BYU students sew their way to the top

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BYU student and designer Bree Wilkins' collection was featured at the April Provo Fashion Week. (Michael Bunn)
BYU student and designer Bree Wilkins’ collection was featured at the April Provo Fashion Week. (Michael Bunn)

Over the years Provo has become a city where anyone can go boating or hiking, catch a local band’s show and then hit a one-of-a-kind restaurant all in the same day. Now, Provo’s fashion culture has begun to emerge with its first-ever fashion week that debuted in April. Because the show was such a great success, the founders have another show in the works for fall.

Provo Fashion Week (PFW) was founded by BYU students Melanie Brook and Janay Robison, with the help of funds they raised together through Kickstarter. The event quickly grew in popularity, creating a turnout that was more substantial than any other fashion show held in Provo.

“There have been fashion shows in Provo before as fundraisers or promotional events, but never before has Provo had an annual or semi-annual runway show that local designers, models and fashion enthusiasts can look forward to and aspire to be in,” Brook said.

Many of the designers who showcased their creations are BYU students who already have online stores where they sell their designs. BYU student Lizzy Rinner participated as one of the designers in PFW. She grew up with a love for fashion and design and has taken all the sewing classes BYU offers. Now Rinner has her own online shop and brand featuring swimwear, blouses and skirts, as well as a children’s line.

“Currently, I’m starting to focus on swimwear. I have an Etsy shop, and I specialize in custom swimsuits,” Rinner said. “I’ve always loved the idea of owning something that no one else has, so I try to make sure my suits are different than anything currently available in stores. They are all unique and one of a kind.”

Provo Fashion Week creators Janay Robison, front left, and Melanie Brook pose with their models after their show in April. (Michael Bunn)
Provo Fashion Week creators Janay Robison, front left, and Melanie Brook pose with their models after their show in April. (Michael Bunn)

In recent years BYU discontinued its fashion and design major, creating a more general major called Family and Consumer Sciences, which includes some clothing design and textile classes. Because of this, many BYU students interested in fashion end up majoring in other majors such as photography or graphic design. This change had an effect on Rinner, who wanted to major in fashion but instead majors in photography.

“The fact that BYU doesn’t have a fashion design major has definitely affected me,” Rinner said. “I originally wanted to go to design school, but my parents wanted me to have a good education from BYU. When I realized they didn’t have the major I wanted, I just took as many sewing classes as I could and learned things on my own. I’m grateful for the education in sewing and design, but I think I could have greatly benefitted from more.”

This change has not stopped BYU students from learning about fashion and design from various classes and opening their own shops. Some have even started major shops and show their lines in big cities outside of Utah. Recently, BYU MBA student Julia Perry took her fashion line to Las Vegas Fashion Week, where she made her debut.

“It was really well received, which was exciting for me as a designer. It’s a great, classic line,” Perry said. “It’s clean, and I love the color that’s in it. I think it will be great for fall.”

With Provo fashion week growing every day in popularity, some designers at BYU wonder if it could pave the road for a fashion and design major at BYU. While some believe it is possible, there is no sure way to tell.

Whether or not a fashion/design major makes a comeback at BYU, current students interested in designing clothes can find resources in Provo to help them out. Fashion week is one of them, as designers just have to apply and show their designs.

Brook said the events are meant to give outlets for designers to show off their work.

“We are organizing these events because we know there are a lot of people like us who are craving an opportunity to pursue fashion design but have no outlets to do so locally,” Brook said.

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