Ask our Alumni: Elizabeth Cantu, Fashion Grad

During their time at SCAD, students often think about the present with the day of graduation as a distant light at the end of a tunnel. The thoughts of what comes after that long-awaited day, where hats are thrown and the all-important diploma is handed to them on stage, is vague. Yet it comes, and students turn into alumni. Elizabeth Cantu is one of the many SCAD alum that is now out in the real world creating art and gracing it with her own designs. Her work literally might be on your back at this moment!

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cantu.

Chel Howard: Do you mind introducing yourself? 

Elizabeth Cantu: I'm Elizabeth Cantu, soon to be Berman (I just got married this year) and I work at Abercrombie & Fitch designing children's accessories, swimwear, and sleepwear.

CH: What was your major and graduation year?

EC: I graduated in 2011 with a major in fashion design and a minor in accessories design.

CH: When you were a child, did you see yourself going into the arts?

EC: Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. I did well in most subjects in school, but I knew that I would be happiest if I pursued a career in the arts.

CH: What was your journey that led you to SCAD?

EC: I had a great art teacher in high school, Ms. Melissa Hughey, who helped send many of her students to SCAD. She always talked about what great experiences they had there and how successful those former students were becoming. She encouraged me to take summer courses there as a high school student. It was my first time experiencing what life would be like after high school and that taste really motivated me to attend that college after I graduated high school.

CH: Who or what motivated or inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?

EC: I had an obsession when it came to drawing when I was growing up. I always wanted to be an artist, but so many people around me tried to discourage me. They would say that I was going be a starving artist, but really, its because they've never met a professional artist or designer before. When I met Ms. Hughey, that picture started to change. She really believed in all of her students and encouraged me to pursue my passion. Art for art's sake also became its own motivation. When difficult times occurred in my life, I could always delve deeper into creating art and this allowed me to hone my craft and, at the same time, give me hope for the future.

CH: Is it fair to say those motivations are still there or have they changed?

EC: Now, I still take deep pleasure in creating art for myself in my spare time. I really allows me to be reflective and interpretive. Professionally, I'm motivated by making the money. Not really, actually I love creating beautiful products for my customers that are trend-right, tasteful, elevated, and high quality. 

CH: When you were at SCAD, what were habits you developed that helped you? Do you continue to do them now?

EC: My habits during school I learned were not very sustainable in the working environment. I would stay up as long as possible in order to get projects done for class knowing that I could crash later. When you work a 9-5 job, you really have to develop habits that give you a good work/life balance. Otherwise, the opportunity for burnout is high. I find myself strategizing how to get faster and more efficient in my daily tasks. I have found that learning from those around me really helps to build my knowledge base of tips and techniques. I also find that taking the time to learn short-cut keys really helps my productivity.

CH: Do you have any humorous or eventful stories you'd care to share from your time at SCAD?

EC: A story that I think is humorous now is when I hallucinated during an art history exam. I was battling a cold and was not getting any sleep and suddenly during this test I saw some friends driving in two cars and waving at one another. I blinked my eyes very hard and the image of my friends morphed into the shapes of the words on my paper. I was very glad and proud though that I got an A on that test.

CH: What extracurricular activities did you participate in?

EC: I joined seemingly every club or organization that I could, but then when I realized how demanding freshman year was going to be, I definitely tapered back. I did participate in Queers & Allies, which was such a welcoming place. My sophomore and junior years I worked as a Resident Assistant, which was a demanding but rewarding experience. 

CH: How do you think your life would be different if you hadn't gone to SCAD?

EC: I honestly cannot imagine — what a potentially bleak future! No, I'm just kidding. I think that if I had gone to [a] different art school, I would not have gone into fashion design because many of the other schools that I considered did not offer this as a major. So perhaps I would have been [a] freelance illustrator or graphic designer. Or maybe just an Etsy retailer, maybe one that is featured on Regretsy.

CH: You’re currently a designer at Abercrombie and Fitch, would you mind telling us about your current job and what it entails?

EC: I design little girl's swimwear, sleepwear, and accessories. I synthesize research from trend-forecasting websites, adult and children's runway shoes, retail assortments so that I can develop each new season's items. It’s an extremely collaborative process involving many different teams and points of view. We go from sketch to prototype. From there we work on striking the balance between details and cost. We also look at how our items fit into the story that our store is telling for that season. We typically work 9 months in advance for my products. It’s really gratifying to see the items that you worked on hit stores.

CH: You recently traveled to Israel and Palestine; did you find anything inspiring while there that influences your current work?

EC: I always try to draw inspiration from all of the places that I travel to. Israel was such an incredible place. It has all of these natural wonders. It’s such a small country but within it, it has so many breath-taking landscapes. In my professional sphere, I take note of what people are wearing and the motifs in architecture and in home wares. I hope that it sifts through my brain and makes its way into my professional work, but there is often not a direct correlation simply because Abercrombie & Fitch is very much rooted in an East Coast sensibility. Personally though I look forward to creating paintings or drawings from the photos that I took while there. 

CH: For the future what are your goals? 5-10 years down the road?

EC: To be honest, I'm not very sure. I want to keep working in fashion as long as it makes sense. But perhaps down the road I will consider becoming an arts professor or pursuing art in a different vein.

CH: Are there any artists or designers who are role models or inspirational for you?

EC: When I was in high school, my art teacher Ms. Hughey would always sing the praises of her former students. One student in particular that she lauded was a man named Michael Porten. He did lots of self-portraits and was very identifiable. One day as a freshman in college, I saw him and introduced myself. I acted as though I was meeting a celebrity. He was a painting grad student and I asked him if he thought that he would be able to support himself as a fine artist after graduation. He said of course and he could do whatever he wanted. I realized that I need to grow a pair and to start believing in myself that I would also make it after SCAD.

CH: Do you have any artists or designers, living or dead, which you would want to collaborate with? 

EC: I really admired Alexander McQueen. I was so heartbroken by the absence of his creative genius. On the other hand I am really impressed with where Sarah Burton, the new head designer of Alexander McQueen, is taking the brand. Each show that I see is absolutely breathtaking. I also love Stella McCartney  all of her lines are beautiful. And their kid's collections are particularly cute and aspirational.

CH: As a successful, young designer do you have any advice or pearls of wisdom to share with our readers?

EC: I would recommend that you should never give up on your passion. I would also recommend boosting your creativity by having lots of friends that are not in your field of study. Diversifying your day-to-day interactions really adds a lot of potential creative content that you can draw upon. But it also never hurts to delve into what other artists are doing. I'm really digging a podcast called Vantage Point where they interview a professional artist about their craft. It’s very inspirational.