Alaina Withers ’23 Specializes in Bringing Textile Design to the Runway
By Sarah Stone
What do Marimekko, Anna Sui and Lilly Pulitzer have in common? Each of these brands were started by textile designers but made a name for themselves in apparel.
And graduating textile design (TD) student Alaina Withers is following in their footsteps.
“Ever since I was first admitted to the fashion and textile design (FTD) program, I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer. However, I was told by multiple professors that I had an eye for textile design,” she remembers. “But then I had an internship last summer with American Eagle. I realized that although I am a textile designer, I can apply my print and pattern design skills to apparel.”
She returned to the Wilson College of Textiles last fall on a mission to gain more experience doing just that. Through an independent study course with her advisor – and TD program director – Professor Traci Lamar, Withers developed an apparel collection made up completely of textiles she had also designed.
For the FTD Emerging Designers Showcase in April, Withers “begged Dr. Lamar once again” to let her send fashion designs down the runway. Her collection, “Piccante,” featured six apparel looks cohesively paired with a bar lounge textile design showroom.
The showcase represents a springboard to her career. Withers will move to Fort Myers shortly after graduation for an assistant artist position on Chico’s computer-aided design (CAD) team.
Why did you choose the Wilson College of Textiles?
In high school I took a sewing class, and my teacher had a daughter that was a student at the Wilson College of Textiles, so our class visited the college and took a tour.
I was like, “Wow, they have so much technology. Everything looks so cool. I want to go there and try it out and use it.”
When I got home to Winston Salem, I told my parents about it, and that’s when I found out that my mom graduated from the then-College of Textiles and also studied textile design. My mom had worked in sales for most of my life, so I didn’t realize that she had actually been a textile designer for that same company for a lot of her career. She really encouraged me to attend the college.
How did your semester abroad in Florence, Italy, impact you as a designer?
Honestly, I think studying abroad was the best experience I’ve ever had. As an FTD student, I had spent the past three years constantly creating, so it was so nice to have a new perspective, in a new country. Experiencing a whole new culture was so enriching and allowed me to find so much new inspiration.
In my knitting class, fashion illustration class and fashion styling class, my professors were artisans, rather than industry professionals like my professors at the Wilson College. It’s a much different experience, and it provided such a good balance to the education I’ve received here.
It also inspired my capstone collection. The title is “Piccante,” which means spicy in Italian. The whole concept behind it is that one of my favorite activities in Italy and part of Italian culture was their social hour of the day, which is called aperitivo, which is basically a happy hour / cocktail social hour that happens every afternoon.
Which person on campus has influenced you the most during your time here?
It would definitely be Jaymie Googins. She’s also a senior in textile design, and she’s been my day-one studio friend. We always sit next to each other in our studio classes and even though we have completely different aesthetics, we always feed off of each other with new ideas. I’m so sad to leave her!
What advice would you give to your first-year self?
Take it a little bit slower. At times, I was so focused on just producing the product and I was very much a perfectionist. I wanted all my projects to be on time and perfect. So I spent some long nights in the studio.
My advice would be to take your time and enjoy the creative process. Building a collection can be so rewarding when you take your time and enjoy each moment.