By Billi London-Gray, University Marketing
Fashion merchandising student drives fresh ideas into golf apparel market
Jessica Salazar is a fashionista who loves spiky heels. Especially when she’s on a putting green.
The senior at Texas State University – a fashion merchandising major and a member of the women’s golf team – is ready to revamp the world of golf apparel. With her entrepreneurial creativity and her love for the sport, Salazar already is driving hard into the golf business.
“I just don’t see myself not being a part of golf,” Salazar says. “I feel at home with the game.”
In the past two years, Salazar has completed internships with Prime Outlets and Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH, and she also job-shadowed at the corporate headquarters for Academy Sports and Outdoors. Earlier this year she won national recognition for one of her sports technology designs. In September she began an internship with the proprietary department at Golfsmith, an international golf retailer.
What is Salazar’s goal? She wants to give a “fun, hip vibe” to the game she loves.
“The image has to spark your interest. Changing the image of golf clothes could get more consumers for the sport, I believe,” Salazar says, “although I know people might say, ‘What in the world is she wearing?’”
But it’s evident she wouldn’t want it any other way. Salazar knows her designs – replete with animal prints, hot pink flair and black leather embellishments – are not in keeping with the conservative fare found in pro shops. But that’s exactly why she wants a career bringing new style to an old game.
‘Maybe I kind of like this game’
As a child, Salazar saw sports as indoor activities. Growing up in the South Texas city of Edinburg, she always opted for sports like volleyball that were played in the comfort of an air-conditioned gym.
“I hated the sun, and I hated to sweat,” Salazar recalls. “I was one of those people who hated to be out.”
But that all changed once Salazar started golfing as a junior high school student. She discovered that not only could she handle the heat, she could even play well.
“The very first tournament I was in, I won,” Salazar said. “After that I thought, ‘Maybe I kind of like this game.’”
She continued playing through high school, eventually giving up volleyball so she could spend more time training for golf. She fell in love with the sport. But her feelings toward golfing attire were entirely different.
“When I went out to play, either the skirts were too long or too big, or they weren’t bright colors, or they were just plain and dull to me,” Salazar said. “I’ve heard girls my age – we complain about it.”
Salazar started sketching her ideas for golf apparel. With her grandma at her side, she learned to sew. Her skills as a seamstress advanced, and it became clear to her that likeable, exciting golf clothes were within her reach.
“I thought, if you could just tweak this and make it a little hipper and a little younger, that’s what I figured would work,” she said. “And at some point it just clicked: I need to do something about this.”
‘That other side of fashion’
“I’ve always been a creative person, putting stuff together,” Salazar says. But rather than study fashion design, she wanted to learn how to make her fashion ideas into a successful business. Already envisioning herself as an entrepreneurial designer, Salazar decided Texas State University’s fashion merchandising degree program was a perfect fit.
“The program is one of the largest and most successful in the state, held in high regard by our retail partners,” says Dr. Ann DuPont, the fashion merchandising degree program coordinator. “Texas State is emerging as the dominant regional fashion merchandising program.”
The degree program has a selective admissions process, requiring students to complete nine hours of prerequisite courses with satisfactory grades before being admitted. Students prepare to hit the ground running, including required internships and courses set in global fashion centers like New York, Paris, Milan and London.
“If you’re creative, you’re going to be a creative person,” Salazar reasons. “But you need to learn how to be a business person … With fashion merchandising, I get the business side, the marketing side, the advertising side – all that other side of fashion – so I can be a well-rounded person in this industry.“
Through her experiences at Texas State, Salazar gained business acumen and hands-on experience in the fashion industry. Her class work – from trend boards and consumer surveys to creating the Halloween window display in a San Marcos costume shop – prepared her to take advantage of opportunities both within the program and throughout the fashion world.
“Jessica understood early on that persistence and creativity are the keys to success in a field like fashion merchandising,” says Dr. Gwendolyn Hustvedt, a textiles and fashion merchandising professor at Texas State. “I keep telling students that they have the power to make opportunities for themselves beginning now, while they are in school, and Jessica is an example of a student who has really heard that message.”
In the fall of her sophomore year, Salazar applied her marketing lessons to get her designs from the fairway to the runway. She was invited to exhibit her designs at fashion shows in McAllen and Austin. With those achievements under her belt, Salazar’s professors urged her to seek more business-oriented experiences. The personal encouragement from her instructors set Salazar on a course for success.
“They have all helped me grow into the career-driven person I am,” Salazar says. “I wish I could get the best out of all of them and put those traits into myself.”
Salazar has been doing just that. Her work experiences and internships have refined her understanding of the business world. She’s been able to observe many aspects of the fashion industry and even found a chance to pick the mind of Saks CEO Stephen Sadove. Her student projects, like helping organize the first Regional Fashion Merchandising Career Forum held at Texas State in March, have given her valuable finesse for teamwork.
“When you really want to learn about something you just have to be thrown out there, and say, ‘This is how it is. Now go experience it for yourself,’” Salazar says.
In February 2010, with assistance from Hustvedt, Salazar submitted a sports equipment design to a national materials technology competition held by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. Hustvedt is the faculty advisor for the Texas State student chapter of the AATCC. Salazar placed third nationally for her proposed product, a garment that would relieve golfing-related muscle tension through a system of localized massage devices.
“Dr. Hustvedt was the push that said, ‘This is the idea!’” Salazar said. “She helped with the whole concept and urged me to go for it.”
‘Love what you do’
“Fashion has always been a passion of mine, and I could not have made a better choice with my major,” Salazar says. “It has opened my mind and eyes to realize what fashion really is. It is not just pretty clothes or beautiful people. A career in fashion is your life. You have to love what you do.”
Salazar credits her degree program and its faculty – she will have had every professor in the program by the time she graduates – with enabling her to pursue her dream. With multiple résumé-building internships, plentiful business contacts and a shining set of professional skills, she’s excited about her future.
“I think this program has given me a lot of experience that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” Salazar says.
Her professors agree that the program is a springboard for industrious students like Salazar.
“I am proud to be part of a program that prepares so many students to succeed in a multi-billion dollar global industry based on their unique talents and their commitment to working hard. Jessica is a great example of that commitment,” Hustvedt says. “Fashion is about making really hard work and endless preparation look graceful and effortless, and as an athlete, Jessica knows something about that, too.”
Salazar looks forward to the day when her designs will make golf more appealing to her generation. She sees a market ready for her Technicolor version of green fashion.
“When I’m actually there on the course with the golf team, I see how down they feel about their clothes,” Salazar says. “That’s when I think, this needs to change.”
With the support of her professors and her own love of the game fueling her, Salazar is ready to start a fashion revolution.
“This university has given me the tools I need to be successful; now it’s my job to just make it happen.”