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Fashion alumna steps out into competitive outdoor design field

TWU fashion alumna Stephanie Perez

TWU alumna Stephanie Perez designs private label clothing for Wohali Outdoors

A trail of her own doodles followed Stephanie Perez throughout her childhood until in middle school she began to channel that love for drawing into a budding interest in fashion design. Now, in her first job after graduating from Texas Woman’s University, Perez’ designs are made to order by Wohali Outdoors, a private label fishing and rainwear company headquartered in Oklahoma.

Perez works out of the company’s Dallas office in the Oak Cliff area. She said finding that all-important first job after college in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was a huge coup, allowing her to channel what’s been her passion since childhood into a solid living in the place she now calls home.

“Back in Laredo, where I grew up, there’s not a lot to offer in the apparel field other than in retail,” said Perez, who graduated from TWU’s Denton campus with a double major in fashion design and fashion merchandising in May 2014.

“It was definitely a relief and a comfort knowing I would be able to stay and support myself in the DFW area, because moving back in with my folks after graduation wasn’t part of my plan.”

After breathing that sigh of relief, it was literally straight to work after graduation for Perez.

She started applying for jobs in her field six weeks before graduation and got her first interviews about a month before she was scheduled to walk.

Wohali was one of those interviews, and representatives from the company called to offer her an assistant designer position during her graduation ceremony. They got voicemail, understandably, but Perez accepted later that day and started work less than two weeks later.

“We saw her drive and ability as a student and knew she would translate it well into the industry,” said Sheri Dragoo, TWU fashion professor and Perez’ primary mentor within the program. “Stephanie is a brilliantly talented illustrator and designer who goes far beyond what’s required.”

Just six months into the job, Perez was promoted to her current designer position, where she coordinates design projects and communicates custom garment specifications to Wohali factories across the globe.

“We work to get the exact right coloring,” Perez said. “And you can’t imagine how many different options there are in zippers, sleeves, extra pocketing and all these other details that need to be coordinated.

“It’s been a great opportunity for me. Fashion is so competitive. There are so many graduates who end up having to take jobs outside the industry. I’m blessed to be where I am right now.”

The competitive field she was trying to break into was one of the primary reasons Perez picked TWU as she was looking for a four-year university after completing an associate’s degree in art at Laredo Community College in 2010.

Dragoo said TWU’s double major in fashion design and merchandising gives graduates extensive practice in both the artistic and business sides of the field and requires just 36 additional semester credit hours for completion.

“That made it the affordable option for me,” Perez said. “Opting for the same double major at some other schools I was looking at would have taken even longer to complete and at almost double the cost.”

Her single-minded focus on fashion has carried Perez in her young career, but she gives TWU’s program and faculty credit for fostering her passion and refining her artistic inclination with the real job skills she needs. Before coming to TWU, her designs were all sketches on paper, but professors like Nancy Pickett, who took time outside of class to teach Perez how to sew before she retired in 2013, and Dragoo, who always gave honest, and sometimes tough, design feedback, helped mold Perez into a professional.

“I would always count on her with extra questions, even if it was for a different class,” Perez said of Dragoo. “There was a point when I was taking 18 hours, including my final project in the program, a senior design collection and sales plan. I think she knew how dedicated I was, so she went the extra mile for me, too.”

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Page last updated 12:41 PM, August 17, 2017