After years of crafting in her basement late at night while also caring for her kids, 2008 theatre alumni and freelance costume designer Shiree Houf will finally see her hard work recognized internationally this year. But before she could start earning success, she used what she learned at Miami University to get herself through poverty in post-grad life.
“As an artist, I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’m there yet,” Houf said. “I want to see everything there is to see. I always want to learn more.”
Houf finished at Miami and then completed a master of fine arts degree near Cincinnati, hoping to be hired as a costume shop supervisor at a university. To pay off her education, she interviewed for a few companies across the country, but ended up as an employee at a Halloween costume shop, a receptionist and later a fashion teacher at Columbus College of Art & Design.
She also experimented with whatever supplies she could afford and posted them on her website and socials. HighBall, a costume show and design competition in Columbus, Ohio, caught a glimpse of her content and reached out. Ever since, Houf has taken on more unique opportunities each year.
“I did anything to keep afloat,” Houf said. “There’s little outlets of opportunity everywhere.”
The projects that pay come first, but Houf now feels secure enough to focus on her passion pieces as well. Most of her customers order alterations or ask for advice on Halloween costumes via her consultation page. Occasionally, her creative friends in Cincinnati offer her wardrobe jobs for their films.
Her connections from Miami allow her to promote herself throughout Ohio, mostly by word-of-mouth.
“Networking is super important,” Houf said. “The best way I make connections is by attending friends’ shows or volunteering for them.”
Houf also recommends that students interested in style, whether in costume design or not, explore Fashion Week Columbus and the city’s various openings for paid modeling gigs.
Despite her fashion qualifications lying mostly in theater, she finds no shortage of diverse experiences.
“Don’t be discouraged if you have to pause your art or work a normie job,” Houf said. “You continuously have your nose in the fashion industry.”
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No matter where she goes, Houf looks for inspiration in the little moments from her previous HighBall competitions and her graduate program. Each time an audience gasps at her design, she still remembers the reason she set out on her dream.
“The fact that I orchestrated something that could elicit that type of reaction felt amazing,” Houf said. “It’s validating to know that my art can be impactful.”
Today, Houf visits museums and plays, paints her cupboards, curates the rainbow walls of her studio space, and overall surrounds herself with curiosity. She especially refines her own livelihood through introspection and meticulous detailing.
“We all make choices about the character of who we are,” Houf said. “Fashion and costumes are putting something on to be someone.”
That someone, a devoted freelancer and mother, harnessed the skills she learned at Miami, along with the power of self-expression, to stitch herself into a much more suitable life.