Student’s design talent lands him summer TV gig

WIU Student Chris Taylor "Duct Tape" Design Segment on KHQA-TV

Chris Taylor, a senior fashion merchandising major in Western Illinois University’s Department of Dietetics, Fashion Merchandising and Hospitality, is bringing his creativity and love of design to the viewers of KHQA-TV (Channel 7) every Friday morning through this August.

For Chris Taylor, his love of fashion and design began at the early age of “6 or 7,” he says, with an auspicious task (assigned by his mom) that involved a stack of old clothes and some Barbie dolls.

Today, at 26, Taylor, a senior fashion merchandising major in Western Illinois University’s Department of Dietetics, Fashion Merchandising and Hospitality (DFMH), is bringing his creativity and love of design to the viewers of KHQA-TV, a Quincy (IL)-based station, every Friday morning through this August.

Taylor—whose designs are frequently based on using “reconsumed” (used), common household, and/or vintage materials (check out his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ReConsumed4U)—has been appearing on the station’s 5-7 a.m. news show since mid-May in a segment that focuses on “saving on style.” (Taylor said his segments typically air in three segments from 5:30-7 a.m.).

Videos of Taylors segments (so far) can be viewed on KHQA-TV’s YouTube channel.

Taylor took some time out of his busy summer designing schedule to answer a few questions about his background and his love of design, fashion, and making “old” things “new” again.

Q). What interested you in fashion and design before you started attending WIU and majoring in fashion merchandising?

I think it all started when I was about 6 or 7. We had a neighbor with a little girl that was a good friend of my parents. Our moms would take turns watching each of us, and she would tote around all her Barbies back and forth to our house. One day my mom needed a project to keep us busy. She gave us a stack of old clothes, and we decided to make clothes for her Barbies.

While I was in high school I took a job working for the Gap. I realized that I had a passion for fashion—working in fashion retail was more fun than work. I took a few years after high school to work and realized that I had hit a ceiling in my career and felt that I needed to do something different. I packed up and moved from Southern California to Quincy. My mother had shared the cost of living with me here, and it was a no-brainer. I didn’t quite know what I would do when I got here, but I soon decided. I earned my associates in science from JWCC [John Wood Community College]. I decided to continue and earn my bachelor’s degree. Knowing my background, my counselor suggested the fashion merchandising program at WIU.

Q). What kinds of projects do you produce/have you produced as a student in the DFMH dept. at WIU? Any favorites?

Every class has required a project. Each class’s projects vary in form, but all focus on topics related to fashion. Some of my favorites include: creating a trend board, creating a business plan, researching a fashion mart, analyzing the quality aspects of a textile product, constructing a garment, and building multiple visual displays.

Q). Where you do you draw your inspiration from?

My inspiration comes from everywhere, but most of it comes from being CHEAP! I have always loved thrifting because it’s unpredictable; you never know what you are going to find. I refuse to pay full price for anything, and that has driven me to be creative in all aspects of interior furnishings and apparel.

Taylor’s Facebook page, “Reconsumed4U by Chris Taylor,” features photos of the design projects he undertakes, and he provides instructions about how to create similar designs. This t-shirt design project has a custom logo that Taylor applied with a stencil and spray paint.

Q). What interested you in working with “reconsumed” materials?

I have always loved repurposing things and updating them. Since I was young we have shopped thrift stores. I suffered a back injury last year and had some time on my hands, but little extra money. I really needed a creative outlet that would allow me to be product but that cost little-to-no money.

Q). You seem to like to work with a variety of materials and work on a variety of different types of projects. What is your favorite medium?

I can’t say that I have one “favorite” medium. To narrow it down, I will say that with paint or fabric can change anything! Mastering the use of the tools (sewing machines, staple guns, brushes, etc.) that manipulate different media can really encourage creativity.

Q). How did you first appear on KHQA’s morning show (how did the opportunity come about)?

In my visual merchandising class, we were put into groups to construct displays created out of recycled material. Because of some injury-related things, I could not be in class the week of creating the project. I volunteered to work from home and create our outfit and left everyone else to create the background display. After putting our components together I shared a photo with KHQA on Facebook. About a month later, a newscaster emailed me and asked to talk with the creator of the dress. She also wanted to see any other projects that I had made. After my first appearance, I was asked to come back again.

