If you talked to me at any point last semester, you know that my life pretty much revolved around this fashion show aha ha ha. This is probably the biggest project I’ve ever taken on, so understandably, it comes with a lot of responsibilities, experimentation, and very turbulent highs and lows.
But first- a little bit of context for confused readers.
I am currently the Vice President of Production for University Fashion Group, which is UT Austin’s student fashion organization. As you can probably deduct from the title, I am basically the coordinator and point person for our annual senior designer fashion show. It’s honestly a title I’m pretty proud of ngl, but it’s also one that naturally brings a lot of stress, if I’m being totally honest.
This is the first year that the show will be 100% student-envisioned and student-produced. In past years, it was always labeled “student-produced,” but the truth was that a lot of major creative decisions were being made by university faculty. So we split off on our own to create a show we could be truly proud of. As freeing as it is, I think we sacrificed convenience and accessibility. The university faculty used to be the ones who secured funding and the venue and press relations for us, so we only had to worry mainly about the student side of things. This year, we had to secure everything ourselves, which as I said before, has its pros and cons.
Building your team, I would argue, is one of, if not, THE most important steps in any undertaking. Of course, I had my UFG officer team, but I felt like none of us knew where/how to start, and we were all just students. I needed to consult people who had actual power and influence, so I began with Dr. Russell, the Director of the School of Human Ecology- the department our org is technically under. Ok ok I know I said that we wanted to separate from the university, but I think it’d be incredibly naive and prideful of us to think we could pull off a whole show without utilizing our school’s power and connections.
I was a bit nervous, because I was unsure how supportive Dr. Russell would be, especially since our split had felt a little bit like a bad breakup. :/ But honestly, the meeting could not have gone any better! He was on the same page as us in terms of giving the students full creative freedom and was more than happy to support us with his influence and connections. He became my go-to for questions/issues. I was literally emailing his assistant every week like “CAN WE MEET WITH DR. RUSSELL PLEASE??” Needless to say, I’m super grateful for him and he’s def getting a free invite to the show!
Next was establishing a relationship with the senior designer professors. It was super important that we were on the same page, because they are the ones who decide the designer’s curriculum and they have a lot of influence in getting the designers on board with the show.
And then finally, our clients- the designers! It was so important that we get input from the designers, because the show is for them and it’s meant to give them a way to display their graduating collections. I wanted to make sure we were doing justice to their designs and their creative vision.
VENUE & FUNDING
If you’ve ever planned an event before, you know that securing a venue and source of funding are the 2 must-haves at the beginning of the process. After all, if you don’t have a venue or funding, you basically don’t have an event. So it became my personal goal to secure both by the end of fall semester. I seriously doubted we would though.
I had a hard time deciding where to start, because a venue and funding are interdependent. How much money you need revolves around how much your venue costs, and securing a venue depends on how much money you have. I started looking at potential venues first because it was more fun tbh. With venues, I needed to be extra cautious because of COVID-19 concerns so I wanted to go for an outdoor space. One of the officers had suggested a parking garage, which really intrigued me. So I focused a lot of my energy on researching and getting connected to downtown Austin parking garages.
Ultimately, we decided that a parking garage was not our best option because there are a lot of added costs with it (i.e. portable restrooms, tents, lighting, generators, etc.). Soooo I went back to square zero and started researching all-inclusive venues in Austin. I scheduled a walk-through with each venue, and honestly, that was the most fun part. Is there any job where I can just do walk-throughs all day? Lol.
My personal favorite venue was The Riley- a multi-level event space in downtown Austin. I loved the skyline view from their fabulous rooftop space, and they had the best price/value out of all the venues. But I needed to present all options to the rest of the Executive team and make sure everyone was on the same page, since a venue is a huge investment. So I pitched the venues and everyone agreed that The Riley was the best option for our purposes. The catch was, The Riley was booking up… fast. There was only one Sunday left in April-May 2021 so we needed to put down a deposit quickly. The thing was, we didn’t have outside funding at the time.
I thought about all our available options and came up with a potentially risky but prospective idea. In our UFG Venmo account, we had ~$1,500 from membership dues. That was enough to cover the deposit (50% of the full fee), but it would leave our org with little to nothing should we need to cover any expenses. This option also meant having faith that we could secure additional funding to pay the other 50%. Needless to say, this was a BIG decision, so I needed to make sure EVERYONE was in agreement. Our executive team took a vote and unanimously agreed to go ahead and put down the deposit. I remember just letting out a HUGE sigh of relief after that meeting because it meant that our fashion show was actually happening. The next day I signed the contract, we paid the deposit, and it was a done deal.
