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Making Her Story: Dawnn Karen M.A., Ed.Mc Pioneer of the Fashion Psychology Field

Make your dreams manifest

Dawnn Karen’s story is proof that if your career doesn’t exist yet; go out, work hard, and create it. After worldwide research and figuring out that no one had merged the fashion and psychology fields together, the Columbia University graduate began creating a field of her own. Soon after embarking on this adventure, Ms. Dawnn Karen became one of the first pioneers in the field of Fashion Psychology. By the age of 23, Dawnn Karen was the youngest, and first black woman, to pioneer the fashion psychology field. By the age of 25, Dawnn Karen made history by being one of the youngest and the first black woman Psychology professor to ever teach at the respected Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). But, she still didn’t stop there. In 2015, the Fashion Psychologist created the first ever online institution to offer courses on the new fashion psychology field, the Fashion Psychology Institute.


I cannot fail to mention how much It truly amazes me how, with all of this on her plate, she still found time to share her story with us. Currently, Ms. Dawnn Karen travels her knowledge around the world. Sharing that knowledge with Her Campus at Kent State is one of her many pit-stops.


Tell me about your journey and how you became one of the pioneers of Fashion Psychology?

So, it began at Columbia University in 2010. While at Columbia I was doing some freelance modeling, and interning at a PR agency. You know, getting coffee, returning calls and so on. Basically, doing your typical “Devil Wears Prada” work. Just before Columbia University, I had attended Bowling Green State University, there I noticed there was no fashionable jewelry around. Consequently, I began to create and sell jewelry. As you can see, I was all over the place at this point in my life. For my undergrad degree, I received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Ethnic Studies from Bowling Green State University and then entered a double Masters program in Counseling Psychology with a focus on Multicultural Counseling at Columbia University. Everywhere I went in the fashion industry I took psychology theories with me; I just could not turn off that psychology voice inside of my mind. However, I also wanted to be creative.  Being the first in my family to attend an ivy league institution, it did not take me long to realize that I was truly blessed with the opportunity I had received. I was at an ivy league institution where amazing people attended: the founder of Facebook, our former president, and first lady and the list goes on. When I came to that realization I knew I had to pioneer or do something groundbreaking.

While at Columbia University, I was taught by Derald Wing Sue the pioneer in the field of Multicultural Psychology. I also learned while studying there that at University of Penn, Martin Seligman was pioneering the positive psychology field. Then I had learned that at Harvard University, a Professor named William James first illuminated the notion of fashion psychology in the 19th century. I knew then that I must continue where he left off to establish this as a field in the 21st century. Here were these men pioneering fields in psychology at ivy league institutions and I wanted to be a part of that. Several years ago, I contacted my fellow pioneers Kate Knightgale, Karen Pine and Carolyn Mair and we began establishing the field in our respective locations. Them in the United Kingdom and myself in the United States. Within our pioneering group, I was the only millennial and the only black woman, which makes me the youngest and first black fashion psychologist in the world. As a millennial, my contribution to the field was very nomadic. I worked as a location-independent entrepreneur.  I researched and wrote for several international publications, spoke at many domestic and international engagements and contributed to major TV networks domestically and internationally. I suppose being a nomad paid off because I ended up bringing the field to 25 countries. Ironically, I had a request to speak on the Burkina Ban in parts of Europe by a Prime Minister and even requested to speak at the United Nations on empowering women via fashion psychology.


Explain to our readers your concept of “styling from the inside out”?

Well, makeovers style you from the external. Fashion Psychology strives to go beyond the external, it strives to get to the root of how and why we dress certain ways. My theory essentially deals with counseling to understand why you do what you do then determine how that impact your clothing choices. This concept also ties into another fashion psychology theory-  to bridge the gap between perception and reality; which is how we view the world, and how we believe the world sees us. 

Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?

