Menomonie, Wis. – Recently, seven University of Wisconsin-Stout students caught a glimpse inside America’s fashion hub – New York City – while exploring internship opportunities with leaders in the retail industry.
As part of the National Retail Federation Student Program, they attended the NRF career fair, where they talked with designers and merchandisers from Carter’s, Amazon, Ross, Nordstrom, Sax Fifth Avenue, Steve Madden, Target, Kohl’s and more.
Fashion and retail students Emma Lynn Tynan and Reem Emerson received internship offers with Kohl’s Corporate during the NRF career fair.
“The whole trip was made right at the beginning, with the career fair,” said Tynan, of Rio, Wis. “We learned more about what’s happening in the world of fashion, which is constantly changing. It’s all about knowing what’s out there.”
“We talked to a lot of people. It was cool to see who was there and what the fashion landscape looks like outside of Stout,” said Emerson, of St. Paul. “It was much different than Stout’s annual Career Conference because NRF was so specialized to us.”
Other fashion and retail students on the tour were Travis Bennett, Hager City; Arianna Littlebull Williams, Milwaukee; Grace Schultz, Siren; and Graciela Sieben, Hastings, Minn.; as well as business administration student Jack Accola, Mondovi.
They witnessed designs being created at the Garment District, toured iconic and innovative fashion retailers on 5th Avenue and SoHo and viewed an historic costume exhibition. They learned from industry leaders about careers in design, marketing, technology and the immersive customer experience.
Emerson called New York City one of the fashion capitals of the world, along with Paris, London and Milan.
“Our guide in the Garment District explained how the fashion industry started in New York with the fur trading business in the very beginnings of America and how it rose from there, creating industry and starting its rich cultural history,” she said.
Tynan added that the culture and diversity of the city, its huge population, and the runway and street-style fashions add to its reputation.
They also had a day to explore on their own, visiting the Whole Market and Chelsea Market, a Louis Vuitton pop-up shop on the Highline, China Town and Little Italy. They saw the Statue of Liberty from across the bay, saw “Chicago” on Broadway and visited the 9-11 Memorial.
Securing their summer internships
Tynan received her internship offer with Kohl’s the day of the fair after back-to-back interviews with their team that day. This summer, she will be an assistant merchant intern in Menomonee Falls, working with a department merchandiser to analyze sales, brands and styles and meet with vendors.
Tynan gained confidence in interviewing, public speaking skills and leadership as President of Delta Zeta, a national sorority that provides volunteer opportunities locally and raises money for philanthropy partners such as the Starkey Hearing Foundation and American Society for Deaf Children.
“If you can step up, the companies you interview with will see that too,” she said.
Emerson received her internship offer after three rounds of interviews, which included designing a collection of clothing for one of Kohl’s brands. She gave a virtual presentation of her portfolio to two designers in the New York office. She is considering internship options and offers.
Lecturer Sarah Eileen Smith led the trip. “I love watching my students succeed in the classroom but watching them network and navigate the world outside of school was really amazing to see. When I found out multiple students had been asked to do interviews, I was ecstatic,” she said.
Careers in the analytical and artistic sides of fashion
Emerson and Tynan have always been interested in fashion, but in different aspects of the industry–Emerson in design and Tynan in analytics. The program at UW-Stout offers concentrations for both students to follow their passions and prepare for their internships and careers.
Emerson knew of three universities in the area with fashion-related programs. “UW-Stout’s program is a good avenue. It has more of a reputation for sending graduates prepared into the job market,” she said. Her concentration is fashion design and development.
“I have always been artistic,” Emerson said. “The hands-on approach at Stout makes a huge difference. I’ve gained seamstress skills in technical sewing, design development and construction of clothing. That’s something that other schools don’t teach to the same degree. I’ve gained skills in fashion flats and illustrating in CAD as well.
“Our professors train us in the details to create our sewing portfolios. Design directors want to see that we know how to construct garments correctly. We’re not a fine arts college. Our Bachelor of Science degree gives us the hard skills for corporations like REI, Prana or Target,” she added.
Tynan’s retail analytics concentration lets her focus on the business side of fashion. “Merchandising is less about styles and more about research. I wanted to research clothing. There’s no other school in the UW System that offers a fashion degree tied to business. My Excel skills and hands-on learning have trained me for ‘retail math’ in analytics and data,” Tynan said.
As part of UW-Stout’s Showcase of student-centered events in April and May, fashion and retail students’ clothing collections will be featured at WEAR Fashion Show at 2 p.m. on April 29, in the Memorial Student Center Great Hall. Tickets will be available at the door. Seniors will be showcased after the show in the MSC ballrooms.
Students encouraged to travel to broaden their horizons
Tynan encourages other students to study nationally or abroad to get out of their comfort zone and to have new experiences. “This opened my eyes to other things, and in fashion, it helped me to see what others are wearing,” she said.
Emerson added that fashion on the coasts is five years ahead of the Midwest. She’s been to New York several times, but this was her favorite trip so far. “I really enjoyed the trip more than I thought. Travel broadens your horizons – to see so many new people, hear so many different languages. You don’t know what you don’t know until you experience a place.”
Emerson and Tynan will both graduate in spring 2024.
Andria Morse, assistant director of Study Abroad, is working with Smith on another NRF study tour for WinTerm 2024.
Also in January, 16 students traveled to the cities of Tokyo and Kyoto for a special Digital Imagery Studio course titled Concept Art and Japan. Led by design lecturers Kimberly Delain and Karl Koehle, students focused on creating art for the entertainment industry.
“The study abroad was a research trip within the context of environment concept art. Students were studying and absorbing specifically the architecture and the spaces of both modern and traditional buildings, which they then used to create pieces of concept art,” Delain said.
Delain previously lived and taught in Japan. “This definitely played a large role in my being comfortable enough to offer this opportunity,” she said.
During the 2021-22 academic year, 184 UW-Stout students studied abroad through the Study Abroad office.