Next, I tackled funding. We threw around a couple ideas- like selling merch and holding profit shares, but that wouldn’t get us anywhere close to the amount we needed. We needed to think bigger. From my POV, the main, viable options we had were to ask the university for funding and/or pitch to fashion companies based in Austin to sponsor us. I talked to Dr. Russell about asking UT for money and although he did raise up some concerns about UT potentially rejecting our request due to COVID concerns, he connected us with the right people. The UFG treasurer and I got together and broke down costs to come up with a proposed amount of $5k. We were encouraged to lower the amount because historically, UT had never granted our department more than $3500, but I made it clear that $5k was what we wanted. I couldn’t see any reason not to try for more because after all, this whole situation is a first for everybody. It was illogical to me that we had to base our decisions off of history. We then created and sent an invoice to UT, and were told to be patient as the university takes quite a while to review and approve funding.
It was the Monday before Thanksgiving break, around 11:30 pm when I received an email from Dr. Russell saying that our funding request had been approved!!! The full $5k amount!! I… was shocked. Ecstatic, but shocked. Over the few weeks I had spent waiting, I had become less and less hopeful that UT would give us that much money. To receive that email was an answered prayer, to say the least. Now, we were fully funded.
BAM. All. Goals. Met.
Right as the semester ended.
THINGS I LEARNED
Approach Problem Solving With a Collaborative Attitude– I am a very independent person, so one of the most frustrating things is having to rely on other people to get things done. But what I realized from this whole process was the value of working towards solutions as a team. If you are the only one who sees the validity of a solution, you are going to be the only one putting in work, and that is going to burn you out. Before I took steps towards implementing solutions- such as putting down the deposit and requesting $5k from UT, I made sure that the other officers could see and agree with my thought process. That way, not only were they clear about their roles, they were also more enthusiastic about the process. Collaborative problem-solving definitely takes more patience initially, but in the long-term, it’s so much more rewarding.
Be Confident, Be Firm, Be kind– To execute such a huge project, it’s so important that we had a solid and clear vision. We can only fight for something if we know what we want and have confidence in our ability to attain it. In all my meetings and conversations with faculty, students, venues, etc. I had to present everything confidently. If you’re confident, it’s easier to sell your vision and get people excited. I also had to be firm on things that I saw as non-negotiable. Cooperation means working towards a solution that appeases both sides’ non-negotiables. That way, both sides win. If I wasn’t firm, I would be the loser while the other side would have everything to gain. Don’t let your identity as a student intimidate you from getting what you need. But also, be kind in all your interactions. Understand that the people you’re working with are human too, and they have specific needs that need to be met as well. You’re asking them for something, and that requires you to let go of your pride. Don’t ever use intimidation in negotiation. Instead, be kind and I can assure you they’ll be more than happy to help you!
Pray Big Prayers– Omg, I cannot even begin to describe to you how many moments I doubted myself and the whole process. It was at my lowest point, when I felt so alone and so afraid, that someone reminded me to pray big prayers. I’m always scared to pray big prayers because they seem like far-off dreams that I dare not even think about. Honestly, it’s because I doubt that God is able to answer my big prayers, which is so wrong because He is so much bigger than even our biggest dreams. Need evidence? My two HUGE goals were met this semester. That’s enough for me, and that should be enough for you. (FYI Big Prayers = praying for very big outcomes that don’t seem humanly possible)
As the spring semester begins, I’m getting ready to tackle a whole slew of tasks related to the show. Admittedly, I am very nervous. Although we already have much, there is still much to be done. I can’t help but feel a huge responsibility is on my shoulders, and sometimes, I allow myself to think that if everything crashes and burns, it’s 100% my fault. But I know for a fact this will be a HUGE learning experience for me, and if everything turns out well, this will be the greatest accomplishment of my career thus far, no cap.
PRAYING BIG PRAYERS!!
p.s. the fashion show will be held on Sunday, May 9th, 2021 at The Riley (time TBD). Although the event is invite-only (blame it on COVID), we will be livestreaming it! Stay tuned!! :^)
BONUS: COME VENUE HUNTING WITH ME!
Words and thoughts courtesy of Jolene Chao, fearfullywonderfullyjo.com.