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The fashion track, from Miami to beyond

Students in Miami University Fashion & Design showcase their skills learned in Miami’s fashion program.
Students in Miami University Fashion & Design showcase their skills learned in Miami’s fashion program.

Kids love playing pretend mall, drawing colorful sketches and recreating their favorite catwalk shows with costumes and friends. Some of the more stylish parents’ kids even sit on a lap and find out how to make their own clothes with a sewing machine.

Those kids grow up with dreams of owning a fashion line, but they need the best education to tie their future down — and Miami University is one of the few colleges that seams fashion design and fashion entrepreneurship together.

Neah Brown, a rising sophomore co-majoring in fashion and emerging technology in business and design, wants to found a brand someday. She chose Miami’s fashion program because of its reputation over other Ohio schools and feels great about finishing her first year.

“The classes helped me take a step forward in fashion,” Brown said. “[The director of fashion design] Della Reams brings out people’s creativity.”

So far, Brown has already learned new lessons like pants construction and pattern-printing. She also hopes to eventually run her own two-year collection with Miami University Fashion and Design (MUF&D).

One of Brown’s professors, adjunct faculty member Gylaine Gilmore, also graduated from Miami in 1976. She took courses inspired by fashion design, then worked in the field by managing distribution for retailers and launching a fabric store, but inevitably returned back here to teach.

Most fashion students at Miami skew to the business side of the dual program, but Gilmore encourages hers to experiment with design using the technologies Miami offers, such as laser embroidery in King Library’s Makerspace and professional fabric printers in the classroom.

“One of the reasons I was successful in fashion is because I understood clothing construction,” Gilmore said. “If you don’t understand some basics about the making end of it, then you don’t have the full picture.”

Gilmore witnessed Miami’s palette transform from preppy to casual over time, and Brown sees the latter today, as students rarely customize their personality with what they wear and instead opt for the famous companies. But when students experience more of both entrepreneurship and design in Miami’s fashion program, they gain better footing toward promoting their first independent outfitter.

Amy Schlake helps manage The Apple Tree, a boutique just outside Miami’s campus. She operates the front counter, curates flattering ensembles for her customers and shares knowledge and ideas with the owner, Cheri.

Though Schlake never anticipated such a connection with the shop when she entered it as a side career four and a half years ago, she now appreciates how the hands-on approach altered her perspective on the fashion industry. 

“[The Apple Tree] has opened my eyes so deeply to the small business aspect of our communities,” Schlake said. “There’s so much you can do.”

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She recommends students interested in fashion commit to excellence in any of their upcoming jobs, regardless of how small or local.

“I don’t own the store, but I try to treat it like I do,” Schlake said. “When you’ve done everything, it makes you better in the end and you don’t take it for granted.”

Like Schlake, Gilmore began under other people’s hire before cutting her own path and thinks fashion students should apprentice or intern upon leaving Miami.

“Don’t start big right away,” Gilmore said. “Even if you have enthusiasm, you need experience.”

Brown still pulls up that advice and as she stretches it further into her second year, she also spreads it to incoming first-years.

“Don’t be afraid to switch around and be your own creative person,” Brown said. “You’ll find what you like.”

At Miami, fashion students can invest in the art and business of their craft simultaneously, and all that material could remodel their childhood fantasies into graduate reality.