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Designer vouches for career in fashion industry
Oct '13
MSU Ag Communications/Kat Lawrence
MSU Ag Communications/Kat Lawrence
An apparel designer for a prominent national retailer told Mississippi State University students that the clothing industry is a good career choice since about 25 percent of the global economy is involved in it.

Ellen Sheppard is the lead apparel developer for Recreational Equipment Inc., commonly known as REI, and oversees its sportswear collections. She was on campus telling students in the MSU School of Human Sciences what it takes to create a successful career in this field.

“Everywhere you live in the whole world, people wear clothes, they sell clothes, they buy clothes, and they make clothes,” Sheppard said. “Wherever you are, you are almost always playing into the apparel industry in some way.”

Sheppard, who is originally from Texas, majored in costume design at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She first worked in costume design and then moved on to various travel and adventure brands, including Horny Toad Activewear, Cocona and The Territory Ahead Inc., before joining REI.

Rachel Armbruster, a junior apparel, textiles and merchandising major from Memphis, said she appreciated hearing the path Sheppard took to arrive at her current job.

“It helps me to see how someone can make it in the industry,” Armbruster said. “She told how she started out and explained how internships and assistant jobs can help you get the jobs you want.”

Sheppard said people with many combinations of skills, interests and personalities can find success in the apparel industry.

“I think a lot of people pigeonhole their concept of apparel design and think it might be a shot in the dark to major in this field and come out with a lucrative career,” Sheppard said. “There are abundant jobs to be had, and you can make great money and work with very smart people. It’s not all drawing skirts.”

Sheppard spoke to three apparel, textiles and merchandising classes about career opportunities, brand identity and product marketing. She also met individually with students in their design labs to review their work and suggest different ideas and new approaches.

Charles Freeman, an assistant professor in MSU’s apparel, textiles and merchandising program, said the School of Human Sciences received a $30,000 grant from Cotton Incorporated to help students see the connection between agriculture and textiles, especially stressing the importance of cotton production. This grant funds a competition in which students design cotton-fabric travel wear for modern travelers or research marketing concepts related to the use of cotton for travel.

“I reached out to REI, and they are very much in support of community endeavors for their employees and the company,” Freeman said. “They searched across their team for someone who would work well for the workshop. The idea was to bring in a product developer to work one-on-one with the students for the competition.”

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