AUBURN – If there was ever any doubt that Rose Leger’s future was in fashion, it was cleared up when she joined a friend on a college tour.
As her friend interviewed with a recruiter about the school and her desire to major in social work, Leger’s mind was elsewhere. “I had tagged along thinking maybe that day I’d realize something else, like social work would be a better fit,” she says. “When we left the info session, she and her mom asked me what I thought. All I could talk about was the pin tucks and pleating on the speaker’s gray wool dress.”
Leger, a graduate student in textile science at the University of Rhode Island, recently received fresh confirmation of her career path as she took top honors in the 2020 Concept 2 Consumer Student Merchandising Competition held by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. Leger’s business, marketing and design plan for the women’s wear line “Olivine” was first in a field of 15 entries from 37 students from eight colleges and universities.
“Winning this competition was incredibly affirming to me,” says Leger, of Auburn, Massachusetts. “I’m heavily interested and invested in the fashion industry, so to have a project that tested all of my knowledge and beliefs be recognized by a prestigious professional organization felt very good.”
Leger hatched her design ideas and business model for the competition during the fall semester in Textile Markets, a capstone class for seniors taught by Assistant Professor Ji Hye Kang that addresses sustainability, manufacturing and politics surrounding design and production of textile products.
The contest became part of the class’s workload. With a theme of “Everlasting Style,” the competition required participants to develop a business model that included a marketing and merchandising plan, and designing a clothing line that was office-appropriate and emphasized sustainability, quality, and a timeless style.
“I always challenge myself to think outside of the box, and the AATCC provided some pretty rigid guidelines with little wiggle room,” Leger says.
Leger, who earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion communication from Lasell College in 2016, came to URI in last fall to earn a master’s degree with plans of teaching fashion at the college level. The project, she says, reintroduced her to the “fashion classroom” while also forcing her to expand her knowledge of merchandising.
Leger’s inspiration for the Olivine line was the relatively new menswear brand Bode, which uses antique and vintage textiles such as quilts and tablecloths in its shirts and jackets. It also played to her interest in vintage and secondhand clothing.
“Nothing like Bode exists in the women’s wear market,” she says. “I thought, what if the silhouettes and fabrics were more feminine? I searched through vintage stores and vintage sewing patterns for further feminine inspiration.”
Leger’s designs use a palette of warm brick reds, heavy greens and blues, with bright yellow accents thrown in, and have a timeless look. “I wanted it all to feel authentic to the past yet fresh and empowering to a woman who would wear it today,” she says
Professor Kang helped Leger fine tune her poster for the contest in the months after the fall semester and the deadline for the contest in April. “I know that without Dr. Kang’s constant support and wisdom, the results of the contest would not have been the same,” she says.
“It was a joyful process helping her prepare the submission, even during the pandemic,” says Kang. “She is a very independent performer who has professional experience, and her own ideas and skills. Her experience and learning from academia and the industry have given her skills and her own perspectives that successfully helped her in this project.”
From her youngest memories, Leger was clothing conscious and felt that a person’s presentation influenced their behavior and other people’s perceptions. “It wasn’t so much that I felt I needed to be better dressed than others, more that I wanted to present differently than others,” she says. “I’ve never been afraid to take a sartorial risk, whether that be through wide-leg jeans when everyone else was wearing skinny, or even as simple as a unique color or accessory.”
After Lasell College, Leger worked in product development for children’s clothing before a public relations internship landed her a dream opportunity in New York. For several years, Leger worked on fashion magazines SELF and Brides, part of the Condé Nast publishing empire that includes the premier fashion magazine, Vogue. At Brides, Leger wrote fashion and pop culture stories, attended New York Fashion Week and Bridal Fashion Week, served as stylist for photo and video shoots, and planned the wedding for “Glee” star Riker Lynch. She even rode the elevator a couple times with legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.
Despite her experience in New York, she wasn’t in love with the “fast-paced concrete jungle” and wondered what was next, she says. She remembered her college experiences and how her professors inspired her, and decided she wanted to do the same. URI’s reputation for its textile graduate program and its proximity to her family played a big part in her choice.
“I visited URI and met with professors ahead of applying and left feeling very inspired,” she says. “Each professor highlighted a different asset of the TMD graduate program and showed me all of the opportunity that would be present if I were to enroll. That day really sealed the deal for me.”
As a master’s student in textile science, she is taking classes that are giving her a footing in both the art and science of fashion. In the spring, she took Textile Dying with Professor Martin Bide and this summer is studying organic chemistry, as she explores the importance of science to textiles and fashion. She hopes to eventually teach college students that you can be both an artist and scientist.
“Overall, the industry is craving a lot of change and needs fresh ideas and leadership,” says Leger. “I believe the youth are the change and the educators are the spark. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of the industry in a short time and chose to return to school to dive deeper into my own understanding of fashion and textiles, while gaining the necessary degree to be qualified for a position in higher education.”