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Fashion Fashion students discuss finishing school during a pandemic

Aug. 27, 2020
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Since the beginning of March, our lives have changed. To many fashion students, an online education doesn’t exactly mean a better sleep schedule or an easier workload. On the contrary, fashion seniors face the challenge of finishing their graduate collection at home—with limited space and resources, missing the much-needed support from their peers and mentors.

Adolescent caught up with fashion students from Academy of Art University in San Francisco to talk about the inspiration behind their work, their mental health, the difficulties of finishing their collection during this time, and the uncertainty of the future. 

Seok Won Lee (Sammy)

Inspired by mundane life, designer Sammy Lee drew inspiration from the sight of ordinary lives walking the street, people rushing to work. He saw a connection between thick layers of the city, its interweaving buildings and patchwork design. Currently residing in Daly City, Lee’s completing his final class to fulfill his credits. 

Since March, what has been the hardest change to your everyday life?

We had worked so hard to develop our portfolios and collections, thinking that the journey would be worth the effort. But after quarantine, we started fighting an uphill battle. Though it’s nice to stay home and wear sweatpants all day, you just don’t get the same experience as working with people in real life. No more conversation over coffee breaks with friends and professors. 

How do you feel about online learning?

Overall, I like it. I’ve taken many online classes before, so using Zoom and being dependent on internet connection wasn’t new to me. It was strange seeing my peers and professors through a screen at first, but it helped with easing the anxiety and feeling connected as part of a community. 

What was the inspiration behind your collection?

I started this collection to promote sustainability through design. Most of the fabric used was made from deconstructed old garments. There are tons of clothes thrown away every day, so I wanted to use them to create something new. I was heavily inspired by San Francisco’s rush hours and tall buildings. The sight of different commuters going up steep hills reminded me of mountain climbers, and the city’s landscape gave me the idea of making patchwork yarns from old garments. 

How was the experience of completing your collection during quarantine? 

It was quite depressing. With the absence of a “normal” day-to-day routine and the pressure to stay home, I often questioned if I was using the extra time productively. I didn’t want to be lazy. There were days when I would work from the minute I got out of bed until bedtime, and other days when I wouldn’t even step foot in my home office. 

What do you think you’ve learned from quarantine?

Having too much freedom can be a bit dangerous, especially because of the blur between personal and school life. I didn’t have time to decompress. It’s tempting to let go, but if you power through and know your priorities, you can achieve greater success.  

What does the future look like for you?

I’ve been making achievable, long-term goals for myself, like creating an online presence to showcase my evolving portfolio. I’m trying to engage with a virtual audience and expand my social reach to promote myself as a fashion designer.

Zoey Huang

Inspired by the sinister beauty of the dark, designer Zoey Huang pulled together her thesis collection entitled Dancing in the Dark. After years of experiencing sleepwalking, she recollects the memory of sleep-dancing in her dimly lit kitchen. Since the beginning of quarantine, she’s been working on her collection in the small space of her San Francisco apartment. 

Studio classes were moved entirely online. How was that change for you?

I didn’t have to commute to class, which gave me extra time to focus on my work. But I missed studio time with my classmates and professors. It’s so much better working in a collaborative environment. Even when we’re working at home, me and the others keep in contact to share our progress and motivate each other. 

How was the experience of completing your collection during quarantine? 

It was difficult because I didn’t have any industrial machines at home. Some construction couldn’t be finished beautifully with my sewing machine. It was also frustrating waiting for every little thing I needed. [I learned that] planning everything ahead was very important because things like buttons could take 3-5 weeks to arrive. 

What inspired the somber, couture-esque aesthetic of your collection?

I was inspired by my own experience with sleepwalking. I imagined sort of a black shadow guiding me and watching me like a protector.

What materials did you use to tell this story?

