Olivia Bleeker was sprawled out on her bed in St. Louis during winter break, idly scrolling through her phone when an email notification popped up. She started screaming as soon as she read the subject line: “Congratulations Olivia and Chelsey, you’ve been selected as the winners!”
Her mother, who had been in the middle of a phone call in the kitchen, came rushing up the stairs to make sure she was alright. When she ran into the room, Bleeker was practically bouncing off the walls with excitement. She had just won a trip to New York Fashion Week.
In another part of the city, Chelsey Harrell was lounging around her house when she got the same email. After reading it and rereading it for nearly half an hour, she called her mother. Just like Bleeker, she couldn’t stop screaming.
A few short weeks later, Bleeker and Harrell were on a plane to New York City, to attend runway shows and elite industry panels, all sponsored by IMG, one of the most influential corporations in the fashion world. For two textile and apparel management students, this was the opportunity of a lifetime.
The days leading up to Fashion Week passed in a blur. They were scheduled to fly out of Columbia airport the afternoon of Friday, February 9, but there was a problem. On Thursday, Bleeker was sitting in class when her phone lit up with notifications. In a matter of minutes she’d received a voice mail, a text and an email. They all said the same thing, the flight was cancelled.
“I cannot tell you one thing that was said in class that day,” Bleeker said. “We were frantically trying to contact our liaisons, just trying to figure out what to do.”
They ended up driving to St. Louis and flying out that same night. Bleeker and Harrell used the extra day to explore New York, stopping in at every café, shop and interesting building that caught their attention.
That night they were joined by 16 other students from across the country and the four IMG representatives who would be their guides for Fashion Week. Each student was asked to chronicle their experiences through social media.
“We really didn’t have much time to get close with the other students after Friday night,” Harrell said. “But we definitely all shared our social media names. I feel like we’ll get closer after the fact because of the shared experience, but in the moment we really had no free time at all.”
Saturday was their biggest day, with events scheduled from morning till nighttime. In the morning they got to tour the backstage of a runway show.
“We saw where the models get their hair and makeup done, and where they practice their runway walk,” Bleeker said. “One of the directors of Fashion Week even led us around and explained the process behind it all.”
For Bleeker and Harrell, the biggest challenge was taking it all in, whether that meant documenting the day through photos or social posts, or simply stepping back to appreciate the moment.
“We are back in Missouri, but I’m definitely still in the New York Mindset,” Harrell said. “I grew up dreaming about moving to New York City without ever having actually visited. Well now I’ve been, and it’s only made me more certain that the city is where I belong.”
It’s not lost on the two girls that none of this would have happened without Mizzou. Bleeker and Harrell will share their experience of New York Fashion Week with other students through a display in the Mizzou Store, where they will incorporate the latest fashions and trends straight from the runway. For the school that gave them the opportunity of a lifetime, this will be their way of giving back.