I have always been someone who has taken every opportunity by the horns and guided it in my direction. I talked with a few people and worked out a trial segment that focuses on saving on style that will air during every Friday’s broadcast through August.

Q). What do you hope to do when you graduate?

I had always hoped that upon graduation I would become a visual merchandiser for a large retailer. After my injury, this does not look like it will be a possibility. I am staying positive and researching other options within my field.

Q). Anything else you’d like to highlight (that I didn’t ask you about above)?

The most important thing you can do in school is to really try at every project you are asked to complete, even if you aren’t particularly enthusiastic about. These projects will teach you interpersonal skills that are irreplaceable!

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Got style? WIU’s ‘College Fashionistas’ can tell you!

Are you really going to wear those sweatpants?

 

photo of College Fashionista bloggers

WIU 'College Fashionista' bloggers Maisey Kolin, left, and Chelsea Dieckow, right,

 

You might want to think twice about the image you’re projecting when you choose what to wear. Why does it matter? Because your style is an expression of who you are, say Maisie Kolin and Chelsea Dieckow (right), two WIU students who are currently interning as bloggers for collegefashionista.com. The web site, which features bloggers from colleges and universities across the country, takes a “man [or woman] on the street” approach, highlighting students who happen to be

sporting fashionable looks as they head to class. Kolin and Dieckow serve as the style spotters for the WIU section of the blog, working as interns for the fall semester. Dieckow writes Style Advice for the Week on Mondays, while Maisie is responsible for Trend reports three days per week.

Kolin, a senior journalism major from Naperville, Ill., who will graduate in December, and Dieckow (right), senior fashion merchandising major with a double minor in journalism and management, from Dunlap, Ill., shared with Beyond the Bell Tower how they landed their roles as “Fashionistas,” how they define style, and what it’s like to approach Western students randomly to talk to them about their looks.

‘Fervor for fashion’

Bell Tower: Let’s start with your own fashion. How would you describe your personal style or favorite item(s) to wear?

Chelsea: My style is eclectic—kind of straight out of the 80s, with the use of bright colors, psychedelic patterns, unique textures, and retro accessories. Recently, some of my favorite ensembles ahs included high-waisted dark denim shorts, signature necklaces, and plenty of three-fourths-length plaid shirts.

Maisie: I love the indie grunge look, but have a closet full of structured blazers. I like mixing trends, by pairing something very feminine with something rugged or tough, like lace with leather, or florals with destroyed denim. My absolutely favorite item to shop for is denim. A great pair of jeans will last a lifetime.

How did you find out about the opportunity to write for the College Fashionista blog?

Chelsea: I heard about CollegeFashionista.com through Kayla Stephens, who was the first “Style Guru” for Western Illinois University last year. She was a fashion merchandising major too, and we were good friends through Greek life. She gave me a reference and then I contacted the founder, Amy Levin, in the summer. I received the job first, and I actually gave Maisie a reference because I knew she was good at professional writing and had fervor for fashion.

Maisie: And I actually got interviewed by one of the previous interns in early 2010.

What’s required to become bloggers for College Fashionista?

Chelsea: Having a huge appreciation towards fashion was crucial. We had to send Amy Levin (the CF founder) writing samples, proving we knew how to write for the fashion business. On our phone interview, we described our distinctive styles and how we would approach writing for the blog. I explained that I would incorporate fashion media, culture, diversity, and up-to-the minute fashion news when writing articles for College Fashionista.

Maisie: The interview itself was really comfortable and relaxed. She asked us about out involvement at WIU, our own personal style and what we were feeling this season.

Had either of you done any previous blogging or student journalism?

Chelsea: This was my first blogging experience, and I absolutely love doing it. This is the writing experience I need for my future, considering I want to work for a fashion magazine.

Maisie: Being a journalism student, I’ve always kept some sort of personal blog. Over four years of writing, keeping up with it became easier and easier. [More after the jump.]

 

Screen shot of a WIU Fashionista

A WIU Fashionista spotted on campus

 

What have you learned by blogging? Has there been anything about writing for this blog that you didn’t expect?

Chelsea: I’ve learned how to write effectively and creatively. I’ve also learned the importance of punctuality when it comes to deadlines. Deadlines are a necessity in the writing industry, and I’ve learned to discipline myself and get my blog in on time. In addition, I have learned more about fashion jargons and how writing for the fashion industry is more imaginative and artsy. I enjoy reading other posts and looking at trends from other schools across the country. This internship has really opened my eyes to different styles and ways of putting outfits together.

