Ready for the runway: fashion students showcase design skills in internships

Emilee Boster, Contributing Writer

On the second day of her summer internship in New York City, Grace Federico, a senior majoring in apparels and textiles at The University of Alabama, watched as the designer she worked for struggled to use an app on her iPad. Federico recognized the app and knew exactly how to use it. 

Federico told the designer she recently learned how to use the app in her illustration class at the University. The designer was happy to hear that Federico could help, and after that day, Federico was tasked with numerous drawing assignments, projects she might not have been assigned to without her knowing — and showing — how to use the iPad application. 

Federico is one fashion student out of many across the country and at the University who completed an internship this summer, gaining valuable industry experience.

Brian Taylor is an instructor in the department of clothing, textile and interior design and taught Federico’s illustration class. He worked in the design industry before becoming an instructor, and he said he highly encourages his students to find summer internships, especially in between their junior and senior years. 

Taylor said students learn how to research a customer and market, work with design programs, and sew their own garments in class, whereas internships teach them to work with factories overseas and understand the technical production process better. 

“It’s really important for them to see what it’s like in the industry so when they graduate and they enter the field they have a better understanding of what is expected of them and for them to understand what they will be doing on a daily basis,” Taylor said.

Federico said her internship at Lela Rose, a ready-to-wear and bridal designer, gave her experience that she would not have gained otherwise. 

She helped with designing the company’s most recent collection. Her assignments included assisting with the embroidery layouts, designing the pillows, and working on the tablecloths and napkins. 

In her summer internship, Anaya McCullum, a senior majoring in apparel and textiles, immersed herself in the production side of the fashion industry. 

McCullum worked with Christopher John Rogers, an up-and-coming women’s high fashion company. After garments were featured on a runway, buyers ordered a certain number of units of each piece, and it was McCullum’s job to ensure all resources — fabrics, trims, buttons and patterns — were at the factory to produce the garments. She also packaged the garments to ship to the buyers. 

“Our major is one of those that you really have to take initiative or you won’t really get the opportunities,” McCullum said. “In the fashion industry, it’s all about who you know, not what you know.”

McCullum is a member of the UA Student Fashion Association, a group she said provided her networking opportunities that led to her most recent internship and last summer’s with designer Brandon Maxwell

Through the association, McCullum made connections with older students who reminded her that it was time to apply for summer internships.. 

Morgan Whicker, a senior majoring in apparel and textiles, also knew she wanted a summer fashion internship, so she applied to more than 45 of them. 

The process to apply for fashion internships is not simple. Each applicant has a digital portfolio, which Taylor describes as a basket with the student’s best projects in it. It typically includes three to five of their best designs with a short biography in a user-friendly digital format. Taylor said most companies look at each portfolio for only around 30 seconds.

Whicker interned with American Eagle for 10 weeks in New York City. She was in the women’s dresses, skirts and soft bottoms design team, and she designed garments and pitched seven of them to production. These garments could be produced and in stores by fall 2023.

“I would tell anyone who is looking for an internship to keep applying. Apply to every single one that you see,” Whicker said. “You don’t know if it is going to be the right one for you.”

While in New York, Whicker planned her senior collection, gaining inspiration from the city and searching for the perfect fabrics.

All apparel and textiles students complete a capstone course during the fall of their senior year. The culmination of the class is a senior thesis collection and fashion show. The students showcase their designs from the course and put into practice the lessons they learned, not only in their courses but also through internships and work experience. 

This year’s fashion show, Fashion For Life, is on Nov. 20 and will be open to the public at 5:00 p.m. at the Bama Theatre. Entry costs $5, and the proceeds will go to United Way.