The Fashion Department at the City College of San Francisco is presenting a unique opportunity for fashion and merchandising students to put their skills to the test. 

The college is partnering with Macy’s, Inc. to present the Upstyle Academy — a fashion-based competition inviting students to create one-of-a-kind, sustainable outfits for monetary prizes. The winning team will receive $2,500 per student, while honorable mentions will each receive $1,000. 

Participants will compete in teams of two, consisting of one fashion student and one merchandising student. With ten samples of material from Macy’s Fashion Office, each team faces the challenge to create an upcycled head-to-toe outfit. 

Teams are responsible for creating mood and theme boards, completing demographic research, and presenting to the jurying committee. Along with team responsibilities, each fashion and merchandising participant must complete their own list of requirements that corresponds to their expertise. 

For team members studying fashion, specifications include technical flat sketches, documented process photos, sewing information, patterns, and call outs of details. Merchandising team members are required to present line lists, labels, hang tags, press releases, social media posts, pop-up shop coordination, styling the garments, and producing a fashion presentation with models. 

Fashion Department Chair Natalie Smith is confident the competition will expand the professional and entrepreneurial skills of students participating. 

“Mastering the art of collaboration, communication, and accountability is key to success in this competition,” explains Smith. “…Understanding how the design and merchandising aspects are interconnected is a huge learning opportunity for the participants.”

Kendra Rae, a fashion design student at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF), is competing in the Upstyle Academy alongside merchandising student, Sarah Brooks. By working alongside her merchandising teammate, Rae is broadening her perspective when it comes to the creative process. 

“As a designer, you work solo on a lot of things, so it is nice to have someone bounce ideas off of,” says Rae.  

Her teammate, Brooks, says the feeling is mutual. “We’re learning to recognize our limitations, as well as being able to pivot and adjust,” explains the merchandising student. 

 “I think my partner and I went into this super optimistic, and then had a reality check once we received the samples,” adds Brooks. “The samples aren’t made from fabrics we would normally prefer to work with, however, knowing we have the skills to be able to achieve something [like this] … is pretty rad.”

A major theme of the competition shines a spotlight on sustainability and the fashion industry. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, there were 11.3 million tons of textile waste in landfills in 2018 — the equivalent of almost 82 pounds of discarded clothing per person in the U.S. Some materials can take hundreds of years to break down in landfills, resulting in harmful pollutants leaking into groundwater. 

Rae and Brooks are both vocal about their passion for sustainability, crediting a desire to improve current environmental policies in the fashion industry as inspiration for their career paths. Rae says past projects at the City College of San Francisco helped ignite her motivation to participate in the Upstyle Academy. 

“I’m really passionate about clothing waste,” explains Rae. “With the help of CCSF, in Spring of 2022, I had the opportunity to show a five-piece capsule collection that was made entirely from secondhand garments. 

“[The Upstyle Academy] is just another chance I get to showcase how important upcycling is and the amazing things that can be made from secondhand garments.” 

Brooks is also a firm believer in bringing greener practices to the design table. “Sustainability is really important to me,” says the passionate student. 

“There are so many clothes that don’t get sold and typically end up in a landfill. With [the Upstyle Academy], we will show that items can be reworked into new textiles and keep more things out of landfills.”

Participants began working on their submissions at the beginning of the fall semester. Currently, students are gearing up to prepare their digital presentations for submission this February. As they gather materials and continue to work on their projects, students are also attending virtual mentoring sessions led by Macy’s fashion executives throughout September, October, and November. 

Meeting virtually with Macy’s mentors allows participants to cover essential topics such as building a brand and the design process, combining merchandising and design, how to target customers online and in-store, and sustainability. These sessions give students the valuable chance to ask questions, get advice, and insight on industry practices you can’t learn in a classroom. 

“So far, the experience has been good … This is the first time Upstyle Academy is happening,” says Rae. “I really look forward to laying the groundwork for the classes in the future. I think that this is a positive move in bringing sustainability to the forefront of fashion.” 

You can learn more about the Upstyle Academy on the City College of San Francisco’s Fashion Department webpage