Students awarded scholarships for collaborative fashion proposals

Five students received the Fashion Scholarship Fund scholarship with guidance from professor Steve Barth (center). (Photo courtesy of Steve Barth)

Without the advantage of going to an arts school but with hopes of an introduction into the world of fashion, five USC students from varying backgrounds in business, art and technology and differing levels of expertise were awarded the Fashion Scholarship Fund in January. 

Each year, the organization invites young talent to become new contributors to the industry, providing career-building, mentorship and networking events in addition to financial assistance. This year’s scholarship applicants designed and presented products such as clothes and handbags for the collaboration of two major brands of their choosing, one fashion-affiliated and one unaffiliated. 

The five scholarship recipients, coming from Iovine and Young Academy and the Marshall School of Business, brainstormed ideas for products that told the story of unconventional collaborations between companies such as major fashion houses and museums, or apparel brands and potato chips.

Sydney Loew, a sophomore in IYA, said she had an appreciation for fashion even before she was introduced to the scholarship opportunity by IYA assistant professor Steve Barth. She proposed a design partnership between Gucci and Google and said it was because of the alliteration between the brand names and the shared values of each of the companies. 

“After further research, I found that Google wants to bolster their hardware product lines, and Gucci wants to become a more accessible brand to more people without lowering their price,” Loew said.

Although she has experience in different aspects of the fashion world, including serving as fashion ambassador in the Office of Admission and as visual director for Haute Magazine, a fashion- and design-oriented magazine on campus, she said the Fashion Scholarship Fund exposed her to more of the industry. 

“I noticed how much business and thought and strategy goes behind visual design, which opened my eyes to new possibilities of how to monetize design and where I might want to go with it,” Loew said. “There’s a lot that happens in one industry. There’s so many details that only fashion people know.” 

According to Barth, who coaches the student contestants, the scholarship looks for innovators in the fashion world. 

“The organization looks to the competition to bring new people and new ideas into the industry to keep it innovating and to keep it alive,” Barth said. 

For some of the winners, it was their first experience in the fashion industry. Irene Chen, a sophomore in IYA, had never done anything related to fashion before but said she learned a lot from the experience.

“I think I definitely became more interested in fashion and what it means to me afterward,” Chen said. 

In her application, Chen proposed a collaboration between Louis Vuitton and the Smithsonian Institution because of Louis Vuitton’s previous artistic collaborations and her experiences with the Smithsonian museums from living near Washington. 

For his submission, Gbenga Komolafe designed a collaboration between Tommy Hilfiger and “Better Angels,” a nonprofit geared toward reducing partisan rhetoric in politics through organized debate events. According to Komolafe, applying to the fund was a way to continue paving his way in the fashion industry. 

“I have my own clothing brand and I’ve been making clothes for four or five years now,” Komolafe said. “So I just thought it would be a good opportunity to get more insight into the industry and make connections.”

Mark Veksler, a sophomore in IYA, said because of the high demand from the competition, many students don’t complete their work in time for submission. However, he said Barth and Marshall School of Business associate professor Dennis Schorr helped students with the process by providing information sessions on marketing techniques and collaborative workshops with professors from other universities.

“I think they really helped us, and they really motivated us because they didn’t want the 60% of us to drop before submitting,” Veksler said. “I think that they were successful with retaining [students].”

Even without a dedicated fashion design program at USC, Loew said the skills they gained in IYA courses gave them enough foundation to build a successful submission of detailed technical designs and marketing strategies.

“[We’ve been taught] how to communicate new ideas,” Loew said. “We have this whole vocabulary to do it and this whole methodology to do it.” 

Despite competing against students from schools with specialized fashion programs, Barth said USC students had no trouble finding success because of their hard work and dedication. 

“It’s the diligence of the students who are willing to compensate for that huge advantage the fashion school has over a non-fashion school,” Barth said.

Yuanyi Ma, a sophomore majoring in business administration, focused her collaboration between Urban Outfitters and Lays potato chips, two brands where she found an overlap in a targeted youth demographic and values. 

Ma said she wants to keep learning and exploring the intersection between business and design in the world of fashion. With the feedback and notes she received on her recent submission, she wants to improve her work in time for next year’s scholarship competition. 

“I feel like there’s always something I could improve on,” Ma said. “So I want to know the score and hopefully make some changes next year.”

Barth said he hopes to see even more students apply for the scholarship next year. 

“I hope that USC’s strong performance this year will encourage more students to learn about and enter next year’s case competition,” Barth said.