Kent State’s School of Fashion Design and Merchandising will hold its popular annual Fashion Week in late April, with special events and activities planned each day, from April 21 through 27. Photograph courtesy of Kent State University

By RITA KUEBER
For a week in April, and a very special day later, in May, The Kent State University School of Fashion is opening a window into its inner workings and showcasing its students’ creativity and insight. “We are hoping that Fashion Week will allow the community to know us better and see what we do as a fashion family,” says Dr. Mourad Krifa, Ph.D., the Margaret Clark Morgan Director of the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising.
With 1,400 undergraduates, “We are a large family,” Dr. Krifa remarks. The students are split between those studying fashion design and fashion merchandising. “It’s a very diverse and broad field,” he says, referring to the international clothing industry. “Skills are needed to create and run the business of fashion, so we need inventive minds, artists, but also engineers who understand the materials and the processing, and also graduates who will run the business portion. We have also started a new pathway for graduates who want to leave with a fashion law degree.”
Dr. Krifa’s background is in textile engineering. He has more than 20 years of post-doctoral experience researching fiber processing, characterization, and polymer science. He also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses including global sourcing and apparel value chain management. “Fabric material is the center of everything we do in the industry,” he states. “The fabric inspires the designer to create the garment which is later sold by the merchandiser. Things that take place in the lab, the development is what enables creatives and brands to come up with new products that consumers find on the shelf.”
“The Industrial Revolution started with textile manufacturing,” he says. “The first computers were an innovation for making textiles. Fashion is also at the forefront of AI. It’s amazing to see AI being used for online shopping platforms. We don’t always think of fashion as being part of these innovations, but fashion professionals take pride in these facts.”
The School of Fashion is following in these tech footsteps, having invested in technology with 3-D design tools and access to digital design programs. Both are used in the classroom and the design students’ collections during Fashion Week. Dr. Krifa refers to the textile lab with its spectrum of technologies that help both inspire and execute design. He also talks about the Knit Lab, a ground-breaking technology that’s now standard in the industry. There’s also the Design Innovation Hub, another opportunity to access and leverage technology that goes hand in hand with clothing design now.
Further discussing innovations both academically and globally, Dr. Krifa talks about recent improvements in making cotton, possibly the oldest textile known. He describes how Cotton Incorporated, a not-for-profit research collaborative invented in the 1970s to combat the growing use of synthetic materials, is constantly researching and developing ways to make cotton better. One example is a new treatment, so the fabric dries faster than virgin cotton, wicking moisture away from the body, which is necessary in athletics.
“There is absolutely more to discover. We need ways to make cotton more environmentally friendly, more tolerant to drought, and less susceptible to pests. There’s research now on potential enhancement such as making the fabric antibacterial or using liquid crystals within the fabric, which detects temperature differences. This would have an application in the medical field,” he says. “Textile engineering is one of the areas we focus on when it comes to fashion,” he adds.
Like any global industry, it’s clear that fashion and the business of fashion are a lot more complicated than anything the average viewer sees on Project Runway!
Another wrinkle, so to speak, in the fashion world now is sustainability. The first event in Fashion Week is the presentation of an independent film ‘Fashion Reimagined” produced and directed by Becky Hutner. Armed with extraordinary facts such as we buy three times as many clothes as we did in the 1980s and wear them for half as long. And also: three out of five garments go to a landfill within one year of purchase. Hutner’s film follows British designer Amy Powney who worked up from sweeping the floor to studio manager at Mother of Pearl, as she sets out to create a fashion collection that’s ethical and sustainable at every level.
“We’ve seen this movement toward sustainability take place over the past twenty years,” Dr. Krifa says. “Students from this younger generation have a greater awareness of the impact the industry has on the environment, and they design to do something about it. Embracing this responsibility as a fashion professional has grown tremendously and we have a commitment to that as a school, from our partners, and our students. It’s very present here, and we explore best practices for recycling and reusing. We see this really having an effect in the future for the region and the state.”
Another highlight of the week for Dr. Krifa is the Career Day open to high school students. Here he hopes teens will be introduced to all the opportunities that exist in the field of fashion. “We want to ensure young people know the level of success that can be achieved. The design and runway – that’s the flashy side of fashion, but it takes business-minded people to take that garment from the creative mind and make it a product that can be sold – that’s what the merchandising grads do. Ninety percent of our students get a job in the industry within a year of graduation,” he states.
But above all, Dr. Krifa wants Fashion Week to be a way to connect to the community. “We want to be an institution that works for our community,” he says. “We have a mission for our students to be successful, but we also want to have a positive impact around the region. We can do this because the fashion industry itself has so much impact and so much that can foster prosperity.”
KSU’s Fashion Week Highlights
Sunday, April 21
“Fashion Reimagined” Screening
Monday, April 22
First Year – Visuals Fashion Show
Tuesday, April 23
Virtual Fashion Show
Wednesday, April 24
Schroth Series Lecture: Visiting Artist Pauline St. Denis
Thursday, April 25
Behind the Scenes Fashion Show
Opening Night Annual Fashion Show
Friday, April 26
School of Fashion Career Day
Hall of Fame Lecture
Fashion Merchandising Symposium
Awards Night Annual Fashion Show
Saturday, April 27
School of Fashion Scholarship Ceremony
Gala Annual Fashion Show and Hall of Fame Induction