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Meet Fashion Knitwear Designer Student: Jody Lee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jody Lee.

Jody, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I knew at a very young age that I would be in the fashion industry one day. I began to take fashion seriously when I chose to attend Agoura High School solely on the fact that it had a fashion program. I took four years of sewing along with Fashion Design and Merchandising where my teacher Kim Speth built a strong foundation of fashion knowledge and construction skills, allowing me to succeed in my higher education later on. When I was sixteen, I participated in my first fashion competition and became a finalist for O’Neill and Teen Vogue’s annual fashion competition, Generation Next. Through a mentorship with a designer at O’Neill, I designed, developed and marketed a dress to compete on the runway. I have always been hungry for fashion, taking every opportunity to be involved. While still in high school, I interned with Luna Luna and K-Swiss, which further motivated me to pursue fashion as a career.

I was accepted to my dream school, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and decided to participate in the FIT in Italy study abroad program. I studied at Polimoda Institute of Fashion Design and Marketing with FIT in Florence, Italy for the entirety of my freshman year, subsequently returning to Manhattan to finish the remainder of my Associate of Applied Sciences degree in International Fashion Design. I continued to study at New York for another two years to pursue my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Fashion Design – Knitwear Concentration. During my second to last semester, I partook in a foreign exchange with Nottingham Trent University to study with the Fashion Knitwear Design and Knitted Textiles (Hons) course. I fell in love with the incredible knit facilities, the vibrant university life, and the English style of learning design. After graduating undergraduate studies from FIT, I decided to return to Nottingham Trent University to pursue a Master of Arts degree in Fashion Knitwear Design, where I am currently situated.

I am eternally passionate about fashion knitwear. I started off in fashion design focused mainly on woven materials. With most fashion design, designers typically source fabrics to be used in their collection. Knitwear is a whole different world. Because you engineer the fabric yourself, there are so many possibilities with yarns, gauges, and stitches.

Has it been a smooth road?
I feel content with where I am now, but it was definitely not always an easy road. As the top university for fashion design in America, FIT is filled with exceptional talent and incredibly hard working students. Although I never experienced negative competition at FIT, it was really hard to feel adequate in the cutthroat environment. I constantly felt that my hard work went unappreciated. I found it difficult to value my own work when the girl to my left got Lady Gaga to wear her designs on tour, and the other on my right has Michael Kors mentoring her studies and sponsoring her tuition. My parents raised me to be a humble and down-to-earth artist and I never felt animosity toward anyone’s success, but rather found it inspiring and motivational for me. Still, it’s a personal issue of mine to maintain self-confidence because I naturally compare myself to my surroundings.

I have been applying for scholarships and competitions for years. People always come up to me and tell me, “Wow you’re so lucky you got these scholarships.” when in fact, it isn’t luck at all– it’s all work ethic. It’s really easy for people to only see the fat check earned from a competition. But what many people don’t see are the nights I stayed up working on my projects until five in the morning, the multiple muslin drapes I made to perfect the fit, or the tears I’ve held back as a professor coldly critiqued my work. I am so grateful to have been able to win three substantial scholarships in the recent years, but people don’t realize that I have been applying to these competitions for four or five years before winning anything at all. For every single accomplishment I have achieved, I was rejected one hundred times.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Although I am young and relatively new to the fashion industry, I have already noticed big changes taking place since the time I started following fashion at 14. Sustainability and eco-conscious fashion has become more popular and has become truly important especially with the rise of global warming. Both of the universities I have attended (FIT and NTU) implement sustainability into the curriculum one way or another. The fashion industry has a history of pollution and generally being inconsiderate towards the earth, but many designers such as Eileen Fisher and the Reformation have become conscious of this and aim to design sustainable apparel. Even brands like H&M have included an eco-friendly line, which is great since fast fashion is generally unsustainable. We only have one earth to call home, and we need to take care of her.

A major change in the fashion industry that has emerged in the past year are runway presentations adopting a “see now, buy now” method. Burberry and Tom Ford decided to do this and sales have been skyrocketing. In the past, the runway shows showcase what will be sold in stores months ahead of time. With so many consumers looking at runway shows as a form of entertainment, it’s a smart sales tactic. It’s a brilliant to translate the energy and excitement of runway shoes into sales.

What has been the primary challenge you’ve faced?
My biggest challenge over the years has been maintaining my self-esteem and positivity during stressful times. An artist’s worst critic is usually himself. Because I spend so much time on my work and have a vision of what the final outcome should be, I see all the flaws and mistakes very clearly and beat myself up in my head. Fashion is supposed to be a form of expression and I shouldn’t let it deteriorate my confidence.

I overwork myself a lot, too, especially when I was living in New York City. I would be at school from 9am-1pm, 2pm-5pm, and 6pm-10pm, and then I would stay until the labs closed at 2am. Because I love what I do so much, it’s easy for me to work long hours like that. But it definitely does take a toll on my physical and mental well-being, especially when I’m getting four hours of sleep and accidentally skipping meals. Lately, I’ve been taking care of my body because I saw how worried my mommy became, and that really hurt to know that I could make her less anxious simply by putting health first.

It took me a long time to learn how to manage it, but I’ve been better with taking time for myself and keeping positive energy. When I know I am overworking unnecessarily or have low confidence in my work or myself, I literally say to myself “Chill out, dude. It’s just fashion.” Because even though this is my passion and it’s exactly what I want to be doing for the rest of my life, at the end of the day, it’s just clothes.

What would you tell someone who is just starting out?
1. Fashion might seem like all glitz and glamour, but there is A LOT of ugly but necessary tasks that goes into it. Be prepared for hard work.
2. The fashion industry is small. Don’t burn bridges. Just because the successful girl next to you is catty and nasty does not mean you need to be mean also.
3. Be humble and be open to learning. There is always more to learn no matter how much of an expert you are.
4. Don’t break the rules until you know them inside and out.
5. Chill out, dude. It’s just fashion.

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