Maisie: College Fashionista really helped me with introductions. It takes guts to walk up to someone and ask for a photo and short interview. School prepared me for the task, but CF actually allowed me to put it to work. Now I have no problem with interviewing. Also, having a weekly assignment that’s published online (we write out posts a week in advance) really keeps me on my toes when it comes to writing. I feel like I’ve excelled in acquiring a voice in my writing.

How do you spot the “Fashionistas” or “Fashionistos” (as the blog calls them) on campus? Do you know one immediately when you see one? What are some of the telltale signs?

Chelsea: College Fashionista tends to have more of a hipster, indie style of dress. I really just look for anything that speaks to me, such as a trendy accessory or this season’s must-haves. Fashion-forward ensembles that are unique and then at the same time, I have to think – how can I write an article about this? What message do I want to convey to the students? How can they incorporate this look into their own wardrobes?

Maisie: I have an hour break between all of my classes, so I usually get some coffee and just people-watch at the Union or on some bench on campus. Early on, it was pretty simple to spot Fashionistas. The first week of school, everyone tries to look their best. I kind of predicted this, so I snapped quite a few photos to have on file. Usually you can spot a Fashionista or Fashionisto because they are so put together. We look for that flawless style, something that just works. Not just jeans and a cute top, but some sort of trend that is going around in the fashion world. It’s easy to spot a Fashionista or Fashionisto among a swarm of gym shorts and WIU t-shirts. We’re not looking for heels and party dresses, we’re just looking for people who have style. I’m finding a lot more Fashionistos on campus this year, which makes me happy. It’s great that guys are getting more enthusiastic about fashion.

How do you approach someone to feature on the blog? Does it ever feel awkward?

Chelsea: I have no problem approaching students on campus! I take pictures while I’m going to class, at lunch, or just out on the town. You have to be personal—let them know how enthusiastic you are about working for a fashion website. Journalism is all about interviewing people and keeping an open mind. It’s the thing with for College Fashionista; you have to be receptive to other people’s styles and personalities.
I take my camera to most of my classes. I have never had someone refuse to have his or her picture taken. Not only do you have to take a snapshot, but also you need to take the picture in a creative way with an interesting angle, solid background, and an overall good composition.

Maisie: Early on, it was fairly awkward. I would always apologize unknowingly. One of my friends actually pointed out that I would apologize for “sounding creepy.” After that, I really focused on relaxing and just starting with a compliment and explaining the blog itself. Once people know why you’re taking a photo of them, they get quite bashful. It’s a huge compliment when someone wants to feature you on a blog. I know it made my entire week when I was asked. I felt famous.
As for equipment, there’s nothing too fancy. Chelsea and I both have our point-and-shoot cameras on us at all times. You never know when a Fashionista or Fashionisto will cross your path. Just sitting outside and people watching is one of my favorite hobbies, so it works to my advantage with CF. Especially in nice weather. We have one post a week, so I usually set aside two or three days to find someone. Going farther into the semester, people are starting to get a little more lazy, so I allow myself more time to find a good photo.

Do you find that the students you feature have heard of College Fashionista? What kind of response do you get from fans of the blog?

Chelsea: Some students have heard of us! But most of the time, I have to explain what it is. Students are usually flattered, and I always make sure to tell them the exact address for the website and when the blog will be posted.

Maisie: Chelsea and I are working hard to spread word about the website through campus. We’re working on flyers and business cards to have people check out the website more frequently. Once in a while I come across someone who knows the website or has read my material. It’s still shocking to me, because it is a relatively new website to the WIU campus. We’re here to change that.

What are some of the specifics of your internship?

Chelsea: It is an unpaid internship; however, the experience is amazing and I would do it regardless. I find myself being more aware of Western’s fashion trends and what kind of genres of style we have on campus.  And Friday is Boutique of the Week—currently I’m working on a post for Envy Boutique [located on the Macomb Square]. You can also do Fashion News posts throughout the week.

Maisie: We do get college credits for the work we do. It also allows me a great opportunity to add to my portfolio of published material. Each week we are to post one entry. We do work on deadlines, so it is a serious job. Some weeks we are supposed to look for specific topic, like trends from Fashion Week or Homecoming (which we weren’t allowed to photograph typical WIU gear). But some weeks, we write about a topic of our choice. There is some leniency with posts, but ultimately we do have a predicted topic which Amy has chosen for us.

