Design student from UK traverses Atlantic to attend BU

Sugar Land senior Caleb Thompson prepares a shirt in the Mary Gibbs Jones Family and Consumer Sciences Building on Friday, April 19, 2013. Travis Taylor | Lariat Photographer
Sugar Land senior Caleb Thompson prepares a shirt in the Mary Gibbs Jones Family and Consumer Sciences Building on Friday, April 19, 2013.
Travis Taylor | Lariat Photographer
By Ashley Pereyra

The apparel design and product development students are preparing to present their clothing at the annual Family and Consumer Sciences fashion show May 5. The Lariat sat down with one of these students, London, UK, senior Helena Stefanowicz. She is graduating in December and is showcasing her senior collection at the fashion show next month. She is one of nine senior designers taking part in the show.

Q: How did your interest in design begin?
A: I grew up in a household of sewers. My grandmother does needlepoint. My mom makes quilts. One of my great-grandmothers was actually a fashion designer. My grandmother on my mom’s side was an editor at Cosmopolitan in New York for a while and was like a model, so she was always very fashion minded and always looked gorgeous in everything she wore. So I learned how to sew at a really young age. And then my mom’s an architect so we kind of have an artistic flair in my family.
When I was like 10, I just decided one day I’m going to be a fashion designer. And as I started getting really interested in fashion and my hands on every magazine I could possibly find and ripping out pages and sewing like little skirts for myself that were horribly made, but I was determined. Then I got into high school. I started painting and drawing. So through high school, I was a fine artist. I did portraiture and a lot of oil and acrylic painting. I got to my junior year, which is really when you have to decide like what are you going to do with your life. I was like well, I could stick with this but I don’t know if I’ll make any money.
My dad is a banker and he was like, oh you’ll do economics right? I was like what? And he was like what about languages? I speak three languages. So he was like oh, go do something with that. And I thought about it. On the one hand, I have fashion design and on the other hand, I have business. Or I actually almost became a doctor. I did the whole bio/pre-med school thing. And then I just thought like for me academics comes more easily than creative things just because I don’t know why. So, definitely it was more of a challenge and I thought I should try it. And if it doesn’t work out, it’s not going to work out. But this is something I could see myself doing and why not give it a shot.

Q: Why Baylor?
I grew up in England. That’s where my dad is from. And my mom is from Georgia. So all my family is over there. My dad is an only child. So all my cousins, aunts and uncles, everyone is in Georgia. I decided to come over to the States for college just cause I really didn’t want to stay in London. That’s where all the fashion schools in England are and I lived there for 18 years. I’m like a gazelle; I like open spaces. So I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just go to America.’
I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design for two years. After my first semester, I was kind of like, ‘You know this isn’t the college experience that I wanted.’ It’s really artsy. It has a much more graduate school vibe. There is no sense of community at all. So, I Google searched every college in America with fashion design as a major. I had a huge list and I started narrowing it down and narrowing it down. I was supposed to transfer after my fall semester of sophomore year and only Baylor had responded to me after I applied to 10 different schools. I didn’t want to make a rushed decision. I had never visited Baylor. And I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t know.’ So I waited another semester. And so I narrowed it down to Purdue in Indiana, Baylor and staying where I was because some thing had changed and I was feeling a little better about it. Then spring break of my sophomore year, I went to Purdue to visit for a weekend and it was cold. I’m just not a cold weather person. It was cold and there are so many hills and I don’t know anyone in Indiana. And I don’t know. So, I went back to Savannah and was like, ‘Oh, man. Well, I guess I’m staying here but I probably should go visit Baylor just in case.’ So I called my mom and I was like ‘mom, listen — I really think I need to go visit Baylor.’ She was like, ‘OK if you can get there in $300 or less, you can. So, I got on a Greyhound. I was like, ‘Oh, this is fine, I’m a student. I can handle a Greyhound.’ Like no. It was a two-day drive on a bus with strangers. And I got to Waco at 8 in the morning and had a tour at 9. I walked onto campus and I was like, ‘O my gosh, this is so great.’

Q: You are a senior designer set to present your collection at this year’s fashion show. What is your set theme?
My theme is rainstorms, which I know makes me sound like a hippie. I actually had a really hard time thinking up an inspiration just because you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself, but you have to have a direction. And you don’t want it to be super broad because then it can be all over the place. It has to be cohesive. And so I went home over Christmas break and it rained every single day. I’m just one of those people that just loves the rain. I love rainstorms. I love walking in the rain. I love drizzle. Sun is great but there’s just something about the rain that I love. And so I was like, ‘Oh, I wonder if I could make this a thing.’ Rainstorms became my design concept. I’ve been using a lot of cool dying fabric dying techniques and felting and embellishments. I didn’t want to take it too literally, so my models won’t be wearing rain boots but my colors are blues and grays.

Q: What is your favorite thing to design?
I’m a dress girl. I’m girly and I’m not a skinny girl. I have curves, so I design things that I would wear. And I look good in things that come in the waist and then have a lot of flair because that’s where my weight is. So I tend to design things that I think would look good on my body because a lot of women have bodies that are similar to mine. There aren’t just so many size 0s and like everyone else in the world has like something they want to show off and something they don’t want to show off. I just tend to design a lot of dresses that are flattering. I have also recently found out that I love designing coats. The last two coats that I have made I just love. I love them. So maybe that’s what I’ll do. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do when I graduate. But I am interning this summer in New Orleans with a bridal and evening wear designer. Her name is Suzanne Perron.

Q: What types of clothes do you design during school?
A lot of stuff we do in our design department is career-wear because the largest target market of consumers is women who are 35-55. It’s not people our age because people our age don’t have money. We’re in college. We have like small jobs maybe but like nothing that is paying big bucks. And we want trendy stuff like fast fashion, Forever 21, which I hate. We want to buy a dress and throw away it next season, but by the time you hit 35, you kind of know your style. You know what you want. For me, I guess because I’m a designer, quality is really important. For most customers, quality doesn’t become important until you know what you’re going to love forever. And so those same women tend to have jobs, really solid long-term jobs that they want to look nice and appropriate for but also don’t want to wear a pantsuit every day. So, a lot of the stuff we do is career wear for them. And we’ve done cocktail dresses, pants and jackets, coats, swimsuits and everything in between. So we get a hand in everything we need to learn just to able to produce everything. But people tend to find their favorite things pretty quickly. So it kind of encompasses everything.

Q: Where are you going to live after you graduate?
Honestly, wherever I can get a job, as cynical as that sounds. The economy in England is absolutely horrific. It’s horrible. I’ve had almost all my friends that have graduated are either doing a second degree, have left the country, or are living back at home because they don’t have a job. So in all likelihood, I’ll be staying over here. But you never know, I might get lucky.

Q: What garments have you completed thus far?
We are currently working on look four. So I have made my coat and my first two dresses. I’m currently working on a skirt and a shirt. And then my last look is a really simple blouse and a pair of pants. So, a total of eight garments and five looks. Oh, and a jacket somewhere in there. I made a jacket a while ago.

Q: Is that typical of collections?
Yes, it is. We all have to make five looks. It used to be six but they cut it down—I think either last year or this year they made it only five because six is just crazy. So yeah, we have to have five looks. They encourage variety for your portfolio. Everyone has to make a coat. Dresses are for me the easiest thing to make and for a lot of people it’s not the same. But most people make a dress, a jacket or vest of some kind, some pair of like pants or shorts and a skirt. Obviously, tops to go with everything.