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Paving The Runway To Success

Photos provided by North Dakota State University, Apparel, Merchandising, Interior Design and Hospitality Management Department

Pacesetters in the fashion industry start their catwalk at North Dakota State University. Within NDSU’s Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design (ARMD) program, there are two tracks, Apparel Studies or Retail Merchandising (with options to choose a Textile Product or Interior Merchandising focus).

The global fashion and textile industry is an ever-growing, multi-trillion-dollar industry and alumni from this program contribute to that growth. With a theoretically based education with practical application, NDSU prepares its students to enter one of the highest-grossing industries in the global economy. Thanks to the size and nature of the ever-growing apparel and manufacturing industry, career opportunities for those entering the field are limitless and NDSU produces students ready to take on the ever-changing field.

Out of the Classroom

Many fashion students come to college with aspirations of a career that lands them in the fashion capital of the United States, New York City. For some, these dreams come to fruition earlier than graduation, thanks to the Visiting Student Program at The Fashion Institute of Technology. NDSU is one such school allowed to offer this option to their students. The department affiliation with FIT allows students to attend FIT for a semester or year to gain valuable experience in the fashion field. This experience on the ground in New York City gives a unique and invaluable experience to participating students, something NDSU is proud to offer.

For further experiences outside of the classroom and Fargo, the program offers yearly Study Tours. Attending one of these tours is a requirement for Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design majors. In the past, tour locations have been in Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York City. During the tour, students get to learn about the industry in whichever city they are in and learn more about career opportunities in these cities. Learning outside of the classroom and practical application is part of what makes this program really stand out.

Students in the program also have the ability to take on career-changing internships. Current student Maggie Barrett spent this past summer interning in New York City at A3 Apparel, a women’s denim company. Here she was a showroom intern working on the design team and the marketing team, assisting with working with fit models, creating spec sheets, measuring samples and even taking on marketing tasks. Barrett said, “This summer my dreams literally came true. I was exposed to so much in this [New York] that we don’t have in Fargo. It was a life-changing learning experience.”

Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design senior Grace Lynch also completed an internship in New York City this summer, working as a creative intern for Windowswear, the world’s largest visual merchandising database. Of her experience, she said, “Visual Merchandising was never something I thought about as a career choice, but I am now more interested due to all the history and aspects of merchandising I learned while working with professionals. Taking an internship in New York gave me the confidence to take a risk in the future, and having an internship in NYC will allow me to get my foot in the door at many companies.” Lynch and Barrett are among the many students whose eyes were opened to career opportunities thanks to their internship experiences.

In the Field

Graduates from the Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design program leave with an in-depth understanding of the global fashion marketplace. The solid educational core allows graduates to go out and achieve their goals by being flexible in a quickly changing workplace and being innovative as they navigate their careers.

Alumna Melissa Vettel (‘10) started her business, 521handmade, five years ago. But before that, she was a retail store manager. She attributes her degree in Apparel and Textiles to helping her really understand the behind-the-scenes work it takes to be successful in retail. She said, “I believe that my degree allowed me to be taken seriously for the management opportunities I had at such a young age.” As with many arts-driven careers, some see a degree as not being necessary, but Vettel shows that her degree is what helped her establish herself as a trustworthy and knowledgeable source in the workplace.

No matter what your post-graduation aspirations are, the NDSU Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design program prepares its students for success. Alumni from this program have gone on to work in product development and management, visual merchandising, technical design, fashion writing and editing, sourcing, social media marketing, fashion styling and owning and operating their own business.

To see how alumni from the program are making waves in the fashion community of Fargo, here are some alumni highlights. These NDSU alumni are using what they learned in the classroom and translating it to their own businesses needs.

On the Runway

Each spring, NDSU’s FABO (Fashion Apparel & Business Organization) organizes a fashion show produced completely by the students, giving a great leadership opportunity for those participating. These students pick the show theme, organize the details, schedule and style models and more, getting a full fashion show coordination experience. The show includes student designs as well as fashions from local retail stores, showcasing craftsmanship and merchandising/styling. The next FABO fashion show will be April 29, 2020 at noon in the Memorial Union Ballroom.

