Posted on: October 13, 2017
Two University of South Carolina College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management students had the experience of a lifetime at 2017 New York Fashion Week last month. Thanks to a partnership between the University’s Trademark and Licensing and IMG College Licensing, retailing majors Eileen Gillis and Katie Landmesser were selected to represent South Carolina at the IMG College Licensing's Collegiate Experience at NYFW: The Shows. As part of the career enrichment program, the two Gamecocks were able to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the fashion business on the once in a lifetime trip to New York City with VIP access to the country’s premier fashion event.
New York Fashion Week. Those words might not mean anything to you. They might just represent an annual event that you hear about on the news but never really take the time to think about. It might be an industry that you have no interest in whatsoever. But, if you’re a fashion merchandising student with big city dreams and a lust for a career in fashion, those words mean everything.
New York Fashion Week was an absolute dream. If someone had told me a few years ago that I’d be attending NYFW: The Shows, hanging out in a VIP lounge, going backstage, and handed an invite to a show (to name a few) as a 20-year-old student, I would have laughed and gone back to folding my wardrobe of t-shirts and leggings.
Thanks to the relationship between USC and IMG College Licensing, Katie and I were boarding our (paid-for) flight from Columbia to New York, lugging our carry-ons stuffed to the brim with as much of our closets as we could pack in and at least five pairs of shoes each—for our three-day weekend in NYC. To say we were excited is an understatement. It felt like I was living someone else’s life, and the experience still seems surreal.
After flying to the city on Friday night and finding our way to the Arlo Hotel in Soho, we were ready for a full day of events on Saturday. Everything took place at Skylight Clarkson Square, a massive venue that sits right by the Hudson River. The day began in a beautiful lounge that serves as resting space between shows and offers complimentary refreshments. In this down time before the events started, we explored the space and tried to mentally prepare for everything that was about to happen.
Our day at the venues was fabulous, for lack of a better word. We walked to the venue, took an absurd amount of outfit photos, and were greeted by some top industry professionals with resumes that fashion students everywhere have dreamt of. We were escorted into a VIP Lounge, where we stood still in disbelief of what was happening. To have this experience—as a 20-year old student may I repeat—was something I will always value, be grateful for, and look back on in utter incredulity. We were there in the middle of it all, talking, mingling, listening, and above all, learning. This was a day to soak in what it really looks like to make it in my industry and to learn from those who have made it about what it is really like, how to get there, and what really goes on. Before I continue, I must say that after all of this, I have learned that it is exactly what I want to do with my life and has inspired me to continue to push myself mercilessly until I get there.
We got acclimated to being in the venue, which included lavender lattes, Reebok concept lofts, VIP hair and makeup, and a pop-up E! studio. We were then ushered into a dark space past two very serious looking security guards, tickets in hand, and were escorted to our seats at our very first New York Fashion Week show with designer Taoray Wang. The lights went out, the deep hum of loud bass filled the room, the clicking of press cameras echoed, and the shoes of my dreams stuck out on the legs of bloggers into the pristine white runway. The show began, the show ended, and Katie and I both teared up, admittedly. I can hardly describe the feeling it gave me, the chills, the excitement, the passion, the admiration, the overwhelming sense of drive to make this a normal thing for myself. If nothing else, what I took away from this show was that this is an industry that I belong in. Not one that I want to work in, maybe not even one that will make me a lot of money, but one that I feel emotionally connected to and one that I want to live my life submerged in every day. I wish passion and fashion did not rhyme, but there is no better way to describe it.
The first event was the best event without question — our first real runway show. (No offense, USC Fashion Week.) The designer we had the chance to see was Taoray Wang. Even though she is a lesser-known designer, the show was still packed with people and certainly a show to remember. Getting to see a show like that in person was something I will never forget. The rest of our day was packed with other activities. We toured the rest of the venue and saw backstage where models get their hair and makeup done as well as toured all the different spaces for shows. We also attended a panel with experts from IMG Fashion that gave us valuable insight about starting our careers in the industry. The whole experience was a dream come true.
The industry panel was a student’s paradise: A sort of test bank or answer key on how to get the job you want. The most important points that I took away from this were: You have to hustle. Be the best at whatever it is you do, and always put in 110 percent of yourself. People will notice, and hard work pays off.
Take every single opportunity you can. It will probably be unpaid, and it will probably be pretty un-glamourous. But, no matter what it is, take it and run with it. Find something in it that you can master and you can take on as a project and develop it into something meaningful for yourself that you can discuss as an accomplishment.
Work your way up. Every opportunity you get, send those follow up e-mails, give a shot at cold calling, make people want to work with you. Fashion has a reputation for being a cold, mean industry — this is usually true — so be nice. People will remember you as someone they want to work with.
Each of the professionals explained how hard they had to work to be at the top, and how rewarding it is when you make it. Ultimately, you will make sacrifices; you will push yourself beyond what you can handle; you will do the boring work no one else wants to do, and then you will make it. When you want something bad enough, you make it happen for yourself. This drive and passion is something both Katie and I have developed because of the opportunities that USC has given us, and because of how hard we work for what we want and our drive to build the careers we have long dreamed of. This “won’t take no for an answer” is the mentality you have to adopt, then put your head down and make it happen.
I am so grateful to IMG College Licensing and the College of HRSM for giving me such an incredible opportunity. To any other students reading this: don’t be afraid to dream big. I never in a million years thought that I would actually get to attend New York Fashion Week. I never even dreamed that I would be able to intern in New York or be a leader in a student organization like Fashion Board, yet both of those things happened too! When you work hard and strive for success, you never know what you can accomplish. No dream is too big.
The opportunities and connections that USC has provided me with are incomparable. I cannot imagine attending any other university and being where I am today. From leadership opportunities that have built up my resume and provided me with valuable, real-life experience, to hands-on creative projects to decipher my skills, to advice and contact with countless industry professionals, to walking out of the venues at NYFW: The Shows and being photographed by street style bloggers to waltz into my first (of hopefully many) New York Fashion Week shows.