized that I was there for a while I started to try to adapt, and think of Hong Kong as NYC (where I had been prior). Every city is the same in the way it operates. That was key.

 How was the culture and fashion different from what we have in the US?

The college culture there was very different from what I am used to at Kent. At Kent we are challenged to be very creative and have more hands-on projects. At PolyU we did a lot of research based work. As far as social culture, everyone was SO obsessed with food. I followed Hong Kong bloggers and they were always posting about crazy restaurants in the area. It was also a big thing to spend time with family. Restaurants were mainly family style, and the weekends were all about doing family oriented things. In Hong Kong, there are a lot of places to go hiking and be outdoors and local students would talk about going on hikes and adventures out to other islands surrounding Hong Kong for the weekends. My friends and I got on the hiking train and tried to do group hikes as much as we could.

What was your favorite memory from this experience?

 My favorite memory from Hong Kong was my last weekend there. I have been dying to go camping on the beach because everyone had talked about it. We took a subway, 2 busses and hiked 2 hours to the farthest beach. There was a small restaurant there that we had dinner at and then went to set up camp before it got dark. That night we made a fire, had snacks and just hung out together. The best part about the night is that there are these certain types of plankton in the water that glow blue. We splashed in the water as little specs of blue stuck to our skin and illuminated the whole ocean. The best closing to an amazing semester.

Do you have any advice to give to students thinking about studying abroad?

DO IT. If you are on the fence, just do it. Of course, it will be hard, you are doing something that is out of your normal realm, but that’s what everyone needs to do. I learned so much about myself, how to deal with problems on my own and be an overall more independent person. Do something that will push you out of your comfort zone so you can really learn who you are.

Going off advice, do you have any to give to freshmen and sophomores going into fashion?

Do as much as you can. I am so happy I was so involved in the fashion school because what I did was so applicable to ‘the real world’. I learned so many event planning skills, how to properly communicate with people, worked with people in different departments and the list goes on. It’s also a great way to build your resume when you don’t have any internships and want to have more than just your retail job on there.

Could you describe your time as an intern for J.Crew?

My time at J.Crew was amazing. The company is going through so many changes and I was lucky enough to see the beginning of it all. I learned so much about the company, how it works, what they wanted to change and how they were going to do it. I learned a lot about mass market production and was very involved in a lot of the production process. The best part about the J.Crew internship program is that they treat you like an actual employee. I had my own desk, email address, tasks, and badge. They were very adamant on having us feel like we were an actual employee.

Lastly, what is your dream job after you graduate?

My dream job is to work as VP of production for a large company and help them transition into being a more sustainable company. I would work with companies on sourcing more sustainable textiles, work on using a less waste design method and working with sourcing manufacturing from facilities that pay their workers are receiving fair wages and have good working facilities.

If you can’t get enough of Claire and all the amazing things she’s been doing, make sure to follow her socials!

Twitter: claireee96

Instagram: claireee96


 Shelby Rabideaux is currently attending Kent State University. She is majoring in Digital Media Production and will have a minor in Fashion Media. Her love for entertainment and film came from actively going to concerts. She currently is on a TV show called The Blurb that focuses on entertainment news that her school produces. She dreams to be able to inspire others like how she was inspired. Shelby is currently the Campus Correspondent for Her Campus Kent State and the President where she strives to share her love for Her Camps with the Kent community. 
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