The Savannah College of Art and Design’s graduating fashion design students spent their entire senior year learning remotely due to the pandemic. This meant crafting their thesis collections — designs that are often seen as an entryway to getting a coveted design job or an order from a forward-thinking store — with limited resources.
SCAD, unlike most art schools, allowed a reduced capacity of students into their workrooms throughout the year. But students — still unable to interact with their peers and professors in a typical manner — used their state of isolation to look inward and address highly personal topics in their designs.
Herein, WWD meets five members from SCAD’s class of 2021 who explain the concepts and inspirations behind their thesis designs, as well as their hopes for the future.
Name: Daniela Gutierrez Arreguin
Hometown: Querétaro, Mexico
Describe the concept behind your thesis collection: Building Yourself is made for a confident woman who likes to have fun with her clothes. It incorporates experiences that have had an impact on my life and takes great inspiration from my Mexican heritage through colors and the idea of the piñata. The coats in the collection simulate the idea of the piñata shell: colorful, highly decorated and oversized. The inner layers have little details that serve as the surprise of the piñata. It’s made to spread joy and fun.
What were some of the inspirations, concepts or important world events that helped lead your thesis work? I started developing this concept during lockdown. I had more time to reflect and I started to micro analyze my life and the events that led me to where I currently was. So I started to write some of the most important events and things that had affected me and how I interpreted them. I soon realized that a huge part of what made me who I am is my nationality and my pride in it. This inspired me to look at the colors of the streets in Mexico as well as all of the handcrafts that are done and they created my vibrant color palette.
Where have you been studying from while school is closed? Do you have plans to move after the pandemic? When the pandemic hit last March I moved back home to Querétaro and spent six months there. This is where I started to create the concept for my thesis and in September when SCAD announced that the buildings would be open to work at a lower capacity, I decided to move back to Savannah to be able to have more resources to create my collection. After graduation, I am planning to move to Napa, Calif., for a couple of months and then eventually move to New York.
Name a trend you are ready to see take off and a trend you are ready to see finish: As comfy as it is, wearing sweatpants all the time has to end. I am guilty of doing this for the majority of the pandemic, but I’m looking forward to being able to dress up and wear colorful clothes without a special occasion.
What are your plans for after graduation? My plans for after graduation are to look for design assistant jobs so that I can get my foot in the industry and do what I love. It would be a dream come true to work under [SCAD alumni] Christopher John Rogers because of his bold colors, exaggerated silhouettes and attention to detail. And it would also be an honor to work under Gabriela Hearst because she has been doing an amazing job at creating responsible and ethical fashion while creating flawless designs.
Who do you hope is reading this and what is your message to them? I wish that Christopher John Rogers would read this to tell him that his story has inspired me greatly and his use of bold colors has also encouraged me to create a collection that is full of vibrant colors. I also wish that Elie Saab could read this — it’s because of his designs that I pursued a degree in fashion. I fell in love with the intricate embroidery in his dresses, so thank you for creating beautiful masterpieces that have inspired many to follow this path.
Name: Hector Diaz
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
Describe the concept behind your thesis collection: My collection’s general concept is a journey into our dreams. My own dream was to create a collection entirely composed out of discarded garments and by stripping them down and weaving them into a process I call “Dream Weaving.”
What techniques are you most proud of in your thesis collection? Did you develop any special fabrications or processes to finish? I developed a technique I call “Dream Weaving,” which involves me cutting garments such as T-shirts, pants, knits, fabrics, etc., into strips, knotting them together and forming balls of yarn that I use to weave on a hedge loom. This creates an entirely new textile out of waste.
What were some of the inspirations, concepts or important world events that helped lead your thesis work? My biggest inspiration for this collection comes from a 1996 Sega Saturn game called “Nights Into Dreams,” which follows the story of two young children traveling through a dream world learning about all the infinite worlds and possibilities that come with dreaming. The game inspired me to create each look based on a different dream I have had throughout my life. I’ve kept a book to log my dreams and then created sketches.
Has the pandemic changed your outlook on the fashion industry? If so, how? In a sense, not much has changed going into the pandemic. If anything, the pandemic only made me more aware of how much clothing a person really tends to collect over a period, not knowing what to do with them. Considering how we were all inside for a while, most of our clothes never saw the light of day.
What do you hope to accomplish most in your career as a fashion designer? My goal is to change the status quo of the industry. Fashion has always been a forerunner for innovation and the creation of unique designs and silhouettes. The industry could really become the pioneer in sustainability and accountability. In my own career, I wish to change the outlook of our industry and show the world that quality is much better than quantity.
Name a trend you are ready to see take off and a trend you are ready to see finish: Trend I want to see take off: Digital Fashion specifically involving NFTs. A trend I want to see finish: influencer culture. I do not believe anyone needs influencing when it comes to making their own decisions outside of a stylist or friend group.
Name: Nzingha Helwig
Hometown: Far Rockaway, N.Y.
Describe the concept behind your thesis collection: My collection, called “Beautiful Invasion,” is a love letter to nature and a celebration of tactility. There is a focus on parasitic plants and organic structures that invade their surroundings, and I try to show the dignity and beauty of these structures.
