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Budding designer takes creativity to the runway during Charlotte Fashion Week

by Luanne Williams

For her 21st birthday this summer, Wingate senior Kiera Young asked for a cutting board and a rotary fabric cutter – practical tools to bring a pie-in-the-sky dream down to earth: showing her original clothing designs on a runway.

An artsy kid who took sewing lessons as a preteen, Young applied in March to be part of the Aug. 30 emerging-designers show during Charlotte Fashion Week and was one of 10 designers chosen. She hadn’t sewn the first stitch on her collection but had some ideas and the summer to put together nine garments.

Young made clothing from patterns in elementary school but did very little sewing between age 11 and her freshman year at Wingate, when she started working on her own designs. This summer, her design experience resulted in a striking collection for Fashion Week.

“I wanted to do something bold and bright,” Young says. “I was inspired by the artist Henri Matisse. He paid a lot of attention to shapes and color, and all of that inspired me with my pieces.”

A model wears a white dress with cutouts on the bodice and hem.

Young, a marketing major, had once thought she’d wind up in art school. But even as she’s learned the ins and outs of promoting business, she’s kept one foot in the art world, working with whatever medium strikes her fancy. “I think my penchant for art made it easier for me to go from using patterns to designing,” she says. “If I am going to sew something, I usually study actual pieces of clothing that I enjoy and get ideas about the shapes. Studying art has helped me do that.”

It has also given Young patience to keep working until the vision in her head or on her sketchbook comes to life. For example, a white dress with intricate cutouts along the hem and at the top of the bodice became one of her favorites in the show. But it required research into what kind of fabric could be cut without fraying and then hours of careful carving with a pencil-sized craft knife.

“I decided on a kind of scuba material, a neoprene blend,” she says. “I made the dress first, which was a really simple shape. Then I drew the patterns on the piece and spent a long time cutting. The cutouts were what set the dress apart. I did those over about three days. I would work a couple of hours, rest and then go back to it.”

A model wears a coral jumper dress on the fashion runway.

For another outfit, a coral-colored jumper dress, Young designed not only the style of the blouse but the print of the fabric. “I drew the design, uploaded it and had the fabric made,” she says. “The blouse actually had the color palette for the entire collection. It’s where it stemmed from.”

Another outfit she made for the show was a green silk dress that was inspired by 1960s fashion trends and modeled by her Alpha Omicron Pi sorority sister Fiorella Rodriguez, a May Wingate grad.

Finding creativity in business

Young loved seeing her work on the runway and checking out what other budding designers had created. She said Charlotte Fashion Week increased her confidence level.

“Doing all of those pieces was a lot, but I learned that I can definitely time it well and get everything done,” Young says. And although she wants to do more sewing for herself, she also wants to do it with less, which explains why there’s a Goodwill bag in her room full of silk suit skirts that she plans to remodel.

“Sustainability is really important to me,” Young says. “The fashion industry is so bad with sustainability. So many clothes get thrown away. So, some of my clothes I buy secondhand, The jacket I had on at the fashion show was a used Armani jacket that I bought for a really good price. I really feel good about it, because it’s more environmentally friendly and I didn’t spend an arm and a leg to purchase it.”

Her more-from-less philosophy helped Young choose marketing as a major when she got to Wingate. “The more I thought about it, I thought marketing would be the right thing, because it’s a business field, but it still has a creative side,” she says.

A New Jersey native who now lives in Waxhaw, Young went to a large high school, but most enjoyed one of her classes that had only nine students. 

“I loved it, so I knew that’s what I wanted in college,” she says, although she admits she had her doubts when many of her friends headed off to large public universities. “In the end I feel like I have gotten better experiences. I went on W’International to Japan; I know all of my professors. My business professors, they all have doctorates and worked in their fields previously, so I think that the education I am getting is really great.

“Not everyone just goes and picks a major and falls in love with it, but I did.”

As for what kind of career she’s fashioning for herself, Young says marketing has given her lots of options. Already she is working as a public relations intern with Wingate’s Office of Orientation, handling social media accounts. Then there’s her love for photography, videography and virtually all things creative.

“I would love to be an independent designer, to sell my designs to companies, but I would also like to work in advertising,” she says. “I think that would be fun. I know I’m going to apply for a lot of different jobs. One day I’d love to be a creative director, but that’s probably in the far future.”

— September 19, 2019