Standing in front of a full-length mirror, Christian Dowdy styled customer Ryan Newman, pulling the tan T-shirt out from under the black floral hoodie and letting the tee peak out a bit.
After the slight adjustment, Dowdy, 18, couldn’t help but smile.
Not only was the teen showing Newman how to look good in his new outfit, but Dowdy had helped design the tee and sweatshirt Newman was wearing as part of the Future of Fashion summer internship program.
“To see our creations on anyone’s back – I can’t wait to see them on the streets and think, ‘Oh man, we did that,’” Dowdy said.
Dowdy, a recent graduate of Harvest Preparatory School, is one of 16 Black teens from central Ohio in the two-month, immersive internship that culminated this week in the release of the clothing collection, Industry Plant, at a storefront in the Short North.
The young designers and entrepreneurs will be at 640 N. High St., through Friday showing off their streetwear line inspired by the natural beauty that can be found in urban spaces. The designs, which feature hard construction looks with floral and vine-like touchpoints, will be given away to underprivileged youths who visit the pop-up store while others can offer a donation to take home a special piece.
The Future of Fashion program teaches young designers and entrepreneurs about the fashion industry
The Future of Fashion program, which seeks to teach young African Americans about every facet of the fashion industry while also paying them for their work, was a collaboration of two local nonprofit groups, the Columbus Fashion Alliance and My Brother’s Keeper Village.
During the first few weeks of the internship the students, ages 14 to 19 and all male except for one young woman, met with various industry leaders – buyers, designers, merchandisers, marketers – to learn that working in fashion involves more than just making clothes. They took field trips to meet Black-owned brands including Starstrukt Apparel in Reynoldsburg and the Toledo-based Midwest Kids and Mud Made.
“The best part of this is that they see people who look like them,” said Ronny Oppong, the director of the program and a Brooklyn, New York-based fashion creator who grew up on the North Side of Columbus. “You can be an entrepreneur. You can be in corporate and be a VP or a buyer. They were able to interact with all these spaces and see what they look like.”
Oppong, a 29-year-old who studied fashion merchandising at Ohio State University, said he was thrilled to come back to his hometown to lead this internship and get young Black men interested in fashion – an industry where he hasn’t seen a lot of African American mentors.
Students meet with black designers and industry leaders
Meeting Black designers and industry leaders in central Ohio was one of the most beneficial aspects of the internship, said Greg Simpson, 16 and a rising senior at the Southwestern Career Academy in Grove City.
“To see people who look like me and have had some of the same struggles I had to get to that point – that was really inspiring,” Simpson said. “It was surreal to see other people make it and lets me know I can do this.”
He said the program “lit a fire under him,” especially the fact that he was paid $300 a week for his efforts, to try to make a full-time career out of fashion.
Through the summer, the students learned plenty of practical skills, too.
Kenttwon Brown, 19, said he learned how to use graphic design software, screen print garments and effectively implement color in his creations.
He designed a logo that he’ll use for his own brand, modeled for promotional materials and filled a whole notebook full of advice he heard over the two months.
In fact, he said he learned more this summer than his entire freshman year studying graphic design at Central State University near Dayton.
“It was almost a dream come true,” said Brown, a 2020 graduate of Reynoldsburg High School.
But the summer wasn’t without its challenges, he added.
Pop-up store impresses mentors and customers alike
The group learned tough lessons, such a curating the best designs from so many good ideas and leaving really cool styles on the cutting-room floor.
Then, they had what seemed like the impossible task of producing the garments for the pop-up shop, deciding how much of each piece to order and setting it all up in a store setting to appeal to customers – all within a few short weeks.
“We had to think about what are we going to make and what’s on the floor,” Brown said. “What’s our inventory? What’s the main showcase? All these items are so fire that it was hard to decide what to highlight.”
Indeed, what the students produced in their pop-up store – a space that used to house Lululemon Athletica and was donated for the week – impressed the students’ mentors and customers, alike.
Passersby wouldn’t have known the store was only a temporary post filled with designs from teenagers based on the sleek interior of the store filled with posters of models showing off the clothes, racks made from industrial pipes and the sheer variety of goods offered, from beanies with the Industrial Plant logo to pants with green flowers printed on them to myriad T-shirt options.
Looking around Monday during the first hour the store was open, instructor Kathy Hayes, who headed up the visual merchandising team, stood in awe of the environment and how confidently her students navigated the space with their eager customers.
“It’s amazing,” said Hayes, a Northeast Side resident who has worked for companies including Express and Victoria’s Secret. “They basically built this from the ground up.”
Newman, of the West Side, knew one of the interns so he stopped by that first day to check out the finished product.
“The set up is amazing,” Newman said. “It’s really, really pretty and everything looks like what you’d see in a successful storefront.”
He also loved the designs.
The teens, themselves, took time to revel in their successes.
“I’m proud of myself and I’m proud of us,” Dowdy said, echoing the sentiments of several of his teammates.
He and others said that while it’s been amazing to see what they created with Industry Plant said he’s even more eager for what the future has in store for them, whether its launching brands, starting modeling careers or deciding what to pursue in college.
“On the first day, I shook everyone’s hands and I didn’t know what to expect,” Dowdy said. “I watched everyone grow and come out of their comfort zones. The personalities came out … I can’t wait to see what we do with all this.”
To learn more about the collection and how to attend the pop-up store, visit www.industryplant.org.