Future Talk – Nicole Benefield

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Family Focus

by Nicole Benefield, Assistant Professor, Fashion Design

This semester marks a year of remote learning and virtual student presentations. Although circumstances haven’t been ideal— Wi-Fi issues, different time zones, and ongoing isolation—students have pushed their creativity.  

A thesis is a culmination of a student’s journey toward becoming designers. There is tremendous pressure in how they showcase their body of work. Add in the dynamic of having to achieve this during a pandemic and you’re left to wonder how they will be inspired. As the concepts of my thesis students began to take shape, there was an overwhelmingly common theme resonated throughout their ideas: heritage and family values. Weaving fabrics dyed in indigenous soils from their native country, modern interpretations of garments their ancestors wore, and a time capsule of a family’s shared moments in different social settings were a few of the ways they incorporated this theme into their concepts.  


Designer Zhané Norman chose this theme by exploring who she is through the lens of her relatives. An embroidered caption on her blazer reads, “To know where you’re going, you must know where you’ve come from.” Zhané reflects on where she comes from through old family photos that are digitally printed onto her fabric and crafted into trousers. The embroidered text is repeated on the trouser with a message saying, “I look for my face in your reflection.” As a final statement, Zhané completes her story by celebrating it with a collage of photos projected onto a wall merging her look with her visual presentation.  


Instead of the past, designer David Stephens looked to the future. By using his aunt as a muse, David developed a futuristic science fiction heroine in her likeness. This established a blueprint to create a look that reimagines the archetypes of warrior references. An oversize pebble metallic jacket serves as armor over medieval-looking shapes cut in fabrics that reinforce the properties of protective clothing. In a stunning interpretation of an imagined world, David layered digital content to create an illusion of dimension. This visual presentation provides a warm, earthy backdrop against the cool, reflective properties of his look.  

In the midst of students tapping into their heritage and family values for inspiration, the need to showcase their final work in a digital format has helped them develop into brands. The opportunity for students to make a statement with their look featured on a runway has been reimagined with intimate and brilliant editorial statements that reflect who they are as designers in a holistic way. It’s a testament to what can be achieved when talent is fueled with a clear sense of what defines their brand. While digital presentations will never replace the emotion that’s associated with runway shows, my 2021 sportswear thesis students have demonstrated that the future of ready to wear is about embracing who you are and where you come from.

Related Student Work

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