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The Height of Fashion

For millennia, clothing has been one of the three major needs of life along with food and shelter.

Today, the fashion industry is a major global enterprise employing hundreds of thousands of people including a host of alumni from CSULB’s fashion merchandising and fashion design programs. About 600 students major in fashion merchandising, which focuses on the business side, said Professor Suzanne Marshall. Only 24 new fashion design majors are accepted each year because of limited lab space. Many double major in merchandising.

Fashion model wearing a Walter Mendez design“Los Angeles is the second largest fashion center in the United States next to New York,” and focuses on active and casual styles, Marshall said, adding that career choices abound. “A manufacturing company like Quiksilver, for example, has product development, visuals, retail, sourcing, logistics, advertising, public relations and stores,” which is why Quiksilver and numerous other fashion firms seek CSULB alumni as employees and interns.

“It’s interesting that when you travel internationally, you’ll see people who look like they just stepped out of California,” she continued. In Paris, “You’re walking down the Champs Elysees and looking at the Arc de Triomphe and at the flagship Louis Vuitton store and you’re standing at the Quiksilver Boardriders Club, holding onto a surfboard to open the door and going into a California company. I laugh every time I see that. We’re just everywhere.”

Professionals and students hold the programs in high regard. “A lot of people think, ‘Why didn’t you go to FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising)’ because it’s such a popular school,’’ said senior Kelsey Lovatto. “But I believe college is a way to mature as a person, so you need the classes like sociology and math and history to know anything. You can’t surround yourself with just fashion because fashion is a reflection of life. It’s a reflection of political, social and economic situations and you have to understand those in order to understand fashion.


Walter Mendez and JeannieMai“One of the things that attracted me to the fashion industry is that I can surround myself with creativity,” Lovatto continued. “I like to travel and I really don’t want to stay in one field. The fashion industry allows you to do all those things. I would like to do styling and photo shoots for editorial, for magazines. I’d eventually like to apprentice under a line and then eventually have my own line.”

Student Walter Mendez already has his own line, the Walter Collection, that’s gaining attention. Host Jeannie Mai of the Style Network’s “How Do I Look” recently selected him and student Linh Nguyen to create outfits for her.

Walter Mendez and JeannieMai
“I’m honored to have been a muse for Walter Mendez and Linh Nguyen,” Mai said. “I initially had planned to pick one winner, but later learned there wasn’t one, but two. The winner of my contest has to encompass humility, professionalism, and a talented eye. Both Walter and Linh had all three. They took my notes to heart, treated this contest as an actual job, and resulted in unique, creative garments that captured my personality for the show.”

Mendez then debuted his spring collection at October’s Fashion Week L.A., one of many events in his busy professional schedule interspersed with classes.

“I am inspired by everything around,” he noted. “It could be the city chic girl I run into at Starbucks or it could be an old Hollywood movie. I also find myself being inspired by textures, architecture, music, history and pop culture. I am always amazed how something as simple as a flower can become my inspiration for a gown. To an outsider it may seem difficult, but to me its just natural—that’s why I love it.

“I also find myself being inspired by my professors and mentors. They have so much knowledge and an urge to teach that I cannot help but to be inspired.”

According to Mai, her association with CSULB resulted from alumna Christina Pombo, stylist assistant for the show. “Christina Pombo, who I call Xtina because of her winning X factor attitude, made this entire experience happen,” Mai said. “I’ve always wanted to provide fashion students with opportunities, especially those that come from schools not in the mecca of N.Y. or L.A. Passionate students should see that talent can be recognized anywhere. Now they have, through former CSULB student Christina and the amazing, empowering staff there who helped us make it happen.” 

“I would not be where I am today without the education and guidance from CSULB’s fashion program,” Pombo said. “The professors go beyond the standard curriculum by providing outings to different fashion venues to giving students the opportunity to produce an annual fashion show. Having CSULB alumni from the fashion program come back to share their journey was my ultimate favorite part. It definitely helped me to decide what my career path was going to be, and that’s how I met one of my bosses. Having multiple industry connections to reach out to is what separates the CSULB’s fashion program from the rest.”

Style Network host Jeannie Mai, above right, with Walter Mendez. Far left, a Walter Mendez design.