Fashion Design Alum Shaquita Reed ’18 Expresses Herself Using Different Mediums

Shaquita Reed shares her journey as a mixed media artist, fashion designer, teacher, and graduate student

Fashion Studies Alum Shaquita Reed ’18 explores identity through her art. And thanks to experiences at Columbia College Chicago, this mixed media artist, fashion designer, teacher, and graduate student has valuable tools and perspectives to help express herself as she journeys through artistic mediums and opportunities. Guiding her throughout the way: Her art.

A member of the first graduating class of the Chicago High School for the Arts in 2013, Reed was interested in building sculptures. “That was my skill; that is sort of what I do,” she says. “But I ended up taking this wearable sculpture class and it sort of changed my entire perspective so much that I decided to go to college for fashion. There was something so interesting about how I was combining fabric with wood, and I wanted to know more about that.”

Her first college, though, proved disappointing as she felt it focused more on the business of fashion and less on the creative side of it. A tour of Columbia showed her things could be different; she saw herself in the Columbia students and opportunities for community in Columbia’s many gathering spaces. “That was so very much important to me — the community that was there,” she recalls. “So that made Columbia the obvious choice for me.”

As a transfer student, Reed enjoyed those shared campus places like the Makerspace. But it was Fashion Studies Associate Professor Virginia Heaven who made the most lasting impression.

“I think for me my best moments at Columbia were probably in Virginia's class — it was a design class. That is where I discovered my potential; I hadn’t a teacher prior to that who really focused in on what I needed and what would push me further. I really appreciated her, and that was the moment when I started to enjoy my time at Columbia the most. Part of it was her, but it was also getting to know myself as a designer.”

At that time, Reed could envision a future as a luxury streetwear designer, working for companies like Adidas or Nike or with a designer like Dapper Dan. After graduation, though, she took time off to really consider what she wanted. And while she exhibited her designs during Chicago Fashion Week, she didn’t apply to those companies.

“When I think about fashion and what I want to do, I want to be working, I want to be in the room touching the fabrics, making the stuff; I don't want to be behind a computer,” she says. “I'm a type of designer, I'm a type of artist that sort needs to do the thing to even feel happy.”

Reed started to evaluate her place within the design industry and the world of art, which were not mutually exclusive. She started to teach, beginning as a teacher’s assistant at her former high school and at Marwen, a visual arts education program for Chicago youths from under-resourced communities. Today, she is a teacher at both.

She was also accepted into the graduate school in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Master of Design in Fashion, Body, and Garment program. While there, she has continued to explore her art — and her identity — through fashion creation as well as other mediums such as textiles and weaving, often incorporating found objects as well as hair, hair products, and hair ornaments into her work.

“My current work is about my identity itself and piecing together this past — building this family tree, investigating this family tree by looking at the oral history of my family as this authentic record because of these things that we have lost,” she says.

Reed exhibits her work throughout Chicago, sometimes “performing” as she creates pieces as part of the exhibit. This past summer she participated in Columbia’s award-winning exhibit for the 2022 Project Windows. For the exhibit, which was planned by the Fashion Studies department, she designed a piece using a knitting technique that could make the garment rot like fruit and designed the distressed knit in her piece to shed and visibly transform over the period of its exhibition. 

As for her future, Reed is keeping her options open; continuing to teach on the table as well as pursuing a career in shoe design. Feeling more confident than ever, she’s creating her portfolio while completing her graduate degree. As for when she’ll wrap up school, she’s not ready to commit. It could be April, it could be later, she says. “I let my work decide for me.”