Annual SF State fashion show empowers students, promotes inclusivity

Senior design student Brittany Carroll sews together fabric for her collection, which will be exhibited at this year’s runway show.

Runway 2019: Kaleidoscope will showcase student talent while breaking barriers

After experiencing years of traumatic physical and emotional abuse, Hope found it hard to be alone. She was unable to perform simple daily tasks, and the slightest touch could send her into a panic attack. Last year, though, Hope found a sense of solace and confidence through San Francisco State University’s annual student-led fashion show, which showcases the talents of juniors and seniors in the Apparel Design and Merchandising program.  

Hope performed as a model — and she says it changed her forever.

“I felt so empowered,” said the graduate student in clinical rehabilitation and mental health (who prefers to go by Hope rather than her given name). “The clothes were designed for me — my identity — and I walked with dignity. The disabilities seemed to fade away. It was like I was a new person. As I walked I told myself, ‘I am here. I am Hope.’”

Hope is one of more than 160 students who are working as models, designers and promoters for this year’s 24th annual event, titled Runway 2019: Kaleidoscope. As in previous years, the focus will be on pushing fashion boundaries by developing diverse and inclusive apparel. The student designers are also committed to using sustainable materials, including denim provided by The Wear Movement, an SF State project that aims to ease the strain on the environment by extending the lifecycle of clothing. The apparel brand Athleta is also providing fabrics for the students’ designs.

Professor of Apparel Design & Merchandising Connie Ulasewicz says that this will be the third year the runway show will focus on the unique needs and perspectives of students with disabilities.

“That broadens and enhances [the student designers’] abilities,” she said. “It makes them stronger in the workforce and as individuals.”

Many students chose family, friends and fellow classmates to model their collections. SF State’s Disability Programs and Resource Center also referred student models with disabilities (such as Hope) who collaborated with the designers. Senior Brittany Carroll was one of two designers who collaborated with Hope on her apparel. Carroll will also showcase another collection promoting female empowerment.

“I have this long dramatic skirt that symbolizes us as women making a dramatic change in society,” said Carroll. “I have pieces for all body types and am using women from different backgrounds. I wanted to show diversity in my collection and redefine what it means to be a woman.”

Miranda Orellana says the runway show allows students to build up a portfolio to use after graduation. Her collection pays homage to her Salvadoran heritage by drawing inspiration from the paintings of Fernando Llort, a famous Salvadoran artist.

“In all of Latin America you’ll see his art in most homes. So, I grew up seeing his art,” Orellana said. “My collection is like an ode to him. It’s essentially what you would be wearing if you jumped into his paintings. The colors are very bright.”

Phyllis Wong, the wife of SF State President Leslie Wong, has been instrumental in making the show accessible to all campus members. She says the event’s emphasis on inclusivity and individuality lets students express their ideals through their work.

“Social justice is about valuing everybody, and that’s a powerful idea,” said Mrs. Wong. “People can go to an event like this and leave a changed person. Some may change a small amount, but some really are transformed by seeing what our students are doing.”

Hope says she looks forward to strutting her stuff on this year’s runway, and she hopes her participation inspires other people with disabilities to “sit in front of a mirror and say, ‘You are beautiful.’”

“To be a part of this amazing event made me realize, ‘Why not me? Why not Hope?’” she said.

Runway 2019: Kaleidoscope will be held at SF State’s Student Life Center at Annex 1 on Thursday, May 9. The venue is wheelchair accessible. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for students and $30 for general admission. Visit the Runway 2019: KALEIDOSCOPE Eventbrite page for more information or to purchase tickets.