Finding the Right Fit
Ohio native Miranda Prater, a senior who studies Fashion Merchandising at Columbia, knew in high school that she wanted to pursue a career in the fashion business. But finding the right school proved challenging. It was either all business or all fashion design. And location mattered: She wanted to live in Chicago.
“As soon as I discovered Columbia, I knew that I needed to go here. No other school that I had looked at really prioritized the arts and none of them promoted self-expression like Columbia did, so that's what instantly drew me in,” she says. “Columbia just had the perfect mixture of what I was looking for—fashion-specific major for business and a unique student culture.”
Prater grew up feeling very restricted in what she could wear and always thought others judged her. Those experiences drove her desire to pursue fashion. “I wanted to be in a space where I could express myself and help others express themselves and feel beautiful and confident in what they were wearing, because I didn't really have the environment to do that without being judged where I grew up.”
The business side of fashion, though, appealed to her more than design. Not only because she thought jobs would be plentiful in business but because she wanted to promote a more inclusive fashion industry when it comes to fashion marketing. “People are often really underrepresented in fashion marketing, such as plus-size people or people with disabilities. And I just wanted to be able to change that.”
At Columbia, she discovered she could minor in Marketing after taking a Social Media class, which perfectly complemented her major in Fashion Merchandising in the Fashion Studies department.
Prater has enjoyed hands-on, professional-level experiences at Columbia thanks to internships and opportunities to enter scholarship competitions. As an intern at Runway of Dreams—a nonprofit that empowers people with disabilities to have confidence and self-expression through fashion and beauty inclusion—she helped plan a Q&A panel event and promote awareness. And at Garmentier, a small fashion tech start-up created to help stylists operate their businesses, she ran their social media and worked closely with the CEO, getting an inside view of what it takes to launch a tech company and the chance to meet stylists and others in the industry.
Along the way she met Fashion Studies Professor Dana Connell who introduced her to the world of scholarship competitions, including the National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation’s Student Challenge and Next Generation competitions and L’Oreal’s Brandstorm. These project-based competitions taught her basic skills such as how to do a presentation and speak publicly in pressure-cooker situations and also helped her learn more about merchandising and marketing. She and her team won the national title of the L’Oreal Brandstorm last Spring and she was a semi-finalist for the NRF Foundations’ Next Generation Scholarship this year. And while she didn’t win, her project has helped build her portfolio.
Prater looks forward to graduating and working in fashion merchandising or marketing. “I want to work for a brand that shares my values and goals,” she says. “I'd love to continue working in some way with inclusivity and diversity because that's been a really big part of my career so far.”
Her advice for the next generation of Columbia Fashion Studies students: “Network, network, network,” she says. “Definitely use your time at Columbia to meet as many people in fashion as you can and get to know your professors and peers; and then, do a scholarship competition, because they're amazing.”