Haute Dawg: How UGA is helping re-design the fashion industry
February 10, 2020
Author: Cal Powell  | 706-542-6402  | More about Cal
Contact: Monica Sklar  |   | More about Monica

The latest issue of Georgia Magazine features a cover story on how FACS and UGA alumni are shaping the fashion industry.

A full version of the magazine can be seen here.

Below are profiles from the magazine on FACS grad Tosha Hays and currently faculty member Monica Sklar, written by Leigh Beeson with UGA Marketing and Communications.

You make a statement every time you leave the house.

The clothes you chose this morning—be they suit and tie or distressed jeans and a T-shirt—speak for you, telling those you encounter a story about who you are and what you value.

Whether you wear vintage Gucci or brand-new H&M, there are numerous players that make your everyday sartorial choices possible.

From innovative textile makers and avant-garde designers to the fashion journalists tracking down and reporting on this season’s trends, the global fashion industry is valued upwards of $2.5 trillion dollars, according to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, and employs close to 2 million people in the U.S. alone.

UGA alumni are at the forefront of the industry’s niches, creating smart fabrics, building brands that resonate with modern trendsetters, and proving fashion is about so much more than just appearances.

Tosha Hays: The Innovator
Brands: Tommy Hilfiger; Bella Freud, London; Spanx; Tosha Hays Couture, Brrr°, AFFOA

Tosha Hays wants your clothes to do more for you.

Fabrics that keep you cool by dropping your body temperature several degrees. Running gear that lights up when headlights hit it. A backpack that connects to a social networking app. These are just a few of the products Hays BSFCS ’07 has had a hand in developing.

“For thousands of years, textiles haven’t changed,” she says. “Why can’t our fabrics make our lives easier?”

After a successful tenure helming Spanx’s creative design team, Hays was itching to do more. “I wanted to build a company that pushed textiles further than what people think they can do,” says Hays.

So, she and fellow former Spanx co-worker Mary-Cathryn Kolb founded brrr!, a company that specializes in technologically advanced textiles that cool the body temperature by 2 to 3 degrees.

The company has produced not only its own line of apparel and accessories sold on QVC but also licenses its technology with apparel companies like Southern Tide, The Gap, and NinetyEight6, among others.

In 2015, Hays was introduced to the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a nonprofit headquartered at MIT with the mission of transforming fibers into networked devices and systems. (UGA joined AFFOA’s consortium in 2016.)

The organization takes products from start to finish, drawing semiconductor technology through the fibers of textiles and partnering with everyone from the Department of Defense to industry giants like New Balance to create products that can change colors, monitor health, and more.

The mission of the organization aligned perfectly with Hays’ belief that fabric is much more than a commodity; it should provide a service for its wearer. “On your phone, you have the app store that offers you all these services,” she says. “What if you had a menu of fabrics that could do the same?”

Hays became AFFOA’s chief product officer in 2016, leading the team that brainstorms new, advanced fabrics and product ideas and then brings them to life.

“Every human is wearing textiles on their body every day of every year for the most part,” she says. “Imagine if instead of holding a cellphone up to my ear, I had fibers that were transmitting your voice to my ear through the fibers that were in the shoulder of my dress.”

With organizations like AFFOA and entrepreneurs like Hays, that day is coming soon.

Monica Sklar

Expertise: Modern social movements and subcultures, 20th/21st century design

To Monica Sklar, fashion is about much more than just what’s in and what’s out.

Fashion is where history and culture intersect.

“Fashion is usually thought of as something hyperfunctional or hyperfrivolous, and it’s neither of those things,” says Sklar, an assistant professor of textiles, merchandising, and interiors in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and liaison to the Historic Clothing and Textiles Collection at the university’s Special Collections Libraries.

“It’s a record of where we are in society and in the arts as much as literature, film, and photography are. And it’s extremely accessible to people to understand because everybody engages with it in some way or another.”

Sklar specializes in subcultures and social movements, with punk being an area of expertise. In addition to being a personal interest, punk is an understudied area of scholarship in fashion. When boiled down, punk is about questioning the boundaries and rules of mainstream society, but Sklar says it’s about so much more than that.

“It’s a lifestyle movement with an ethos,” she explains. “It’s an umbrella term with a tremendous amount of aesthetic cues built under it that generally then would communicate pushing the boundaries of beauty standards, pushing the boundaries of production and consumption methodologies. It’s too simplified when people call it anti-fashion, and it’s too simplified when people say it’s just a rebellion.”

Tags: fashion