Students extend winning streak in fashion industry competition

January 16, 2019 By Doug Erickson

The global fashion and retail industry just received another strong message from the heartland: The University of Wisconsin–Madison continues to be a go-to place for up-and-coming talent.

Extending a long winning streak, UW­­–Madison students again cleaned up in a prestigious national competition sponsored each year by the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund. The New York-based awards are considered the fashion industry’s premier competition for gifted young designers, merchandisers, retailers and business majors.

In the 2019 competition, nine UW–Madison students took home awards. Each will receive $5,000 of unrestricted cash.

One of the nine, Kathryn Steib, earned an additional $5,000 for being the top-scoring student in the competition from UW–Madison. The extra prize was established by the YMA board to honor Peter Sachse, a past president of YMA and a former executive with Macy’s. He is a UW–Madison alumnus, and the award goes only to a UW–Madison student.

Last year, four UW–Madison students won awards. Since 2007, the UW’s winners have pocketed a cumulative $315,000.

Photo: Griffin Claes working on a sewing project

Griffin Claes, a senior majoring in textiles and fashion design, works on a commemorative cloth during a School of Human Ecology class. Claes is now a two-time winner in a prestigious national fashion industry competition. Photo: Hyunsoo Léo Kim

About 200 prizes are awarded by the scholarship fund each year. Competition is fierce. Badgers go up against dozens of other member colleges, including powerhouses such as the Wharton School, Harvard University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Parsons School of Design, where the TV show “Project Runway” was filmed for many years.

“Badgers are uniquely qualified to participate — and win — in this highly challenging competition,” says Soyeon Shim, dean of the UW–Madison School of Human Ecology.

Home to the Design Studies Department and the Kohl’s Center for Retailing, the school produces graduates who are ready for any challenge they may face, Shim says.

Photo: Portrait of Soyeon Shim in lobby of Nancy Nicholas Hall

Soyeon Shim

“We prepare students to solve real-world problems using design-thinking strategies — with curiosity, empathy and drive,” she says. “This is what differentiates our students to our peers. Their ability to think differently shines through during these competitions.”

Each year, students who enter the competition tackle a retail challenge. For 2019, they were asked to explore opportunities for a fashion company of their choice to expand in the global market. Students completed this objective through the lens of either design, merchandising, analytics or a supply chain.

Applicants don’t physically produce garments. Rather, they make their arguments through research, sketches, storyboards and marketing plans. Their work — often 100 hours or more per entry — is done outside of class but with weekly guidance and feedback from faculty members.

The 2019 winners and their majors:

  • Emma Brandenburg, junior, retailing and consumer behavior
  • Sara Kalupa, junior, computer science and international studies
  • Andrew Kowal, junior, operations and technology management
  • Megan Russell, sophomore, marketing
  • Kathryn Steib, junior, retailing and consumer behavior
  • Peiru Yu, junior, marketing
  • Alissa Donovan, junior, textiles and fashion design
  • Katherine Eberley, junior, textiles and fashion design
  • Griffin Tyler Claes, senior, textiles and fashion design. Claes is a repeat winner, having also won $5,000 last year.