Saturday, February 24, 2024

Michigan Fashion Media Summit brings industry experts to UMich

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More than 600 attendees filled the halls of the Ross School of Business Friday morning for the sixth annual Michigan Fashion Media Summit. The annual student-run summit featured keynote speakers, panels of industry professionals, booths hosted by various fashion, commerce and media companies, and a fashion design competition showcase. 

This year’s conference had no shortage of fashion and beauty, from attendee outfits to free welcome bags containing raffle tickets, fragrances and beauty products.The organizers also hosted a cocktail and launch party in the University of Michigan Museum of Art the night before the event, following yearly tradition.

Sophia DiStefano, head of public relations for MFMS, told The Michigan Daily she was excited to see the conference come to fruition because planning each year’s conference takes a great deal of time and effort. 

“We work all year long,” DiStefano said. “Over the summer, we’re pre-planning … and then we start planning right away in September. We’re working on securing the spaces, securing speakers, financing it — we need grants. So that’s all in the planning stages, and then we really start to see it come together in late December. Watching it today in person and seeing all the work come to life is really rewarding.”

DiStefano said the summit offers important networking opportunities for students interested in the fashion industry.

“I like to tell people that it’s kind of your Forbes 30 Under 30 summit,” DiStefano said. “That’s what it resonates with me (as). Getting people who are interested in fashion, not only fashion, but media (and) sports here and willing to learn and meet and get in the face of really influential people.”

Through the Business School’s extensive alumni network, DiStefano said the summit was able to partner with brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. 

“We really have strong ties to the fashion industry and that’s what the attraction to the club is all about,” DiStefano said. “We want to have that outlet for people to get their foot in the door and having these big names represent us is a big start in helping us get there.”

Business sophomore Izzy Saunders works as an event planner for MFMS. Saunders told The Daily she hopes students use the conference to connect with others at the University who have similar interests in fashion and media. 

“I hope that attendees get some new insights and get inspired from all the speakers that they get to meet, people that are interested in similar things,” Saunders said. “I think that the fashion and media world at (the University) is smaller than it is at other schools, so I’m hoping that this can be an outlet for students with those interests.”

Stacey Bendet, CEO and creative director of Alice + Olivia, virtually delivered a speech in the Robertson Auditorium on her experience in the fashion industry and the importance of a positive mindset for success. Bendet told students the success of brands they see on social media is not overnight, but instead a culmination of years of hard work.

“I think especially with social media, you’ll see companies experience these overnight massive successes but to endure and to really excel and achieve over years or decades, it (takes) hard work,” Bendet said. “It’s determination and it’s resilience.”

Bendet also discussed the inspiration behind her original famous pant designs

“I’ve constantly, even to this day, thought about what’s missing from a woman’s closet right now,” Bendet said. “Every year, in every season, I’m always thinking ‘Okay, what’s our new item? What do we want to add? What can we do to dress … a woman for every part of her life?’”

Bendet then described her “female-forward” philosophy. She said though there has been an increase in women in executive positions since January 2023, there is still work to be done in ensuring work environments are positive for women.

“I nurture a culture in which women have babies and come back to work,” she continued. “They learn and realize that they too, can be an executive in their family. It’s not just the man … We try to accommodate (remote and hybrid work) to create an environment where women can really have both.”

After Bendet’s remarks, DiStefano told The Daily she was excited to host the conference in a hybrid format because it allows for a broader range of speakers.

“Some of our speakers can’t always come in person, but they’re really dedicated and they love our cause, and they want to be a part of it,” DiStefano said. “We allow them to pre-record from home and then we’ll livestream their event or show the recording here. It’s really just a secondary option to get a speaker that we really want if they’re not necessarily able to come in.”

Alongside large fashion companies like Louis Vuitton and Shinola Detroit, U-M student organizations also tabled at the summit. LSA senior Rachel Kitagawa represented Runway of Dreams, a global charity organization dedicated to increasing visibility and access in fashion for individuals with disabilities. Kitagawa told The Daily she joined the organization because she believes it is important to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in fashion. 

“Runway of Dreams really caught my attention because it’s promoting DEI in the fashion industry,” Kitagawa said. “We … buy clothes and wear them, and are so privileged to be able to do that without thinking, and for other people, it’s not the same.”

Business senior Chloe Spingler, another member of Runway of Dreams, told The Daily she is motivated by her belief that fashion is for everyone.

“I just love to share with everyone that inclusion is for everybody and fashion is for everyone,” Spingler said. “Whether that’s through adaptive fashion or spreading awareness, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the entire world, and it’s something that I find hasn’t really received as much media attention.”

MFMS also featured the Fashion Forward Showcase, an opportunity for students to submit their apparel designs prior to the summit and compete for various prizes. In 2022, the finalist won a tour of the New York City Steve Madden office. 

Art & Design junior Bryan Wilson, founder of the fashion brand 1DERFUL and winner of this year’s Fashion Forward Showcase, attended MFMS for the second year in a row as a showcase finalist. In an interview with The Daily, Wilson said he enjoyed last year’s summit and was able to create many industry connections. Though he originally came to the University to focus on fine arts, Wilson said he later shifted his interests to fashion design.

“Originally I went to (the School of Art & Design) more so focused on painting, and I had a background in drawing,” Wilson said. “But it made it an easier transition to go into fashion design, especially when it came to sketching designs and getting the ideas on paper. I had a lot more experience to be able to draw what a form looks like … to give me a better idea as to how to make them.”

Through attending MFMS and showcasing his apparel, Wilson said he hopes to inspire others to pursue their own unique artistic goals.

“I feel like I try to inspire as many people as I can to get up and do it and that’s my main goal with what I do with my artwork,” Wilson said. “Having a brand has been completely on accident … I’m an artist first and it just became a demand for (clothing) that led to me pushing it out and getting (my designs) out there, so I just want to inspire other people to do the same.”

Daily Staff Reporter Sirianna Blanck can be reached at sirianna@umich.edu.

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