Design students from across the country, including UC, talk shop with industry professionals in the E! Fashion Lab during New York Fashion Week. UC grad Asha Ama Daniels-Henderson is second from the left; UC fashion design student Julia Bond is fourth from left. Photo/IMG
UC designer alumna, student team up at New York Fashion Week
University of Cincinnati alumna Asha Ama Daniels-Henderson may have come into the spotlight as a contestant and mentee on “Project Runway: Under the Gunn,” but now the designer is mentoring the future of fashion.
Daniels-Henderson, DAAP ’13, accompanied current UC student Julia Bond on a trip of a lifetime to experience New York Fashion Week (NYFW) for a whirlwind weekend of runway shows, behind-the-scenes tours and inspirational advice from industry pros.
Like Daniels-Henderson did during her time at UC from 2008 to 2013, Bond studies fashion design in UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. A fourth-year student in the program, Bond was selected from a pool of talented undergraduates in DAAP’s Myron E. Ullman, Jr. School of Design to represent the university in New York City.
“It was really exciting, and I was so honored,” Bond says. “I can’t believe they picked me. I’m still pinching myself.”
The opportunity arose from UC’s partnership with IMG, a global management company that produces NYFW. IMG College Licensing, UC’s licensing agency, invited universities across the country to each select a student to attend one of the world’s biggest fashion events. UC’s Trademarks and Licensing program manager Meredith Kussmaul joined Bond and Daniels-Henderson on the trip, along with students from five other schools.
Bond was chosen by DAAP faculty to fly to the Big Apple and experience NYFW like a VIP. Unlike the others, Bond had a mentor.
Amid Daniels-Henderson’s post-graduation success, which includes impressive runs competing on “Under the Gunn” and “Project Runway All Stars” and starting her own namesake fashion line, she’s stayed connected with her alma mater. Daniels-Henderson has worked with the university’s trademarks and licensing department in the past for the UC tartan project and Go Red Cincinnati, an event UC Health participates in to raise awareness about heart disease in women. It was clear the designer would be the perfect mentor for a fellow DAAP fashion design major.
“I was, of course, all the way on board with that,” Daniels-Henderson says of the opportunity to travel with Bond. “I just didn’t realize how fabulous it was going to be!”
A first time for both as fashion week attendees (Daniels-Henderson has worked backstage in the past), being invited to NYFW was a dream come true. They enjoyed a weekend stay at a boutique hotel, prime seating at Shanghai designer Taoray Wang’s runway show, backstage tours of all the fashion show galleries and access to a VIP lounge for mingling and networking.
“To go from the behind-the-scenes hustle of fashion week, where it’s not glamorous at all, to being invited to a show is worlds apart,” Daniels-Henderson says. “It’s so nice to have the experience of both.”
But beyond the glitzy perks, Bond and Daniels-Henderson received invaluable advice from industry professionals. IMG fashion executives hosted a panel — in the famous E! Fashion Lab, where the entertainment network covers all things fashion week — where they answered questions and offered advice to the budding designers.
“There were a lot of good motivational pieces of advice about how to skyrocket your career,” Daniels-Henderson says. “They talked about how they got their start, and a lot of them didn’t start out in fashion but they found their way to it. They gave good advice to people about how to get jobs, how to figure out what your boss’ weakness is and use that to set yourself apart and get promoted.”
During NYFW, students toured behind the scenes of a runway gallery, attended a designer's show and met fashion executives in the E! Fashion Lab. Photo/IMG
One misconception about the fashion industry is that you have to be mean to get ahead — we’ve all seen “The Devil Wears Prada.” Daniels-Henderson was happy to hear they did not promote that stereotype.
“They all agreed that you have to be nice and accommodating and treat everyone fairly,” she says. “That’s something that I always say to people I mentor that want to get into the fashion industry — you have to be nice to everyone. So that was appreciated.”
“There’s this stigma with fashion that everybody thinks everybody’s super mean, with their nose up, but it’s really not like that,” Bond says. “There are characters like that, but there are a lot more people that are not.”
Bond also benefitted from the advice of Daniels-Henderson.
“I asked Asha about how she got started, how she knew she wanted to do her own brand and her own line,” Bond says. “It was really beautiful to hear her story and how she made the DAAP program work for her. Since she’s done what I’m trying to do, it was nice to ask her about teachers and classes. It was very comforting to have somebody like that.”
The experience was advantageous for Daniels-Henderson, too, who just might have found a production connection while in New York. One woman who accompanied her daughter on the trip offered to enlist her family — three generations of amateur seamstresses — to help sew her next collection.
“That could really be the next step that I need to move my business where I want to go,” Daniels-Henderson says.
And in a twist of fate, both designers were scouted for their street style in New York — Bond caught the eye of a photographer documenting the scene while Daniels-Henderson was asked to model at the NYFW Reebok lounge. She will appear in the athletic footwear and apparel brand’s lookbook due in February.
But the two won’t be modeling full-time quite yet.
Daniels-Henderson is busy designing her next collection, finalizing production and getting it into major retail stores. While she’s mobile now and ready to move where her business takes her, she hopes to one day bring production to her hometown of Cincinnati.
“I eventually want to come back to Cincinnati because this is a great city,” she says. “I’ve lived in so many different places, from California to New York, but I love Cincinnati. I think there’s a great opportunity here to really blow out fashion as an industry. So that’s always going to be on my radar, once I have the means.”
Asha Ama Daniels-Henderson (left) and Julia Bond enjoyed an eventful 48 hours in New York. Photos/IMG
Meanwhile, fresh off an internship at Adidas designing for the sportswear company’s skateboarding division, Bond will return to Portland, Oregon, to co-op there again this spring, this time joining their lifestyle and streetwear clothing department, Adidas Originals.
“We learn so much on co-op that you almost can’t learn in the classroom, which is why I think [the UC] program is a million times stronger than most.”
As for Bond following in Daniels-Henderson’s footsteps in front of the cameras of “Project Runway,” we’ll have to wait and see.
“I always watch it, and I’m always inspired by some of the stuff I see on it, but I don’t know if I’m cut out for ‘Project Runway,’” Bond says. “I feel like it would be a great opportunity, and if it presented itself, yes. But I don’t know.”
For now, she’s focused less on the next season’s trends and more on this semester’s schoolwork, which, for Bond, includes wearable technologies and conceptual design work.
“This semester we’ve had to step back and look at what you like, why you like that and what research and articles and life events that are happening right now you can use to inform why you like that,” she explains.
Having benefitted from this NYFW opportunity, Bond hopes UC continues the partnership for student designers in the future — including the mentorship aspect.
“I think in the future, Asha should always go,” she says.
“I agree!” Daniels-Henderson says, laughing.
“Having Asha as a force to reckon with right now is really beneficial for me, and I think UC should look into how they can incorporate this dynamic more because it’s extremely helpful,” Bond continues. “It's not like a co-op experience; it’s not like school.”
Follow Daniels-Henderson's fashion line, ASHA AMA.