A cross-cultural collaboration

Fashion is an art form that can break boundaries and bring people together. The collaborative fashion line created by April Torney, Madeline Meyer and Varvara Korkina did exactly that.

Madeline Meyer and Varvara Korkina

“This project changed what I want to do after graduation,” said Madeline. “It truly opened my eyes to looking at culture and marketing differently.”

Their collaboration began last spring when Varvara, a geography graduate student, visited a computer design class in the Textiles and Apparel (TAPP) department. Varvara spoke about the cultural traditions of indigenous people living in the tundra of Russia and how the way they dressed made it difficult for them to be taken seriously when speaking with local officials. Dressed for tundra conditions, the indigenous people utilized natural resources such as reindeer and fish skin to create durable and warm clothing suitable for their environment. However, their appearance often distracted and dissuaded officials from hearing their concerns. This dilemma became the foundation for a class project to create modern clothing items that still reflected the Russian indigenous culture.

April and Varvara continued working together on the project and chose prints created by students in a brand empowerment class and inspired by traditional beading patterns on the indigenous peoples’ clothes and accessories. Madeline, a marketing major with a minor in TAPP, created most of the prints and joined their team.

Madeline and April shared their ideas with Varvara, who provided feedback on what would appeal to their target market of indigenous youth and teenagers. “We wanted the clothes to express a sense of self-identity that accurately represented their culture,” said Madeline. “Varvara’s insight made that possible.”

The team created five garments that combined aspects of indigenous culture, such as animal print, with unique fashionable elements including off-the-shoulder sleeves, kimono-styling and fringe. “From beginning to end, I’d say that each garment took around 10 hours to create,” said April.

In February, they travelled to New Mexico for the Southwest Popular American Culture Association Conference, where they presented their designs. “I loved sewing, pattern making and designing, but my favorite part of everything was after we presented and having a discussion with everyone because they brought up so many new things I hadn’t thought about,” said April. “It really reignited the passion for what we’re doing.”

While April graduated in May, Madeline, who graduates in 2018, intends to continue their work. “I’ll be creating a marketing plan to get the collection up and running, and hopefully I’ll be able to travel to Russia and get feedback from people and see what they like, what they don’t like and to get ideas for other garments,” said Madeline.

While the project started with the intention of making a cultural impact, it had a personal impact on them as well. “Right now, I’m thinking of starting my own brand or going into technical design,” said April. “After creating our garments from scratch, I really became interested in the how-to of garment making.”

“This project changed what I want to do after graduation,” said Madeline, who is now looking into strategic marketing research on culture. “It truly opened my eyes to looking at culture and marketing differently.”