From Italy to Atlanta, ISU students explore fashion industry

September 28, 2012

Prada. Gucci. Pucci. Dolce & Gabbana.

"You kind of look dumb if you don't know the designer names," said Halee Walls as she talked about working in the fashion industry.

Luckily, she didn't have to learn that lesson the hard way.

Last spring, Walls travelled to Italy for a 10-day trip where she studied and explored the city with other students from the textile, apparel and merchandising program at Indiana State University. She learned designers firsthand as the group toured shops and showrooms, then saw many of those same Italian designers' lines while interning at showrooms in New York and most recently, Atlanta.

"They use Italian designers a lot here [in the states]," said Walls, a senior from Greenwood.

She was one of 10 ISU students that travelled to Atlanta for a four-day internship in August, working busy days in the showrooms of Apparel Mart, a wholesale market that offers clothing and accessories.

"At some point, most students have worked in retail," said Cheryl Kremer, full-time lecturer for textiles, apparel and merchandising at ISU. "But in Atlanta, they see the wholesale side of the industry." Designer showrooms sell to a buyer, who brings items to a store, where the general consumer can purchase them.

"Through this internship, students have the opportunity to influence what will be available to the ultimate customer," said Kremer.

"It was all kind of surreal," said ISU senior MacKenzie Connelly of Casey, Ill., describing Apparel Mart as a huge 15 story building filled with a maze of corridors, back hallways and "showrooms upon showrooms upon showrooms."

Connelly worked in the Lori Veith showroom and extensively with Sandy Duffler designs, a line that creates handmade belts. Responsible for a little bit of everything, Connelly greeted guests, offered tours of the showroom and helped set up belt displays. She worked alongside Greg Duffler, whose father founded the company.

"I learned a lot from watching him interact with buyers," said Connelly, describing him as very personable. "He's all about customer service." Duffler's personable and helpful demeanor extended to everyone who walked in the showroom, including the interns.

"He asked me how much I knew about belts, which wasn't much, so he sat down with me and we talked for the next three hours about belts," she said. From the metals to leathers, she said she learned everything there was to know about the line.

"I was touching lamb, calf, buffalo, everything. It was pretty cool," she said.

Kremer said that most students worked in showrooms selling contemporary apparel or accessories during the internship.

"When most people think fashion, they think apparel. But there's also design and manufacturing and textiles," said Kremer.

Walls said she appreciated the chance to gain a more holistic view of the industry.

"Buyers basically get to do everything in the industry at one time," she said.

In Atlanta, Walls worked in the showroom of the Canadian designer known as Modes Corwik, representing one of the same lines that she worked with during an internship in New York last summer.

"Halee's time in New York expanded her knowledge of the fashion industry by giving her exposure to all of the behind-the-scenes activities that lead up to the point of sale," said Gary Margulies, the United States national representative for Katherine Barclay, one of the lines in the showroom. He explained that Walls' experience included design components, manufacturing challenges, various marketing functions and financial concerns.

"I was comfortable going to Atlanta because I knew what to do and was working with Gary again," said Walls.

She, like Connelly, learned a lot from the representatives of her showroom.

"He [Gary] is really good at reading people. You kind of have to get to know the buyer in order to get a perspective of what they like," said Walls, adding that most of the time, buyers don't want to see the entire line. "You have to get to know them before you start showing and pick out what they like."

Margulies agreed, adding that Walls' experience working in New York prepared her well for the Atlanta internship.

"It gave her the necessary foundation to fully understand the line and present it to potential buyers in the most desirable manner," said Margulies. "If she had not been so mentally-integrated with the line, she would not have achieved success in suggesting combinations of various individual pieces based on the needs, wants and desires of each wholesale buyer."

In addition to perceiving what the buyers are looking for now, Walls said it is important to foresee what the general public will be willing to buy in the future.

"You really have to pay attention to what buyers will want in their stores. Predicting the future, basically," she said. "You have to know what's going to be in in nine months, not just right now."

Despite the challenges of the industry, the interns said they had great experiences and enjoy being in a field that they love.

"There are so many different things I could do because the field is so broad," said Connelly, who said that Atlanta opened her eyes to new career possibilities.

Likewise, Walls said she got a better feel for this niche of the fashion industry, appreciating that buyers get to interact with everyone and have a variety of responsibilities.

"I think I want to be a buyer, after being in the industry."

She said she will most likely take a job in New York as a sales representative with Modes Corwik after she graduates in May.

"I work hard, but it's not strenuous. It comes naturally," said Walls, recalling wanting to pick out her own outfits even as a child. "It's something that comes easily. It's fun."

Photos:http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/ISUphotoservices/Atlanta-AmericasMart/i-VP9FqHh/0/L/DSC0600-L.jpgTen students from ISU pose during a four-day fashion internship in Atlanta.

http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/ISUphotoservices/Atlanta-AmericasMart/i-Vjt9fQc/0/L/DSCN6130-L.jpg Halee Walls stands next to Gary Margulies, the United States national representative for Katherine Barclay.

http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/ISUphotoservices/Atlanta-AmericasMart/i-fd2RPKV/0/L/DSC0596-L.jpg MacKenzie Connelly stands outside the Lori Veith showroom where she interned in Atlanta.

Contact: Cheryl Kremer, associate professor of Textiles, Apparel and Merchandising, Indiana State University, at Cheryl.Kremer@indstate.edu or 812-237-3307

Writer: Bethany Donat, media relations assistant, Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, at bdonat@sycamores.indstate.edu