For more info: ndsu.edu/adhm

Alumni Features

Melissa Steedsman, 521handmade

Melissa Vettel (‘10)

Owner of 521handmade

Major: Apparel, Retail Merchandising & Design

Minors: Public Relations and Business

Melissa Vettel started her company, 521handmade, in 2014. Here, she creates inspirational quote pillows and jewelry from her home studio in West Fargo. Her wares can be found in her online store and in over 35 boutiques across the United States.

Fashion had always been something Vettel was interested in. She saw herself working for a fashion magazine, opening a boutique or even becoming an interior designer. When she was in high school and learned about the ARMD program at NDSU, she knew it was the right fit for her to narrow her path and discover what it was she was going to do.

Vettel has enjoyed embracing community since starting her business. “I love being a part of local events where I get to actually meet my customers in real life! Seeing someone react to a product that you created is literally the best feeling,” she said.

Beyond interacting with her customers, she learned in her schooling about the power of professional connections. “Many of the people you are going to class with will become a great network for you when you are looking for a job in the future,” she said. Attending a specialized program like the ARMD degree at NDSU puts students alongside peers of similar skills, interests and goals. This commonality makes NDSU’s ARMD Program a perfect pool of potential business partners and supporters.

Erica K

Erica Kale (‘15)

Store Manager at Kindred People

Major: Apparel, Retail Merchandising & Design

Minors: Public Relations & Advertising and Business Administration

Erica Kale is the store manager of Kindred People in downtown Fargo and has been there since it opened in 2017. Here, they stock popular national brands like Free People and BB Dakota alongside goods from local makers.

Kale graduated from NDSU in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Apparel, Retail Merchandising and Design. “I chose the NDSU fashion program because fashion was literally the only thing I was ever interested in as a kid. I would draw dresses or obsess over fashion magazines. I also liked that their program has such a variety of different classes and focuses — it was just as much about marketing, manufacturing and public relations as it was about fashion.” From her time in the degree program, Kale learned about the business side of the industry she grew up loving.

At NDSU, she was treasurer and then president of FABO (Fashion Apparel Business Organization). In this, she learned the leadership, teamwork and interpersonal skills that she utilizes day-to-day as a boutique manager. The connection between these skills with knowledge of the global industry is something she has found valuable.

“I left [the program] knowing I could go 100 different directions with my career and how big the fashion industry is in the world, with its impact on other industries, the earth and individuals’ lifestyles,” she said. NDSU prepares its students in this program with a core that allows them to go any direction they desire. Kale has been able to do just this and has enjoyed being involved in the community, while in college and beyond.

Brenna Bigwood (‘17)

Co-Line Leader/Buyer at Scheels

Major: Apparel, Retail Merchandising & Design

Minor: Business Administration

Brenna Bigwood has been working with Scheels for three and a half years now, starting as an intern in the buying office, then working in the store and now as a Co-Line Leader/Buyer.

Bigwood graduated from NDSU in 2017 with an emphasis on Retail Merchandising and a minor in Business Administration. Throughout high school, Bigwood loved fashion but went into NDSU for their business school. However, she serendipitously found the ARMD program and knew that was the right path for her. “I actually stumbled upon the fashion program on my first day of classes while trying to find a different class. After learning there was a fashion program at NDSU, I made an appointment with my advisor that very same day and switched my major to Retail Merchandising and changed all of my classes to fit the necessary curriculum,” she said.

Bigwood benefited from the community classroom that the school provided. Not only do students learn from professors, but also from local industry professionals. The program encourages networking and many classes incorporate guest speakers. At one point, Bigwood sat in on a product development presentation by Scheels in a class and learned about their internship program. She ended up applying and being selected for the internship, which then helped her get her foot in the door with the company and to the role she is at today.

“The most valuable thing that I learned during my time at NDSU was to never be afraid to put yourself out there. […]The more you do it, the more comfortable you become with it which, in turn, builds confidence,” shared Bigwood. Through her time in the program, she learned the importance of getting involved, confidence and networking. In addition to the industry knowledge she learned, these interpersonal skills have helped Bigwood get to where she is today.

Nolan Schmidt

Written by Nolan Schmidt

Nolan is the Co-Editor of Fargo Monthly. Schmidt is also the Editor of Spotlight Media's Bison Illustrated publication. He is originally from Bismarck, N.D. and is a proud graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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