St. Kate's fashion merchandising and apparel design degrees create graduates with style and substance.
By Christina Capecchi
Long underwear, says Trudy Landgren '72, is a good example. It comes in 100 percent cotton, 100 percent silk and 100 percent polypropylene. If you're the buyer, which do you choose?
The associate professor of fashion merchandising and apparel design presents this scenario to students in her textiles class. "When do you want to wear silk underwear?" Landgren asks them. "And when do you want to wear cotton?"
Silk offers soft luxury, she explains. Cotton will keep you warm inside the ski chalet. Polypropylene will keep you warm on the slopes, pulling out the sweat that cotton traps.
Who says fashion is the prerogative only of the skinny and the rich? St. Kate's thriving program paints the field in broad strokes, training students to design high-end fashion, to be sure, but also making room for real-life women in a field that once produced clothing suitable only for Brazilian models.
At St. Catherine University, fashion is for creative types, for professionals and even — dare we say — for Minnesotans with common sense and sturdy builds.
In recent years St. Kate's program has grown in acclaim, spurred by robust networking, internships and travel programs. From 2007 to 2011 enrollment has nearly doubled.
The top designers contributing to the Up-town clothing boutique Cliché in Minneapolis are Katies, notes co-owner Josh Sundberg: "We've had a huge influx of designers from St. Kate's, and I feel like there's a lot of creativity and momentum for those girls coming out. I've had some great designers from the University of Minnesota, but I've had a lot more from St. Kate's. They're doing something right there."
Between the two degrees, students can prepare for every dimension of the fashion industry, from designing to selling to styling.
These fashionable Katies are studying subjects and pursuing careers closely tied to the University's mission to lead and influence, says Paula King, Ph.D, dean of the School of Business and Leadership. King is excited by the promise of Gen Y's fashionistas. "They're going to change everything," she says. "They were into vintage much earlier than it became cool for the rest of us. They have a different aesthetic, and it doesn't have to be new or expensive or about traditional designers."
Marie O'Neil '13 chose to attend St. Kate's because it offers fashion merchandising. She dreams of styling sportscasters. "If you watch pregame Vikings on Fox, Howie [Long] and Matt [Strahan] are wearing their three-piece suits. They look so dapper," she says. "And then you switch to the CBS pregame show and those guys are kind of schlumpy. Their prints never match."
As a high schooler, the native of St. Michael, Minnesota, scored well in math and science, so her family encouraged her to become a doctor. "But fashion merchandising allows me to combine creative and analytical skills," O'Neil says.
Kaitlyn McClain '12 is majoring in apparel design, which she describes as both grueling and rewarding: "You're using so many parts of your brain." McClain started at St. Kate's as a graphic design major and is now designing a full line of formalwear — including backless dresses with a Victorian flair — for this spring's annual fashion show, the highly anticipated Katwalk.
It's a chance for all the fashion students to showcase their handiwork through a slick runway experience right on campus. King views the show, slated for May 12 this year, as the crown jewel of a bustling program. "I love it!" she says. "It's an extravaganza."
Eco-Friendly by Design
Growing up on a dairy farm with eight siblings, associate professor Trudy Landgren '72 says her family practiced sustainability long before it was trendy. "You never, ever thought about discarding anything," she says, "because it could always be used for something else."
Having grown up in India, Assistant Professor of Apparel Design Anupama Pasricha agrees.
The two women decided to make sustainability a central pillar of St. Kate's fashion program, addressed in every course and elevated by the University's Catholic commitment to social justice. They began speaking at conferences across the country and winning awards for their innovation and leadership.
"Fashion apparel is one of the biggest unsustainable industries," Pasricha says, but "a huge shift" is now underway. Many designers work to avoid sweatshop labor and to use recycled fabrics.
These days, Landgren notes, many students arrive on campus with a desire to be green, while others develop it during their time at St. Kate's. The proud farm girl guides student research on sustainable fiber development, such as spider silk, corn and soy, which can produce fabrics that are fashionable and durable. She once made a capelet out of milkweed, attaching the floss to the interlining of an old coat. At a glance, the elbow-length cape appears to be made of exotic fur, but it's practical; milkweed is more insulating than goose down.
Kaitlyn McClain '12 says she's grateful for the education. She and her mother own a Stillwater-based clothing store called KMK Designs and practice fair trade — paying employees above minimum wage, buying only green packaging and introducing eco-friendly clothes. She's proud to report the theme of this year's Katwalk: eco-chic.
Christina Capecchi wrote about St. Kate's new anatomy lab in the October 2011 issue of SCAN. Follow her blog at readchristina.com.
Three months after graduating from St. Kate's, Amanda Bush-Natzel brought pieces from her senior line to the Minneapolis boutique Cliché. She was working as a receptionist to pay the bills and wanted to start a label so she could sell her own brand of clothing, thinking it would be "a part-time thing."
Now Bush-Natzel's designs are carried in some 40 boutiques across the country, from Washington, D.C., to Scottsdale, Arizona, to Missoula, Montana. Despite the stubborn recession, she has doubled her sales every year she's been in business.
She works in a spacious basement studio while listening to MPR's The Current. Snickers, her 85-pound husky-German shepherd mix, snoozes under the cutting table. Her mother, Janet Knutson '97, helps her cut fabric. In recent years, Bush-Natzel has taken on a couple of St. Kate's interns, including Amanda Chaffin Reddy '09. "I really think they have something special there," she says of her alma mater's program.
Initially, Bush-Natzel planned to study merchandising, but a 2004 college-coordinated trip to Paris, Milan and London sparked an interest in runway fashion. She was dazzled by exhibitions by Armani and Viktor & Rolf.
Now she's the one doing the dazzling. "I think she's one of the best up-and-coming designers in the country," says Josh Sundberg, who owns Cliché boutique and attends trade shows nationwide.
Early in her college career, Jenny Carle shuffled colleges and majors, leapfrogging from nursing to interior design, before landing at St. Kate's, where a degree in apparel design enabled her to commit to a career. "I wouldn't be a fashion designer had I not gone to St. Kate's," she says. Both the program and the university were a great fit. "They're big on sustainability, which is really important to me."
The self-employed Carle has rented a studio in St. Paul's lowertown for three years, designing vintage-inspired dresses that she describes as feminine and playful. In a way, she says, her work reflects her alma mater: "My style and my way of life mirror the feeling I had at St. Kate's, being an independent, sustainable woman but also inspired by the past — which is just being on campus with all the great architecture."
Carle chips away at her student loans by waitressing at the Little Oven in St. Paul and relies on the growing network of Katie fashionistas. Her biggest success? Knowing that some people will stroll through Cliché and say: "Oh, that's a Jenny Carle dress."
It's a good thing Amanda Chaffin Reddy lives so close to Uptown's Spy House coffee shop. Its Spy Girl lattes power her by day, and the shop's lightly roasted black coffee keeps her going at night. "They're open till midnight," she reports.
Tucked behind her Macbook, Reddy usually logs 60 hours a week working on an online associate degree in fashion marketing from Parsons in New York. And she clocks 38 hours a week as store manager of brides of France in Minneapolis.
The work is paying off. Reddy has won two best-of-show awards at Envision fashion show, which kicks off MNfashion week (mnfashion.org). She designs clean, tailored separates for women and takes cues from her time on campus. "My work is androgynous and sometimes crazy prints that girls at St. Kate's wouldn't be scared to wear. They live for who they are and not for everyone around them," she explains.
Reddy hopes to work in trend forecasting and appreciates her alumnae base. "You hear all these great stories of what we're doing, and it all comes from one place," she says. "We're making a name for ourselves."