Thousands of man hours, millions of stitches, 292 people and dozens of garments went into the 2018 Kent State University Fashion School annual fashion show.

Each Spring, fashion design students at Kent State pour their creativity into creating collections and single garments to be judged and entered into the annual show. Meanwhile fashion merchandising majors are working to create the runway fashion show worthy of the garments.

This year's co-producers of the fashion show, Serena Shroge and Mariah Tomasetti said the fashion show is more important to them than walking at graduation.

“This means more to me than my own graduation ceremony,” said Serena Shroge, who co-produced the show with Tomasetti. “This is what I have been a part of for all four years of my college career... it has literally been like our child for the last year.”

Tomasetti said she knew her freshman year she wanted to be a co-producer of the show her senior year.

“I just remember sitting in my first class, on the team as a committee member, looking at our co-producers and thinking, ‘wow, that is what I want to do here,’” Tomasetti said. “That's where I want to leave my mark.”

Together, Schroge and Tomasetti oversaw every aspect of the show and served as the communication hub for everyone from the various committees to event sponsors. Macy's served as the presenting sponsor of this year's fashion show; Dillard’s served as an associate presenting partner. The show draws other industry professionals to view the students' work. Kent State's fashion school is ranked No. 4 in the United States, following only behind Parsons School of Design in New York, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

Senior Phoebe Takeda, who is from Los Angeles, said she chose Kent State because of its high ranking.

“There are very great schools in L.A., but Kent State is higher ranked,” Takeda said. “And it's a good area, not the busy, crazy city.”

She added the opportunities following graduation from Kent State are vast as well. She has already secured a job in Los Angeles where she interned for Maria Bianco Nero.

Committees for the show include merchandising, modeling, public relations, catalog and stage. There is also a treasurer and designer liaison for the show. Out of the approximately 24 students who fill these roles, around half are considered management and take a three-credit class spring semester with the co-producers and junior co-producers to have a set time to meet to work on the details for the show. Committee members join halfway through for a two credit class. The co-producers hire the staff, for the show, which itself is a lengthy process. Tomasetti said they conducted 60 hours of interviews in one week last year on top of their class load and jobs.

Takeda served as the designer liason — which required her to handle quick sewing emergencies, or pinning a garment seamlessly until the designer could repair it. Not only did she take on that role for the designers but she had two single garments and a collection in the show as well. Takeda is one of two senior BA students who had pieces featured in the April 27 and 28 shows.

“I kind of got inspired by fabric shopping when I saw this plaid fabric,” Takeda said. “I love mixing prints and patterns so I (decided) to make a collection of all plaid.”

She said her collection was ready-to-wear, and featured elements such as ruffles and a feminine look. Takeda's special touch was a gold and black chain she likes to incorporate in her designs. She said having a collection in the show was an honor.

“There are a lot of hardworking students with beautiful garments,” Takeda said. “Some didn't get in the show and some did. I feel very honored that my collection made it in.”

She said the honor is extra special because she is one of the two BA student to have her garments featured with the BFA students collections. She said seeing her collection on the models in dress rehearsal for the first time made her emotional.

“It wasn't even just mine, it was seeing all my friends, who started in basics in apparel construction and struggled making little simple things and now we are making all these really well-made, elaborate things,” Takeda said. “Just seeing the growth of the people I have been going to school with for four years, I got teary eyed.”

In addition to overseeing all the committees, Shroge and Tomasetti also came up with the theme of the fashion show this year which was Alchemy.

“It's the magical transformation of combining elements and transforming them into something new,” Shroge said. “So we were just kind of relaying that back to when we were freshmen and really seeing ourselves grow and become seniors. It also relates to designers and when they are starting their designs and their creative process – seeing their collections come to life.”

The theme of the show has nothing to do with the designs in the show, Shroge added.

While being a fashion merchandising student is centered around the business aspect of fashion, Tomasetti said serving as co-producer allows her to express her creative side.

“Just to be able to produce something and it's tangible,” Tomasetti said. “We put it together, every aspect of it, it's a cool way to combine all these things we've learned.”

Shroge said she wants to inspire freshmen and others who watch the show.

“I want people to realize they can do a lot more than they think they can,” Shroge said. “When I was a freshman and I watched the show I was so inspired and amazed by what can happen in this school and what students put on because this is pretty much an entirely student-run production.

“I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and really put all of my talents into this project.”

The show itself had 25 collections which feature several pieces inspired by a theme from the Bachelors of Fine Arts program, which Shroge said is more intense and based off a thesis and two collections from the Bachelors of Arts program, for which competition is tight. In addition to the collections, the show featured 96 single garments.

Joanne Arnett, fashion school assistant professor, said the garments selected for the show are done so by a jury of industry professionals based in Cleveland who critique the fashion pieces. She said the jury members look for something well-constructed, properly finished and something that will look good on on the runway for the single garments. Arnett said a cohesive idea is key for the collections.

“I think innovative is key,” said Sue Yoder, fashion school assistant professor. “As far as collections, the critics will look at the work and some things within the collections are narrowed down, but most of the collections they look at are in the show.”

Yoder and Arnett work with the co-producers and advise them. Arnett said some garments are hand-stitched or in some cases the students wove their own fabric.

“We want to represent the great work of the students,” Arnett said. “We hope they are impressed with the work they see because it's good work...there is a wide variety of work done here in Kent, Ohio that many people might be pleasantly surprised by.”

Shroge said her favorite part of the show is seeing how it all appears seamless to the audience.

“It just looks so elegant, put together and under control, and little do people know backstage it is complete chaos, ” Shroge said. “If you were to stand the middle of a wall and see both sides, it is like seeing parallel opposite worlds.”

Tomasetti said the chaos of the backstage area is her favorite part.

“I thrive off the energy backstage,” she said. “You know you are making something look great out there, so all the stress/pressure you're feeling is so worth it.”

Reporter Briana Barker can be reached at 330-541-9432, or @brianabarker1.