What do you to do stay up on the industry and the styles? Have both of you always had a flair for fashion, or is it something you’ve learned?

Chelsea: It’s all about trends and convergence. Being a Fashion Merchandising major, I’ve learned many terms for the fashion lexicon, and I try to apply it to all of my posts. I read Women’s Wear Daily, New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal to stay on top of the global context of the textile and trade press, as well as a ton of fashion magazines, like Cosmo, Vogue, Glamour, Nylon, Foam, and Lucky. In addition, I am president of the Visual Apparel Merchandising Organization at Western, so let’s just say, fashion is definitely my passion.  Ever since I was little, I have always enjoyed putting outfits together for the week. Stylizing, accessorizing, figuring out what color combinations go well together – it has always been a hobby of mine.

Maisie: Fashion has always been a love of mine. I’ve never taken a fashion course, so everything I know I’ve learned myself. I do read a lot of fashion blogs and have quite a lot of magazine subscriptions. I try to keep up with trends as much as possible, not only for CF, but also for my own benefit. I love clothing. I’m a shopaholic, so I am constantly looking for new styles and popular trends on the runway. I’ve always been a girl who cannot leave the house in sweatpants. I just can’t do it.

Do you think it’s hard to stay stylish while living the college lifestyle?

Chelsea: Absolutely not; fashion doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s about working with what you have to create an outfit that is innovative and fresh. One of my favorite quotes is “Style is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma.  Fashion is something that comes after Style.” Fashion is wearable art and there are endless possibilities. Make a necklace out of an old shoelace or turn that swatch of fabric into an awesome scarf. Fashion is like history, it repeats itself. And I believe that fashion brings people together; much like values, customs, beliefs, and norms. Fashion, to me, is the visual aesthetic expression of oneself.

Maisie: I really don’t think it’s hard to stay fashionable with what you have. I’m an avid believer of mixing-and-matching to get new outfits. There are things that never go out of style, like a denim jacket or a plain white button-up. There’s so much you can do with just a white t-shirt. Wear it with a skirt. Wear it with leggings and a high-waisted belt. Wear it with a vest. Pile on jewelery to add glam. You don’t have to drop hundreds of dollars to look good. You can do a lot with what you have.

How would you defend the fashion industry, or the whole point of something like College Fashionista, if you were to hear someone say that looks aren’t important?

Maisie: Fashion, like everything, is an acquired taste. I’ve met so many people who don’t want to bother with clothing and accessories, but in reality, I do believe it has a lot to do with your success. I’m an avid believer in “If you look good, you feel good.” Clothing has a lot to do with success. You can’t show up to an interview with wrinkled clothing or looking too gaudy. Clothing tells a lot about a person, and it gives people an opportunity to meet you before they meet you. A lot of people on campus look at me and constantly ask, “Oh, do you have a presentation?” because I wear a blouse instead of a torn t-shirt. Here’s my thing: anywhere else in the world I would have been complimented on looking presentable, but in college, I stand out as trying too hard. I don’t understand that.

You never know when a potential boss, or even a date will walk past you. Looking presentable, whether in class or at an interview, can really affect the way people treat you. We are young adults and we should dress the part.

What do you enjoy about writing for this blog? What might be some challenges about doing it? How do you hope to transfer this experience into your post-college lives?

Chelsea: Everything. I enjoy learning style tips from other Fashionistas. I enjoy tagging posts and suggesting merchandising. I enjoy putting my creative mind to use. I enjoy taking artistic pictures. And I enjoy the social interaction with students. One challenge about this internship is being able to write my posts effectively. I want to improve my writing skills every day, so I can take that with me when I venture off into the real world.

Maisie: This is my potential life. This is what I want to do as a career, so writing for CF has really taught me what to expect from the media world. It’s difficult, especially being set in a college atmosphere, to write to my abilities. Juggling homework, clubs, social life and this internship is a challenge, but it keeps me busy and I like that.

I really want to work in the media world. I’d love to write for a fashion magazine/website/blog/etc., especially after writing for CF. This opportunity really helped me develop the portfolio that I need to get my dream job. I’d love to work for a magazine like Nylon. Their style is so fresh and youthful, and I feel as though I would have a lot to bring to their company. Ultimately, any media job would be my dream job, whether it be in television, print, or radio. It’s always fast paced and forever changing.