Givens would like to develop a second part of her collection, “Expression,” reflecting the possible regrowth as a person finds their self-expression again. Her passion for the industry is in “making others feel confident in their skin. No matter how down I am, putting on a certain outfit can completely change my mood,” she said. “Fashion has a way of uplifting and bringing people together. It is my aspiration to serve up options for anyone who feels like they don't have them.”
Wilsmann’s collection, “Lion and the Lamb,” is inspired by hope. “Despite life's inevitable roller coaster of ups and downs; all of the fears, change, self-discovery, nostalgia, identity crisis, trauma, depression, you name it, there is hope,” she states in her exhibit biography.
Wilsmann joined the apparel program because of her love for science and engineering. “I knew I wanted to be in that realm, but my lack of math skills held me back,” she said. “Apparel design was my way in. It just clicks, and I love that. It fuels me and pushes me to go beyond my limits. It merges all of my passions into something I can comprehend – history, science, engineering, art.”
Professor Jongeun Rhee instructs the apparel design and development capstone class. She has been instructing the seven seniors since their first year when there were originally 40 students in the cohort. The class was directly hit by COVID, as universities across the country shifted to alternative learning methods in spring 2020, Rhee said.
“All our classes are lab-based and hands-on. Learning topics online during COVID was very painful for both students and instructors,” she said. “Afterwards, it came down to the seven seniors. I am extremely proud of them. They have been strong and persistent, completing their degrees and capstone projects. These students are special to me in that sense.”
Givens’ and Wilsmann’s hope of returning to the hands-on polytechnic learning environment at UW-Stout after the pandemic helped them push through the alternative learning period.
Wilsmann called the Maker’s and Knitting labs second homes, creating team environments. “The labs encourage you to create. We do not feel limited here. We get to work in a space that is designed to make something happen. It is a very liberating feeling,” she said.
“A lot of colleges claim to be hands-on because they have internship requirements or have ‘labs,’ but Stout takes it the extra mile when it comes to hands-on learning,” Wilsmann added. “In the apparel program, hands-on experiences mean sewing on your first day as a freshman, learning how to drape directly on a mannequin, feeling the fabric swatches and analyzing them under a microscope to see what that fiber looks like on the microscopic level. It’s not just talking in theory.”
Givens agreed, stating that the fashion program built her skills from the ground up. “Other fashion programs make it difficult to enter the industry if you have no experience,” she said. “That’s why I love the program here. Without the accessibility of this program, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to explore this career field.”
Givens has grown an appreciation for the hands-on experience, as she learns better by doing. “The lab spaces aren’t like traditional classrooms,” she said. “We all have the opportunity to work together with our classmates and assist one another with assignments. I love that we are all learning together and cheering each other on.”