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Photograph by Gordon Schmidt

How did you get interested in fashion?
This past summer, when I went home to Nashville, Tennessee, I worked at this designer liquidator, United Apparel Liquidators. At one point, we had an item that was a $7,000 Stella McCartney skirt, and that was pretty awesome. It was like a boutique, and I got to play a stylist’s role. 

What inspired you to design your dress with a focus on self-identity and fashion?
I kind of made my dress for ring dance last year. It was a mermaid dress. I actually bought that, but I added capes to it because I wanted to add my own flair.

I thought, “Well, I had a little taste of that. What if I made my own dress?” Heather [Hogg, who supervises the costume shop where I worked all year] told me I could get an independent study out of it, so then it just all kind of worked together in my schedule.

What were the first steps of this project?
Heather suggested that I start with digital media research, so literally think about the feeling. A really important piece to it was the identity part, so I went from Google images to Pinterest looking up things like “Hong Kong style.” Hong Kong, I thought, was an incredible focal point for seeing that fusion between Eastern and Western. I was definitely focusing on Chinese because my family is Chinese.

How have you combined Eastern and Western elements into your design?
What I’m drawn to right now is the fitted bodice. I’m not sure about the color yet, but maybe a darker red because that’s good luck and happiness in Chinese culture. And I think gold would be nice because gold in a lot of cultures symbolizes wealth and success.

Also, I think I would like a high collar, something like a Mandarin collar because that would be kind of cool to pop out.

From the waist down, I think it’s going to be more Western, whether it’s pleats or an asymmetrical bottom or something else. I think there are some characteristics, having grown up as an American, that I’m not afraid to show, like the sheerness of the dress. I think for me, I would like to show a little skin, and I think that’s from something in American culture that is part of our nature in being bold and not being afraid.

What do you want people to think when they see you in your dress?
I want it to say different, elegant, intricate, and maybe even designer. And definitely Chinese, proudly Chinese.

Tell me about the most difficult part for you.

Sticking with an idea. It’s like when you go clothes shopping: You’ll have something in mind, and then you’ll start going through the racks and get entranced by something else and then you’re like “Oh yeah, it still needs to fit certain criteria.”

A lot of it is learning because I’ve never done concept to product. It’s interesting learning how to make a flat, two-dimensional piece fit the curves of my body.

You’re a biology major with a minor in business administration. How has this independent study contributed to your academic goals?
When I first came in, I wanted to be pre-med. But I think the crazy reason why I wanted to go into it was that I looked at the courses I needed to take and thought, “This looks really hard. Let me see if I can do this.” Maybe it’s always been a journey of finding things I can challenge myself in and see if there is a passion in them.

I think I can see some parallels between the challenging aspects of these really different fields. I think if I didn’t work in the costume shop, though, I would not be here. This project has been my creative outlet to express something I don’t really get to in my science or business classes.