What techniques are you most proud of in your thesis collection? Did you develop any special fabrications or processes to finish? This collection was driven almost entirely by hand craft and fabric manipulation. Felting, knitting, embroidery and crochet were techniques I explored in order to mimic the natural textures I was focusing on. With limited resources and workspace, I developed new, “living-room-floor approved” felting methods; in the absence of a dress form, I sewed crocheted barnacles onto my sweater while wearing it; I turned bed posts into effective yarn feeders. The pandemic challenged my stamina, but ignited my creativity and ability to problem-solve!
What were some of the inspirations, concepts or important world events that helped lead your thesis work? The global pandemic had a significant impact on my inspiration and process. Beautiful Invasion was born during a time when we were all so hungry for simple connection, and daily nature walks was one of a select few activities to keep us engaged with the world. The organic textures I saw on those walks made me want to create a collection that immediately engaged a viewer’s sense of touch. I wanted my work to spark excitement at the prospect of touch in a time when physical connection was limited.
Where have you been studying from while school is closed? Do you have plans to move after the pandemic? I have been studying and working in both my apartment in Savannah and my grandmother’s house in New York. Traveling and managing limited resources while developing my collection was difficult at times, but ultimately challenged me to learn from the resilience of the natural structures I was studying. The pandemic has shown us all how little control we really have at times, so following graduation, I plan to let my passion and the pursuit of exciting opportunities guide where I end up living.
Has the pandemic changed your outlook on the fashion industry? If so, how? The pandemic has demonstrated how much I value tactility, and how important slow fashion and handcraft are to the future of the fashion industry. The current system of impersonal and disconnected design has proven ineffective and harmful. Clothes should have emotional value, it should still make you feel something. I think the pandemic showed us that it’s OK to slow down, and it’s important to create clothes that move people.
What do you hope to see change or improve in the fashion industry in the future? I hope to see and be a part of dismantling systemic racism in the fashion industry and uplifting voices, designers and artists of color.
Name a trend you are ready to see take off and a trend you are ready to see finish: I am ready to see performative activism cease and real change begin.
Name: Alexis Johnson
Hometown: Plainwell, Mich.
Describe the concept behind your thesis collection: My senior collection is called Small Steps “Forces for Change” and it revolves around giving more people a voice within the fashion industry. I designed a collection of adaptive clothing for people born with dwarfism. Dwarfism is a medical condition that directly affects the growth of bones. Today’s world does not design for people with short stature in mind, and I believe everyone should feel confident and comfortable in their clothing. So using different design techniques to be able to flatter the body shape and size.
What techniques are you most proud of in your thesis collection? Did you develop any special fabrications or processes to finish? My collection isn’t just about downsizing clothing, because if I just did that then the clothes would not be functional or fashionable. All of the pockets within my collection are average-sized, which is a huge difference — everything that goes in a pocket is not smaller, so it wouldn’t make sense to size those down. All of the closures have been adapted to make getting in and out easier: bigger zipper pulls, velcro, magnets or ties.
What were some of the inspirations, concepts or important world events that helped lead your thesis work? After initial research and meeting my model, Olivia, I knew this was what I wanted to do. Olivia shared some of her struggles with me about her everyday life and what the shopping experience was like for her. Being an adult forced to shop mainly in the children’s section is not fun. The fashion industry is becoming more inclusive these days but is still forgetting many people and I want to help close the gap.
Has the pandemic changed your outlook on the fashion industry? If so, how? I think that the pandemic made people more aware of the problems, but as we come out of the pandemic I question if things will continue to change or if the status quo will remain. I really hope that bigger brands will cut down on their waste and fast fashion. I also hope to see more brands embrace a larger variety of people of different shapes, sizes and backgrounds.
What are your plans for after graduation? After graduation, I plan to continue working with Olivia and possibly others to build this collection further. I also would love to work for any brand that is open-minded and looking to change the fashion industry. I have been looking at brands that sell more to families or already have adaptive lines like Tommy Hilfiger, Gap and Lands’ End. One day I plan to create my own brand, but there’s a lot I want to learn within the industry before I start that journey.
Name: Breeze Yun
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea
Describe the concept behind your thesis collection: I wanted to create an opportunity to release frustration in life and go against the notion of materialism. Fireworks were my biggest inspiration because these objects explode with joy and beauty, and these explosions are not meant to destroy something or someone. It is something beautiful for that moment then completely disappears. I believe clothes should be carefully designed in a similar way.
What techniques are you most proud of in your thesis collection? Did you develop any special fabrications or processes to finish? I have been inspired by how denim fabric is distressed, worn over time and fixed by denim repairers. I love how denim transforms with the passing of time and takes on a longer life through repairing. To express my firework inspiration through denim, I experimented with many types of distressing and repair techniques.
How has the pandemic affected your design aesthetic or process and the outcome of your thesis collection? The pandemic is a gloomy thing and I believe art has to reflect the time we are living in and lead people to a better world. I have tried my best to create art for people to express their frustration.
What do you hope to see change or improve in the fashion industry in the future? I think, looking at technical aspects, the fashion industry has not developed much since the 20th century. It has developed in terms of mass production but it has lost custom-made sensibilities. People are getting more personalized and they will want to have control over products. I know some brands have already tried customizing service and mostly failed but in my opinion, the supply of custom-made will continue to increase.
Who do you hope is reading this and what is your message to them? First, thanks to everyone who is taking the time to read this and I hope my teacher at SCAD, Peter Jensen, reads this. Thank you for mentoring me and providing insight in this creative world and reminding me to “get out of the box.”