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Changing gears in the time of COVID-19

Hussman School of Journalism and Media students launched Fluidity Designs, a collection of athleisure designed to empower positivity and raise awareness of the pandemic.

A photo of a Zoom meeting next to a man standing in a white t-shirt

Dana McMahan’s Workroom FashionMash Product Design class at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media typically culminates in a hands-on, student-constructed and produced event to showcase a product concept for a top brand.

The real-world design and marketing experience of FashionMash is tough to top, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic turned an extended spring break at UNC-Chapel Hill into a remote-learning environment, halting the hands-on design and immersive workshop processes that are the heart of FashionMash.

“There’s a tremendous element of chaos in every design process. There couldn’t be a more real-world application than this,” said McMahan. “The students’ ingenuity, resilience and creativity brought them through the pivot to a virtual workroom and helped them retain a united vision for the line that has a strong mission.”

When the 40 students across the country — with one in China — were faced with how to creatively produce and launch their line of stylish and practical loungewear virtually, they became more collaborative than ever and driven to make a difference for those most impacted by the pandemic. They changed course quickly, aligning design elements and color palettes with forward-looking and upbeat messages about COVID-19.

“In the advertising industry, we have to be adaptable and fluid,” said Vanessa Agunobi, a junior from Charlotte, North Carolina. “Dana showed us early on that being creative takes different forms. All the skills we learned creating physical aspects in workshop, we could use those virtually, too.”

Fluidity Designs is a cohesive collection of athleisure, with sweatshirts, tees, joggers and leggings designed to empower positivity and an awareness of the global pandemic. The class is donating all proceeds from their line to Get Us PPE, an organization that supplies personal protective equipment to healthcare workers whose safety is in jeopardy as they work on the front lines to fight COVID-19.

FashionMash is made possible by the generous support of UNC Hussman alumni Bill and Leigh Goodwyn, whose $1 million gift in 2016 established the initiative. “This kind of philanthropy empowers our faculty to pursue and implement creative ideas and innovate to change how our students learn. It elevates the student experience by many notches,” said Hussman School Dean Susan King. “Dana and her students are harnessing their creativity in this time to help our nation’s health care workers.”

The class met on Zoom twice a week, and the group’s unified mindset and mission came through in their designs. Loungewear had become popular apparel even before the pandemic pushed meetings to Zoom, where the dress tends to be more casual, making the collection more relevant than ever to students and professionals alike.

Jerry Yan, a senior from Hillsborough, North Carolina, says he drew inspiration from social media and world events to create safety-themed designs that are both uplifting and classic, including a Chanel-inspired bottle of hand-sanitizer for the group’s graphic tee line.

“If you think about it, surprises are there all the time. Plans change, and we adapt. That’s been more than a classroom lesson for me — it’s a life lesson,” Yan said.

“I’m hoping that when we come back to Carolina, we’ll see people wearing our clothes, knowing they worked for people and they benefited the front-line workers treating COVID,” said Anabelle Scarborough, a sophomore from Hickory, North Carolina, whose designs for leggings and joggers are for sale on the site. “It’s amazing what we accomplished. When we’re entering the workforce one day, we’ll know we got through this, and we can get through anything.”