By Debbie Willmschen

Imagine being tasked with crafting a dress entirely of red paper hearts. Now, consider the heart-pounding exhilaration of completing this design within a fairly short four-hour time limit, alongside several other competitors doing the same task, in front of your peers, your professors and random spectators – in a mall. That would be the exciting (and sometimes stressful) event known as Hemline for Hearts, a collaboration between the NC State Wilson College of Textiles and the American Heart Association.

This year, as Hemline for Hearts celebrates its fifth anniversary, organizers are thrilled to have found ways to continue to engage the students and support this effort amid COVID-19 requirements and protocols. 

“I’m excited that we are in the fifth year of Hemline for Hearts and that those who have supported this mission in the past are committed to seeing it through during these challenging times,” said Assistant Professor Delisia Matthews, who teaches textile brand management and marketing in the Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management (TATM) program in the Wilson College. 

The idea for Hemline for Hearts originated with Matthews, based on a similar concept she initiated previously at Louisiana State University. She saw firsthand the positive impact that the event could make on the students, the community and the American Heart Association cause. Together, the college’s TATM department and the American Heart Association held the first Hemline for Hearts event in January 2017.

2020 winning designs
Overall 2020 winning design with designer, Preston Bullock

Typically, the event would include at least six Wilson College of Textiles student designers who compete live by crafting their designs within a specified time limit in front of spectators at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, NC. Although 2021 proves to be an innovative challenge for the event, a virtual Hemline for Hearts is scheduled to run February 1 through 5 on Facebook, where the public can vote on its favorite design. After the virtual event, all dresses will be on display at Crabtree Valley Mall through February.

The American Heart Association sees the virtual competition as an expanded opportunity to raise awareness of women’s heart health and, specifically, to promote the official activities of American Heart month in February, which include National Wear Red Day as well as Go Red for Women. According to American Heart Association Triangle Communications Director Justine Knight, the organization wants to promote any resources that encourage women to live their healthiest lives. “We are thrilled that this year’s circumstances pushed us to go digital,” explained Knight. “We expect to have a large reach through social media and might be able to better point people to our online resources.”

Preparation for the event actually began in the fall semester with students in two courses: Textile Brand Communications and Promotions, taught by Matthews, and Fashion Design I, taught by TATM Associate Professor Minyoung Suh, who teaches apparel production. Matthews’ students assisted with developing print advertisements, a social media plan and event marketing and advertising. Suh’s students designed and produced the actual dresses. 

According to Suh, the classroom portion of the process this year was primarily the same, where students listened to guest speakers from the American Heart Association who are survivors of cardiac events. Inspired by the survivors’ stories, students created a design proposal as part of a required class project and went on to design, cut and sew the garment from that proposal. The Wilson College and the American Heart Association then chose six finalists to compete in the Hemline for Hearts competition.

“At this point in the process, we adapted the event to a virtual format to allow students to showcase their projects,” explained Suh. “Instead of having an onsite competition, we are posting a design package for each student to Facebook.” 

According to Suh, each student’s post will include a video of the designer describing their motivation – from the stories that they heard in class – and how they tried to imbed those story elements in their designs. The Facebook post will also include pictures of the student’s original drawing of the design as well as a picture of the final sewn garment.

In addition to showcasing the students’ work outside of campus, the event also brings increased awareness to the issues surrounding women’s heart health. “This event is good not only for the overall community but has provided a service-learning opportunity for our students,” said Matthews. “The students seem to enjoy most taking what they learn in the classroom and applying it to an actual cause.”

2018 winning design by Samantha Gaddy
2019 fan favorite design by Kate Milano

Samantha Gaddy, the event winner in 2018 and now a product development associate for Adidas Kids at LT Apparel in Greensboro, NC, agrees with Matthews assessment. “Winning Hemline for Hearts boosted my confidence as a designer and gave me reassurance that I was on the right career path,” said Gaddy. “But the event also gave me and my classmates an opportunity to be a part of an event that involved the local community and brought attention to a great cause. It was an opportunity for us to apply our skills and also shed light on the Wilson College and the Go Red for Women movement.”

Kate Milano, who won in 2019, expressed similar feelings. “Hemline for Hearts was a wonderful experience for me to combine both my love for design and being able to create awareness for such a serious and impactful cause,” she said. Currently studying computer science to pursue a full time position as a software developer, she is also in the middle of starting her own activewear brand that is heavily focused on sustainable clothing. “On a community level, this competition opened my eyes to seeing how this industry can have positive impacts on the community and make a difference by partnering with a meaningful foundation, which was such a new side of fashion that I really loved to see.”

While this year’s presentation process is being held differently in a virtual format, the intent is similar. “Students are excited about the opportunity to share their designs with the community, and then they feel a reward when the event is completed,” noted Suh,

And this year’s student designers echo Suh’s words.

Caroline Diaz, a 2021 virtual event participant, said she appreciated experiencing new ways to create a project and learning new production skills. “The virtual Hemline for Hearts event this year pushed me to think more creatively about presentation,” she said. “I learned about photographing my work and creating an overarching mood by combining the look I designed, the location of the photoshoot and the editing involved in the post production stage. Recording a voiceover was also a new learning experience for me, but one that I believe contributed greatly to explaining my work in the intended tone. I loved all of the experimentation while learning these new skills.”

Daryn Wilkerson, another 2021 virtual event participant, explained that the process of designing her dress provided a great learning experience in flexibility and improvisation because adjustments to the design had to be made quickly. Like her peers, Wilkerson is excited to see the public’s response to her work. “I know my peers and I enjoy watching people interact with our work,” she explained. “Working with Hemline for Hearts made me seriously think about wielding fashion for the greater good, especially through nonprofits. After this experience, I’m considering making collections with more nonprofits that bring attention to issues in the world, as I did with design for Hemline for Hearts.”

This year’s student designers include Caroline Diaz, Lauren Elson, Emma Gibson, Lindsey Seidenstein, Alexis Shockley and Daryn Wilkerson.

Marketing students who worked on the event planning and promotions include Brooke Owens, Lizeth Zeni-Mendez, Shiv Patel and Val Schroeder. 

To view the virtual event and vote for your favorite designer, visit Facebook. The winner of the event will be announced February 5, coordinating with the American Heart Association Wear Red Day and the kick-off of February as American Heart Month. For more information about American Heart Month and heart disease prevention visit GoRedForWomen or contact your local American Heart Association at 919-463-8300.