This article was originally published in the July 2018 Trenton Downtowner.
Fashion in Trenton? Ask Katina Lindsay, who runs Mercer County Community College’s downtown fashion and merchandising program. Lindsay recently hosted the standing-room-only “Fashion, Arts & More” showcase of student designers at Trenton Hall on the North Broad Street campus. She even helped emcee the event for the program that from all reports has grown since she took it over.
Or ask the models who walked the fourth floor exhibition space runway — most are MCCC students and either a part of the fashion program or close friends or family members.
The student-created design concepts ranged from the “Blue Flowers” ready-to-wear collection by Beth “Binya” Dubrow to Erika Reich’s “Redemption” formal collection to the upscale pocketed tee shirts by Jaiden Hines, the lone male designer who used male models in snakeskin-like materials, trendy ripped jeans, and low-cut boots. Four of the student designers even created a window display of their favorite store as a breast cancer awareness promotion.
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Lindsay attended the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and then Philadelphia University (now Thomas Jefferson). Although she has chosen to teach young designers in Trenton, she didn’t start out wanting to teach.
“I took a leap of faith and taught one class at the Katherine Gibbs school in King of Prussia because the professor quit,” says the mother of three children. “I’d never taught before. Then the Burlington County Institute of Technology High School needed a new sewing teacher. This was the school my husband graduated from. They needed me to grow their program,” she says.
After being bitten by the teaching bug, Lindsay taught at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia and at Montclair State. She also worked for companies like Nordstrom in their buying offices, in Liz Claiborne’s production offices, at Phillips Van Heusen and lastly Lenox China, which brought her to the Trenton area. She immediately saw opportunities for change when she first met with school administrators, including Bob Kleinschmidt, dean of the liberal arts program at MCCC.
“I walked in and I said. ‘You need new air. Let’s do a show,’” she says. “And I developed a collection and did a showcase. The merchandising students dressed the windows and we didn’t have enough chairs to accommodate all the people. It was something special,” she says.
The MCCC Fashion Merchandising and Design Program offers a two-track system of study. The associate’s degree in business management is one track, which leads to marketing, department store buying, or product development and the like. The other track, design, leads to jobs in the visual arts. These curricula offer a well-rounded background in both the arts and in business so a student is well-prepared if transitioning to a four-year college or university, something MCCC has always been known for.
‘I love the city of Trenton. It’s rich culture here.’
One aspect of Lindsay’s job at MCCC is recruiting, so she spends a lot of time at Trenton High School. With high schoolers there is a culture and a language unique and vital to them, therefore Lindsay encourages her students to use that culture and language to develop a larger vision for themselves that puts their goals for the future front and center. She also says she believes in having students create vision boards to make their dreams clear and specific and wants her students to post their wishes and ideas on social media to have a concrete plan.
“These kids are reaching for something that they need and that they can identify with. Every person who’s had this job before me didn’t understand that. It’s navigation,” she says. “How do you give them life skills? Even though I’m talking about a pattern and putting together a dress, or creating a marketing plan or a professional brand idea, it doesn’t matter what you see every day; it matters what your plan is for the future,” she says.
In the spirit of making it plain, the Facebook page for the program is titled MCCC Fashion Club. There’s an Instagram page as well. The students enjoy posting, sharing, and keeping current with what’s to come within the program. Lindsay, not always being as social media savvy as the students, is constantly trying to keep the pages fresh. The kids think it’s magical. It’s an exciting space to show.
Lindsay is now working with the Trenton Rescue Mission to learn how the fashion program can partner with that group plus put together fashion events. There could be internship opportunities there too, such as staging and other merchandising options. She plans to explore all the little hubs in Trenton that can help grow the program. Another example is Trenton Fashion Week, which is as of now not managed by a Trenton native or anyone living or working in Trenton. South Jersey Fashion Week and Philadelphia Fashion Week are also opportunities to partner. An annual prom dress drive is yet another of Lindsay’s ideas for the future.
“This is a bigger assignment in a smaller town. I don’t just want to teach, I want to truly educate,” she says. “Fashion is a vessel to reach people. It’s a huge part of self-esteem. You can change someone’s life by improving the way that they look. It has a spiritual and emotional effect,” she says.
This summer, the program has many plans and events. First, Lindsay and some of her students will be representing the program at the Mill Hill Music Festival on Thursday evenings. A full fashion show is possible for next year’s Art All Night event, which has never been done before.
Since classes at MCCC are on hiatus until the fall semester, Lindsay is in recruitment mode again. She is going into the local high schools and spreading the word about the program. “It’s been challenging but I love the city of Trenton,” she says. It’s rich culture here.”
For more information, visit MCCC’s website.