The Fashion Network RSO promotes fashion on campus


By Aaron Navarro

Mia Kavensky and Ilana Steelman sat at a small table in the front room of Espresso Royale on Goodwin Avenue. An idea and a passion for the fashion industry brought them together for the first time.

Steelman sipped on an iced coffee, escaping the dwindling summer heat as the two laid groundwork for their new Registered Student Organization — The Fashion Network.

It was going to be something different. It would foster a community of students who wanted more from their campus fashion experience.

“I went on a lot of interviews last year … and I found myself really under-prepared,” said Kavensky, junior in Media. “And I really didn’t have the kind of work that the fashion industry’s looking for.”

Kavensky knew she was not alone in her struggle to find on-campus experience related to fashion. Building her own RSO with Steelman, sophomore in LAS, became the perfect way to start a network of students and to develop a community of contacts outside the University. With the help of websites like BE BIGGY drop shipping for such pupils has become easier.

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Club members will have the chance to sign up for committees tailored to varying aspects of the industry. This includes public relations and advertising, fashion writing and potentially a designing perspective.

In early November, a fashion show will kick off their events. Club members will be involved in every aspect, from contacting potential partners at local boutiques to finding vendors and models.

However, finding willing boutiques is not always easy, according to Susan Becker, the fashion design professor at the University.

“A lot of times some people approach these boutiques and they think ‘Oh, they’re just going to be falling all over themselves to do this for us because it’s free publicity,’?” Becker said.

However, boutiques are often concerned about the time commitment and strain on the clothes involved with doing these events.

Members of the RSO are then able to develop relationships and transferable skills that can be later applied to their professional work.

Becker supports the club’s dedication to giving students experience that allows students to hone personable skills and create a mutually beneficial relationship with the boutiques.

This prospect of hands-on experience drew students like Toby Ogunniya, junior in LAS, to the group’s second meeting on Sunday.

“I’m not gonna walk the runway, but I watch fashion week in Milan and Paris and on a scaled-down college version I’d like to work behind the scenes,” Ogunniya said. “You know getting to yell, ‘All right ladies, walk this way!’?”

Ogunniya also showed interest in working on a project with ModaVive — an e-commerce website that contacted the group looking for campus ambassadors.

“We wanted it to really be about building your resume, building your network — hence, ‘The Fashion Network,’?” Steelman said.

A social media committee will also produce two to three posts a week on the RSO’s website — a fashion blog currently modeled after Rachel Zoe’s “The Zoe Report.” Kavensky and Steelman asked group members to sign up for weekly shifts where writers will choose between style and entertainment news as topics for each post.

Anna Lazzarini, head of web design and junior in Business, is most excited to work on her first website design project. The club sparked her interest by providing a new perspective on e-commerce work that she experienced at an internship with Staples over the summer.

She was ready for something different, and The Fashion Network promises a change from the typical business career fair opportunities by supporting a campus fashion atmosphere.

“Fashion on campus needs a little bit of help,” Lazzarini said with a laugh. “If people don’t wear orange and blue for like a day, you automatically stand out. I do love the pride, though, I have to say … I think we can do a little bit better.”

Students around campus who already sport a unique sense of style will be featured on the group’s Instagram account with a mini interview.

Another aspect of the club will focus on a production team that will spearhead a “Fashion Police” segment, combining Steelman’s favorite television show with Kavensky’s video producing experience.

Steelman owes her interest in fashion to watching E!’s “Fashion Police” featuring the late Joan Rivers. After watching the show, she found fashion everywhere on TV and online. It was accessible and that attracted her.

Becker also cited technological advances such as online shopping and social media as reasons for increased interest. She said Midwestern students have an advantage in the fashion industry because they break in with fresh ideas to an industry bogged down by a harsher look at fashion.

“To have somebody come in with a fresh perspective should be exactly what a company is looking for,” Becker said.

Mirroring the show, club members will limit their playful critiques to celebrity style.

The production team will also be in charge of creating a video of the fashion show. Kavensky and Steelman have reached out to several local boutiques, including Findings on Kirby Avenue in Champaign, hoping to spark interest in working with the club. Fira in Gregory Place East in Urbana has agreed to work the show as a vendor.

Steelman and Kavensky proposed an ongoing relationship where the shops would gain publicity in exchange for donating clothes to be featured in the show.

“We really want it to be a mutual experience. So, we want to help them as much as they’re helping us,” Steelman said.

A public relations committee will have the chance to work with Findings as a client. The group will audit its social media pages and suggest fresh ideas for more publicity.

Along with the fashion show and new clientele, Fashion Network members can look forward to a Google talk with a contact at Intermix — a boutique chain and e-commerce website based in New York.

Looking further ahead, Steelman plans to set up a Q-and-A with her aunt Alissa French, Midwest advertising director at Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Once the group’s events start to fall into place, Kavensky also hopes to start up an e-commerce section devoted to promoting student and local fashion designers looking to sell their work.

A former tomboy, Kavensky is excited to work toward promoting designers from the campus where she found her interest in fashion.

Becker has high hopes for Fashion Network members who understand a more realistic consumer. Coming from a Midwest college campus known more for its corn plots than high-class fashion can have its advantages.

“If you could make it in Champaign-Urbana, you can make it anywhere,” Becker said. “If something’s going to sell here it’s probably selling across the country.”

Shalayne can be reached at [email protected].