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Student Success

African American Textile Society Celebrates a Legacy of Student Creativity with 25th Annual Fashion Exposé

A model on a runway poses center-frame in a fully crocheted green and white striped dress.
Dominique Bell, a first-year studying fashion and textile design, won first place in the novice category for her fully crocheted collection | Photo Courtesy: Kaela Belingon, Student Media

By Elyse Boldizar

On Thursday, April 6, 2023, the African American Textile Society (AATS) hosted its 25th annual Fashion Exposé, the first and longest running runway show at NC State University, for NC State’s Pan-Afrikan week. The night was an astonishing showcase of student creativity from the Wilson College of Textiles and NC State as well as nearby universities. 

As in past years, the show was split into two categories: novice for new designers and intermediate for more experienced designers. All participants had the opportunity to present their designs while competing for cash prizes.

Showcasing student talent

Jordan Everett, a sophomore studying textile technology and the president of AATS, says the main goal of the exposé was to showcase talent at the Wilson College.

“That was the biggest thing for me this year, which is promotion and trying to get connections as well as get more people to know about what we’re doing here at the Wilson College of Textiles,” Everett says.

A student walks down a runway carrying a bouquet of flowers, waving to the audience. Behind her, three models walk off the stage in pastel dresses.
Jayla Renaud, a junior studying fashion and textile design, greets the audience after her collection is showcased. Renaud placed third in the novice category | Photo Courtesy: Kaela Belingon, Student Media

This year, the event was sponsored by Aja Labs, a materials engineering company that makes plastic-free hair from synthetic fibers. Ashley Davis, a polymer research scientist at Aja Labs, was one of the exposé’s judges. Accompanying Davis on the panel was Joelle Bond, associate designer at Athleta; John Chapman, business director at Red Hat; and Sheila Hall, owner of SJ Hall Art & Design.

Designers stunned the audience with jaw-dropping collections that they have been working on for months. Bright colors, unique shapes and overall compelling designs showed the diversity of students’ creativity. NC State students shined, making up the winners in both the novice and intermediate category.

Novice category:

  1. Dominique Bell 
  2. Jeana Grace Bowker 
  3. Jayla Renaud 

Intermediate category:

  1. Jada Williams
  2. Natalia Barnack
  3. Anna Lia Ritchie

Dominique Bell, a first-year student studying fashion and textile design, was the first place winner in the novice category. Her collection, “Mesh and Distress”, featured crocheted looks using colors found in nature.

“The whole collection is made out of mesh to show self love and self expression. I knew no one else would do mesh because it’s kind of risky since it might show too much skin. But that’s the point that I wanted to get across. I want everyone to be comfortable and confident in their own body. 

While the AATS Fashion Exposé was Bell’s first time designing a collection for a runway show, she has been crocheting for 15 years and sells her creations through her business, dombdesigns. Bell says participating in the exposé has motivated her to partake in more fashion shows.

A model poses on a runway in a satin blue skirt and intricately patterned crop top and matching headband.
North Carolina Central University students Cameryn Alston and Symphony Burchett co-designed a collection in the intermediate category | Photo Courtesy: Kaela Belingon, Student Media

Jada Williams, a junior studying fashion and textile management with a concentration in fashion development and product management, won first place in the intermediate category with her collection, “Ease On Down”. The looks were inspired by the 1978 musical, “The Wiz”, and incorporated themes of celebration and liberation.

A model poses in a sparkly gold dress inspired by the Lion in the movie The Wiz.
“I love film and pairing that with my love for design,” Williams says about her collection inspired by The Wiz | Photo Courtesy: Kaela Belingon, Student Media

“I wanted to really represent an iconic, timeless piece of Black culture, which was ‘The Wiz’,” Williams says. “I got the theme from when I worked at a summer camp and one camper said his favorite movie was ‘The Wiz’. It was so great to see how his face lit up while he was watching it. He knew every single song and loved it so much because he was finally seeing representation of an entire cast who looked like him. I wanted the audience to feel that same childlike feeling when seeing my collection.”

Continuing the legacy

AATS has four major values: creativity, inclusion, diversity and community. The Fashion Exposé champions these values by bringing together a range of students across different degrees, years and backgrounds to celebrate their efforts as upcoming designers, year after year.

“Participating in something like the Fashion Exposé is different from doing your normal class projects.” Williams says, “Getting to see your work and everything that you’ve worked hard for on the runway is a magical feeling. It’s so important for Black people, like myself, and underrepresented groups to feel seen because there’s not a lot of Black culture in the media.”

A model poses in a short gold dress and feather headpiece inspired by "The Great Gatsby"
A 1920’s-esque look in Autumn Newkirk, a NC State junior studying fashion and textile management, and Caia Staton’s, a NC Central University student studying family and consumer science, “The Great Gatsby” inspired collection | Photo Courtesy: Kaela Belingon, Student Media

The first AATS Fashion Exposé was held in 1998 and, since then, the event has grown significantly — increasing from only four designers at the first annual showcase to 17 this year. 

“It meant a lot to me to be able to continue that legacy and I just really want to make sure I do everything I can so I’m able to showcase everything that past AATS leaders were able to lay out as well as the legacy of diversity at the Wilson College of Textiles.” Everett says, “It means a lot that we’re able to continue to have that impact.”