I made my own fabrics using plastic bags mounted with organza. It's a tricky material to work with at home, but I’m quite happy with the result. I wanted to upcycle garbage bags to simulate the emotional trash we carry on a daily basis. Back in high school I was terrified of math, so I used graph lines as patterns for the garments. To me, my collection represents an internal reflection.

Brody McCasland

Taking inspiration from an otherworldly realm of reality, designer Brody McCasland created an avant-garde collection driven by his own experience with sleep paralysis and the feeling of being stuck. A few weeks after quarantine started, he brought his collection back to his family home in San Clemente to complete. 

How has your study and work been affected since the outbreak?

I couldn’t show my collection in the traditional way with a fashion show, as our graduate show was canceled due to COVID. But I’m still working with others and the fashion school department to finish my final portfolio. 

Was it difficult switching to an entirely online fashion education?

If you don't have the equipment or space to work at home then you can't sew, pattern, or cut. The Zoom meetings [sort of helped], but nothing can replace working hands-on with an instructor. That was the biggest setback for me. 

How was the experience of completing your thesis collection during lockdown?

They told us the night before quarantine started to get our collections out of the labs. That’s when I rolled a clothing rack full of ostrich feathers, fabric, and sewing patterns up the hill to my apartment. I quarantined there alone for five weeks while cutting, hand-stitching, mounting, and prepping all my fabrics. I finished all the tops first in my apartment, but I knew that my collection couldn’t continue in such a small space. The next three garments were extremely large and needed over 40 yards of fabric. My family (who lives seven hours away) drove to San Francisco and picked me and my collection up. I continued my collection in the garage of my family home for the next month.


What was the inspiration behind your collection?

The collection taps into my own subconscious. The garments were conceptualized and constructed to show the paralyzing effect of sleep paralysis. Three-dimensional arches and circles designed to make the human form extend from itself, while the body stays trapped.

How hard was it to stay creative and motivated in isolation?

I had to take a break after producing my collection. Even without a show we still had prompt deadlines. The senior class would often have an entire floor in the building, with professors and friends to help, but we had to produce it all alone at home. The stress of not sleeping for days and pushing myself for that long on top of the pandemic was extremely traumatizing. I made it through because that was the only option. 

How have your future plans changed? 

I had to cancel my last semester in London where I was going to job hunt, because I want to work in Europe. [I couldn’t do that], but things are changing every day and I’m optimistic. The fashion industry will come out of this completely different, and so will I. 

Check out Paper Magazine’s article featuring McCasland as one of the five fashion school graduates you need to know. 

Hope Chen

Chen’s thesis collection examines the reality of post-modern society and our self-sabotaging behaviors. Chen left the city in March, and since then she’s been working on her collection at home in Taipei. 

What was the biggest change for you this past semester?

I had to accept and face the reality—no graduate fashion show or graduation ceremony, and a lower chance of getting a job.

Did you face a lot of difficulties completing your thesis collection at home? 

Compared to the studio space I was used to on campus, I have limited space, materials, and equipment at home. My sewing machine isn’t as strong as the industrial machine in our studio. Because my collection is Fall/Winter, the fabrics are thick and heavy, so I had to make alterations and use thinner fabrics. 

What was the inspiration behind your thesis collection Where Is My Mind?

It’s based on young people’s stress. No matter where we are, in school, at home, or at work, most of us are controlled by a central power. It’s that pressure young people get from their parents (or any authoritative figures)—they constantly have to be at 100%, and that’s exhausting. A human-sized ghost-like figurine, the “soul,” is attached to each look. I used tulles in different colors because tulle is transparent, so they look like floating souls.

How have your future plans changed since quarantine? 

I was already planning to go back home after graduation, unless I got a job opportunity in the U.S. But because of COVID, I flew back home right after the semester ended. Originally, I wasn’t positive about getting a job right away after graduation. But Taiwan did a great job controlling COVID, so nothing was closed and all stores are open as usual. I finally got a job opportunity and I’ll start working in August!