From Sketching Product Ideas to Creating Designs for Vera Bradley

AustinIn the fall of 2018, sophomore Austin Sierra showed his multipurpose clothing sketches to some of LIM’s Fashion Merchandising faculty members. This ultimately led to a request for several new designs, presentations at two industry meetings, and an internship with a high-profile brand. Austin rode this wave of faculty support and came away with invaluable, lasting career experience.

“I showed Professor Hilda Alfonso some sketches I was doing,” said Austin. “She advised me on how the products could be mass-produced and about tweaking elements to make them easier to manufacture. That’s how it started.”

As Austin’s designs started to include actual prototypes and even video demonstrations, Professor Alfonso expanded the informal review sessions to include Professor Andrea Kennedy and Department Chair Nancy Miller.

“What got their attention was a video where I demonstrated a hoodie I made, which had a zipper in the middle and a drawstring rib-knit cording at the bottom that turned it into a cinch bag,” Austin continued. “They really mentored me with that product and saw potential. They asked me to fine-tune it and come up with seven other designs.”

Austin’s designs all shared attributes of his personal brand: functional, multipurpose streetwear with a millennial edge. His faculty mentors arranged for him to present his products to the Accessories Council, which partners with LIM on various projects throughout the year, then to the College’s Fashion Industry Advisory Board. After the latter, one board member pulled Austin aside. Harry Cunningham, Vice President of Retail Brand Experience for Vera Bradley, expressed the possibility of a summer internship at their corporate headquarters in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Austin could develop and propose new ideas for the company.

Austin’s stint in Fort Wayne lasted nearly three months. Among other projects, he noted, “They wanted me to create a new tier of streetwear products that they could market to millennials, and they wanted some multipurpose travel pieces.”

“Taking Computer-Aided Design (CAD) at LIM helped me, because I had to draw up full technicals for every piece I was creating,” he continued. “Another really important class I took was Public Speaking. My ideas could be great, but I had to present them clearly.”

Austin with bagSome of Austin’s proposed products are now in development at Vera Bradley and the company’s various collaborators. They include a millennial-aimed belt bag, a messenger bag that converts into a backpack, and a tote that becomes a duffle. Others have been handed off to different design teams.

“To see that an intern can produce something and sell people in the industry on that product, that was my giant takeaway from everything,” said Austin. “I mean, I’m still in school … but I’m doing this.”

“I've learned almost everything here,” Austin, now a junior, says of his time at LIM. “I started sewing about a year before I came to LIM, but it was the business classes, the presentation classes, and learning about elements of fabric and textiles that have pushed me forward in my career.”