By JoAnn Jones
Youngstown State University senior Sara Cummings traveled to New York City this past summer, having earned an opportunity to intern for another YSU graduate, fashion designer Nanette Lepore.
Cummings, a fashion merchandising major who will graduate in May, caught Lepore’s attention by winning YSU’s Banner Bag competition last year with a purse she designed.
“Nanette was a judge for the contest,” Cummings said. “I interned for her in the Manhattan fashion district from the end of May until the beginning of August. YSU has students in PR [public relations] and visual merchandising now in her fall internships.”
Cummings, a Springfield Township resident and the daughter of Ken and Tina Cummings, said she has always been interested in design, noting that her 4-H experiences with the Western Reserve Rangers started her on this path.
“When I was 8, I started 4-H with lambs and sheep,” she said, “but when I was 14, I started sewing.”
She added that her 4-H advisers, Kathleen and Jan Moser, were instrumental in guiding her toward a career in fashion. Kathleen is a master clothing educator for 4-H, and becoming an MCE like Kathleen is one of Cummings’ goals for after she graduates.
“I’ll turn in a portfolio to be judged at the Ohio State University Extension Office,” she said. “Then I can go to any county in Ohio to judge contests.” Cummings added that judging is a volunteer position.
Throughout her teens, Cummings entered contests to show her talent as a fashion designer. As a senior at Cardinal Mooney High School in 2010, Cummings designed a prom dress out of duct tape and received fourth place in the nation.
“Sara is a student who is hard-working, responsible and motivated,” said Tacibaht Turel, YSU assistant professor of fashion merchandising. “When I first met Sara, she was a freshman, right out of high school, but I could see that she was exceptional. I’ve always wanted her to be involved in design contests”.
Turel added that Cummings was one of only a few students to be accepted for a Nanette Lepore internship.
“Sara’s internship in New York City was a very important step for her future career,” Turel said. Not everybody gets to intern with a well-known fashion designer in New York. Our focus here [at YSU] is the business side of fashion. So learning about the merchandising fundamentals gives Sara an extra edge since she is already good at design. ”
“Fashion business is very competitive and dynamic,” Turel added. “Having an internship in the most fast-paced center of the fashion industry requires a lot of courage and a lot of hard work.”
Cummings said there was no “typical” day during her internship.
“Every day was different,” Cummings said. “We would move and set up new inventory. Sometimes someone would say ‘we need a dozen silver studs … go and see if you can find some,’ and there would be a 10-block radius where the interns would have to go to look for them.”
“I worked with a textile designer,” she continued. “We did a lot of things in Photo Shop. I helped a lot with color selection.”
“On my floor I got to see how drawings on paper, the graphics, became fabrics,” Cummings said. “Once the fabric sample is finalized, then it’s mass-produced in a factory.”
“We also had to catalog all previous items and vintage items,” she added. “Overall there were 10 of us from all over — Iowa, Maryland, some from New England.”
Cummings wasn’t paid for the internship, but she did reap some benefits nonetheless.
“After both sample sales and at the end of the internship, I got more than $1000 in clothing,” she said with a smile. “I got two pair of shorts, a pair of pants, a dress, a shirt, and two bathing suits. One of the pair of shorts, the leather studded one, would have sold for $500.”
Turel said it’s important for the YSU students who are exceptionally talented to be able to showcase those talents.
“We are not in New York City, and our students don’t get a lot of exposure,” she said. “But I have so much faith in them, and I believe that given the right direction, those students have the capacity to be very successful in the future.”
“I believe that completing that internship in New York gave her a very different perspective, broadened her horizons, and taught her a lot about the importance of hard work and time management,” Turel said. “It also helped her see herself in a new light and made her much more confident about how much she can accomplish.”
Cummings continues to showcase her talents by entering other contests, citing a contest sponsored by Tim Gunn’s “Project Runway” on Lifetime television.
“I had to send in a video for the biggest fan,” she said. “The top eight video winners were on the show, and I came in ninth out of a thousand entries. I got to meet him [Gunn] and tour the studio, though.”
Turel has introduced Cummings and another student to a contest sponsored by the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, a national organization that promotes the use of Alpaca wool.
“When I received their competition announcement, I had two students whom I personally contacted, and one of those was Sara,” Turel said. “I promote contests among all my students because they have many hidden talents.”
“They sent us samples of alpaca wool,” Cummings said. “It’s a scholarship competition, and the designs are due in November.”
In spite of all her experience and her love for fashion, Cummings is still unsure of what the future holds for her.
“I don’t know what I want to do after I graduate,” Cummings said.
“I should probably figure that out. I could be a manager of a store or be a buyer for a chain. It would be cool to open up my own store. Maybe I could go to Pittsburgh or somewhere.”
“I love New York, but I don’t know if I could live there,” she said.
“It’s really busy, and I’m used to living in a rural area.”