Fashion design student competes on the world stage

A year ago, Kylie Carroll was Googling the word “sustainability,” trying to figure out how exactly to define the ubiquitous, but vague, term. Now the concept is shaping her future as a fashion designer.

Carroll, a junior fashion design student, is currently a semi-finalist in an international design competition, REMIX, hosted by the International Fur Federation (IFF). The annual competition gives up-and-coming designers from across the globe an opportunity to showcase their innovative designs to a highly influential, international audience. Since the competition launched in 2004, more than 1,000 students from more than 25 countries have participated, include past finalists Nicolas Martin Garcia, menswear designer for Roberto Cavalli; Sally Bohan, senior designer for Patagonia; and Roderick Buijs, menswear and womenswear designer at Louis Vuitton.

The competition theme focuses on sustainability—which is what sent Carroll searching for definitions. She first learned of the competition when Hawa Stwodah, assistant professor, shared it with VCUarts fashion design majors last December. Stwodah helped students develop their concepts, and Carroll ultimately submitted two sketches—as well as a portfolio, essay and mood board—to the competition. Carroll was selected as one of three U.S. semi-finalists.

In her design for a sheer coat, Carroll aims to draw a juxtaposition between the use of fur in fashion, and the negative effects of single-use plastics on the environment and animals.

Early on in the process, Carroll realized her choice in materials were just as important as her message. Her coat is made of recycled and vintage fox fur, and silk organza. The entire garment is biodegradable—down to the mother of pearl buttons.

“I decided to focus mainly on plastic bags, and I thought about tulle netting, because it has a body that’s similar to plastic,” she says. “It crinkles in the same way and it’s sheer. But then I thought, ‘It’s a contest about sustainability; I can’t put a synthetic material in my garment.’ I ended up using a silk organza, so that all of my materials would be natural.”

While the contest is an opportunity to elevate up-and-coming design talent, it’s also a chance for students to experience the ins and outs of the fashion design industry. Throughout the competition, Carroll has to maintain an Instagram account documenting her process, and assemble an online portfolio. She was also invited to represent the U.S. at Studio NAFA, a workshop at the North American Fur Auctions headquarters in Toronto. There, she’ll learn from master furriers and practice new techniques.

The competition also pairs Carroll with local artisans and national partners to produce her competition garment. Carroll’s partners include Kathy Rezny at York Furrier, who sourced previously used fur from Marcie Rea at Marcella Furs. In addition, Carroll received fur remnants from Fox Unlimited. Dina Alan and John Parlitsis at Alan Furs are helping Carroll construct her garment, while Cate Latham (BFA ’10) of Van Herten Outerwear is helping her create the structural leather collar and Tom’s Sons is providing the pleated elements.

“John at Alan Furs is going to have me come into the studio to demonstrate how to put everything together,” she says. “He’ll have me working alongside him, showing me everything, from trimming the pieces to fit the pattern and sewing strips together.”

Once Carroll completes her primary garment and two supplementary garments, she’ll compete in the international round later this fall. There, 10 finalists will be selected to go to Milan for the final juried competition in early 2020.

“The competition has been amazing,” Carroll says. “It’s the first opportunity that I’ve had where it’s hands-on, real-world fashion industry exposure. I’ve learned it’s not just about drawing a pretty illustration. I have to make sure I can see it through, and really fight for it.”

Follow along with Carroll’s experience at Studio NAFA at @VCUarts Instagram.