A pair of alumni of the Textile, Apparel and Merchandising Division, or TAM, in the LSU School of Human Ecology, returned to speak to LSU College of Agriculture students about their experiences both at LSU and in the fashion design industry.
Taking place at the LSU AgCenter’s LaHouse Home and Landscape Resource Center on Feb. 13, designers Natasha Popich Miller and Stephanie Young fielded questions from students in the Agriculture Residential College’s Food, Fitness and Fashion track.
Miller, a Belle Chasse native and 2010 graduate in apparel design now living in Denham Springs, owns and operates Natasha Marie LLC, which offers custom bridal gowns and evening wear. The recipient of the 2010 LSU Senior Design Award, Miller also designed the suit worn by Louisiana First Lady Supriya Jindal during the 2012 Louisiana Governor’s Inauguration. To learn more, visit www.natashamariebridal.com.
A native of St. Gabriel now based in New Orleans, Young has been recognized as a top new designer in the South, thanks to winning Top Designer honors at 2012 Fashion Week New Orleans. She is a 2011 apparel design graduate of LSU who currently specializes in designing and creating handcrafted, custom-made evening gowns. To learn more about Young, visit www.stephaniemyoung.com.
Miller and Young said that while the paths they took to their current successes were quite different, their education through the TAM program gave them both a strong background.
Miller said she took up sewing at the age of 10, after learning from her grandmother. As most young girls do, Miller said, she often dreamed of her wedding day, sketching her dream dresses. After taking art classes in high school, she said, she knew she wanted to become a bridal gown designer. During her time at LSU, Miller said she learned fundamentals including flat patternmaking, draping, advanced sketching and sewing classes, computer-aided design and textile science.
Young’s interest in fashion design came more out of necessity, she said.
“My mom tried to teach me how to sew when I was young,” she said. “I really started sewing only about two years before starting in the TAM program. In high school, I’d go shopping for formal dresses and couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, so I’d come up with ideas and work with my mom to create my own dresses.”
Young said that she first began her studies at LSU as a business major. However, after three years, she found herself changing her major to apparel design.
“I had a revelation one day,” she said. “I’d been creating these dresses for myself and thought, ‘Why can’t I do this in real life, too?’ So, on a hunch, I switched majors.”
Miller stressed to the students the importance of gaining work experience while in college. At LSU, she completed a fashion field study in China in 2007 and interned with New Orleans designer and fellow LSU alumna Suzanne Perron in 2009. It was during this internship that she learned to hand-bead Mardi Gras Queen gowns, draft patterns and construct the inside of wedding and debutante gowns. She also participated in the prestigious Dallas Career Day 2010, placing third in the “Little Red Dress” category.
“Definitely get as much experience as you can,” Miller said. “It’s hard to balance school and work, but it’s definitely well worth it. Experience is never bad, even though you might have a bad experience.”
Miller said that while studying at LSU, she also worked as a bridal gown consultant, where she learned the ins and outs of the bridal industry.
“The experience of getting into that bride’s head when you’re selling dresses helps when you’re designing a dress from scratch,” she said.
Like Miller, Young interned with Perron, where she said she mastered the art of construction and fit.
“I believe we did, by far, more sewing there than the people who did internships at companies in New York,” she said.
When asked about what she felt was the hardest part about starting her own business, Miller said that having the confidence to branch out on one’s own can be difficult.
“When you do go out on that route, it’s all on you,” she said. “If you’re not confident in yourself and motivated to push and reach your goals to get where you want to be one day, no one else will do it for you. It’s about having confidence in your product and in what you want to do, wrapping your mind around what you want to do and having a specialty.”
Young agreed, adding that figuring out a target market is crucial, especially in the fashion industry. Each said that word of mouth and the rise of websites and social media, including Facebook and Twitter, have helped in advertising their business.
“You can figure out what your style is, but it has to relate to what people really need and really want,” she said.
Both Miller and Young said the knowledge and experience they gained while at LSU definitely helped them achieve their respective successes.
“Mrs. Elva (Bourgeois, undergraduate coordinator and instructor) taught me so much, and I still refer back to my notes from her class,” Miller said. “It’s nice to know I can always go back to the basics. LSU definitely gives you all the stepping stones. I’ve saved all my notes and all of my books. Also, the connections here with people in New York are great for work experience.”
“I feel like my experience at LSU was a bit more of reality,” Young said. “I don’t think I’d move to New York. It’s not who I am. It’s such a small program here that everyone is like family. You can be creative here, create what you want and live your dreams, and still see your friends that you went to school with around town and help each other out.”
Bourgeois said having Miller and Young come back to speak to the younger students is a prime example of the relationships built within the TAM program.
“I can tell you where they sat in the classroom and some of the things they wore when they were students,” she said. “Both of these young ladies were always in class, anxious to learn and asked questions. It’s like you could see that they were headed for success. We read and hear about them, but seeing them is always a joy. Hearing them talk about their experiences is what’s so valuable to the students.”
Prior to the question-and-answer session, the students and faculty toured the LaHouse facility. Located on Gourrier Drive, the facility features a permanent showcase house with exhibit and resource room, seven acres of educational landscape exhibits, a multi-media teaching center, and educational outreach to consumers, professionals and youth that address national and regional challenges. It includes a wide range of practical and proven solutions that integrate the LaHouse benefits criteria, from no-cost to higher-end, high-performance products and systems for both new and existing homes. More information on LaHouse is available online at www.lsuagcenter.com/en/family_home/home/la_house.
To learn more about the College of Agriculture and the Agriculture Residential College, visit www.coa.lsu.edu.