I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. You see, my grandmother is 101 years old, and healthy I should add. She founded a Seventh Day Adventist church, a religious institution in her community. She is currently the only living founder left. I believe that entrepreneurial spirit is in my blood. My pioneering a field and an institution is exactly what she has done. Who would have thought her youngest granddaughter would have followed in her footsteps 94 years after she was brought into this world? So, as Kendrick Lamar said it is in my DNA.


How do you define success?

What makes me feel successful is not money, designer clothes, or traveling. It is young women and men telling me I inspire them. That is what defines my success; I recall the first time I taught a lecture on fashion psychology at a university. A student approached me and began crying uncontrollably. She mumbled through her tears that my work had inspired her. In that moment, I quickly learned that it is not about titles. I believe as a generation today we have this unreal desire to feel validated. We get caught up in accolades; being the youngest to do this or the first to do that trying to sum up who we are in a few characters for a bio or a meme. However, I simply want my work to speak for itself. Inspiring people because I have done the work since 2010 is my definition of success. It is having the ability to be inspired then to go on to inspire people.


Being the youngest pioneer in the Fashion Psychology field, explain why you think the power of youth is so important?

If I am the youngest person in the room I have the power to bring a novel perspective. The disadvantage and advantage of being a millennial is that we are naive! We are blind to how long it will take us to achieve our goals because we believe in instant gratification. We then embark on our journey thinking it will only take a short time. This allows us to be bold. The other disadvantage and advantage is that we have shorter attention spans as well. This allows us to create things that capture attention quickly and keep it lingeringly. What may be looked at as faults are truly what gives us power as millennials.

Many young college women grow anxious because they have not decided what it is that they want to do with their life post college, or they feel they are not in the right position in their professional life. What is one thing you would tell these ladies?

Continue moving. Have a strong work ethic. Acquire mentorship. If you continue moving eventually passengers will hitch a ride on your train. Eventually, you will reach the destination of your dreams.


Reflecting on your undergrad years at Bowling Green State, if you could tell your younger self anything, what would you advise her?

This is a really great question! Honestly, I would tell myself my visions are real and achievable.  I would emphasize that she should disregard naysayers and dream killers. In the beginning, several people in very high positions with established careers told me “fashion psychology had been around and this was not anything new” or the antithesis to that was “fashion psychology was not a real field”  I truly started to doubt the visions I had for myself. As a solution, I began surrounding myself with people who could see my vision as clear as I did. Others in high positions with established careers answered their questions by stating “If fashion psychology had been around why was it not being taught at the university level. Or if there are 11 different disciplines of psychology – (spiritual psychology, positive psychology, military psychology, etc.) what is one more discipline in psychology”.  Again, I would tell myself to continue working and possess strong work ethic because eventually, you will find your tribe. There are what? 7 billion people in this world! Someone will get you and they will support your vision.


In those times when you wanted to give up or “take a break”, how did you get back inspired? Are there any positive affirmations you tell yourself daily?

I soliloquize to myself daily that “God did not give me these visions for them to not manifest”.

I also have mentors that counsel me when my vision gets doubtful. My mentors are a part of the baby boomer generation. Although they do not have a millennial mindset they tell me much has not changed. They can see part of the vision that I cannot see due to my lack of experience. They see years ahead. They counsel me keeping me focused, driven and humble. Overall this keeps my light shining when it glows dimly.

What advice would you give to young women that want to follow along in your footsteps?

You can do it! You can study at the Fashion Psychology Institute to be a part of the fashion psychology field. To follow in anyone’s footsteps in general, I would tell young people that it is important to pay homage to those that came before them. Each year a new advancement comes about and we would not be in the position we are today without someone trailblazing the way. Honor those who opened the doors for you. Truly, I am cognizant that I would not be in the position I am now without the people who have come before me. Some millennials do not understand this. Yes, the power of youth is audacious, but where would we be without the insight of generation x, baby boomers, and so on. There is a rap beef that is currently ensuing because someone did not pay homage. Be humble and respectful. It is the only way for the doors to remain open to you or for new doors to be created for you.

Follow Dawnn Karen on Instagram @dawnn_karen

Photo Courtesy of IG: LoriannLawrence