Fashion student competes, gains designing license
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 21:02
When senior apparel design major Brynn Williams boarded the Philadelphia plane last month to head out to the Project OR Winter Market design competition, things were not going her way. Besides being alerted to fuel problems and experiencing a three-hour delay before even taking off, she had a sinus infection, she was exhausted and she was extremely nervous.
“I felt like every setback that could prevent me from getting there happened,” Williams says.
Her second flight out of Arizona had engine problems, so she arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah nine hours late, barely making the cut-off time in order to compete. Showing up with just herself and her design tools, Williams says she felt “completely blinded” until she was handed her design brief. Pure adrenaline and a passion for her craft kept her going, she says, and although she did not emerge the winner, she got “a whole lot” out of the competition.
Luckily, Williams says she is used to having a lot on her plate. In addition to being a full-time student, she is the designer of an eco-friendly line—a red, white and black-themed senior collection based on a William Blake poem, “Never Seek to Tell thy Love.” She is also a licensed realtor, aspiring tri-linguist, sustainability advocate and a volunteer for the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.
“I hate being limited,” Williams says. “No is never the answer to me. Sometimes I maybe take too much on, more than I can handle.”
Project OR is a design contest between five students from the top design programs around the country, held at the biggest outdoor retailer trade show in the nation. The handpicked students have 49 hours to produce an outdoor recreation garment prototype using eco-friendly materials and whatever fabric one of the 1,200 vendors, such as Rocky, Quicksilver and Gore-tex, choose to donate.
After fashion and apparel studies professor Kelly Cobb brought the idea of entering a student in Project OR to the faculty department, a recruiter with OR chose the university as one of the top fashion programs. Williams was the first student to respond to the opportunity, Cobb stated in an email message.
Even though Williams had never worked with an industrial sewing machine or “technical textiles,” a fancy term for waterproof fabric, Cobb says she provided Williams with enough inspiration to get her feeling more excited than nervous.
“Brynn is a problem solver, she can tackle any task,” Cobb says. “That is the mark of a good designer.”
Filmed in a high-pressure, reality-competition type format akin to Lifetime’s Project Runway, Williams and the other four competitors were closely followed throughout the conception, sourcing, production and presentation stages of their garments. After running on anxiety and squeezing in 20 minutes of sleep the night before the final presentation, Williams created an orange and black backcountry ski jacket that was convertible and had an ear-covering accessory that also functioned as a belt and a scarf. Using accessories as a theme for the jacket, she also included a GPS watch in the wrist in between two fabrics and a whistle on the zipper pull.
An avid skier, Williams says she knows how dangerous backcountry skiing is and wanted the coat to be bright for people to see in bad weather conditions. She chose the black and orange color block scheme as a nod to her favorite hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers. Her color choice would end up being one of the reasons she didn’t place first, but she says she sticks by her decision “100 percent” and believes the judges were fair in their criticism.
“You have to know what your consumer wants,” Williams says. “I was designing for them basically. If you don’t listen to your consumer, you wont succeed in the industry.”
Although Williams did not come away with the gold, she says she succeeded in other ways. Besides “tons of interviews and tons of connections,” she says she has taken a job with Aptitude Sports, LLC, an active wear company that designs customized lacrosse team shooter shirts and is based in Madisonville, La., where she will be moving after graduation.
Williams says she and the other four competitors became close friends in the process and they plan on staying in touch.
“We weren’t enemies,” Williams says. “Once it started, the word ‘competition’ went to the back of my head. We were all winners in our own eyes.”
Senior apparel design student Kate Ackerman has known Williams since freshman year, but she says the two became best friends after they studied fashion abroad together in Hong Kong their junior year—Williams was studying draping, Ackerman was learning the ins and outs of lingerie design. She described William’s design style as “classic, feminine and eclectic” and says she attributes much of William’s success to her abilities as a skilled communicator.
“She can network like nobody else,” Ackerman says. “She gives off a great first impression—she’s very social and very professional.”
Whether she ends up designing skiwear or wedding dresses, both of which would be “awesome,” Williams says her dream job is eventually working for herself and having enough time off to make frequent trips to China. She says she idolizes designers Vera Wang and Monique Lhuillier for their stunning wedding collections, and Leah McSweeney, creator of “Married to the MOB,” for her edgy graphic T-shirts.
Between meeting some of the top designers of Nike, receiving her license as a designer and getting a lifetime invitation to return to OR, the Wilmington native is certainly a long way from her 12-year-old childhood beginnings of drawing wedding dresses and naming the designs after her family members with the help of her grandmother.
“I always knew I wanted to make an impact on peoples lives using something they use daily,” Williams says. “And I want to make people as happy as possible.”