Fashion Studies Alum's Internship Launches Career in Apparel Design

Alum and Designer Rebecca Martin BFA ‘19 now works in New York City on brands seen at Walmarts and Targets across the country.

Watching television often gets a bad rap. But sometimes good things come of it. At least it did for Fashion Design Alum and Designer Rebecca Martin BFA ’19 who, as a child, found early career inspiration in Project Runway and What Not to Wear.

“Those two shows gave me a small glimpse of the industry while I was growing up in rural Michigan,” Martin recalls. “The creativity and problem-solving in fashion design really appealed to me.” 

And when Martin got a little bit older, something else caught their attention: Columbia College Chicago. In fact, it was love at first sight.  

“I was choosing between a few schools, but as soon as I toured the campus at Columbia I knew where I needed to go,” Martin says. “Chicago just has such a great energy and I love how close the campus is to Lake Michigan. You get such a good blend of city living and outdoor space.” 

While at Columbia, Martin found a path to a successful career as a student in the Fashion Studies department, having their senior thesis collection featured at the Driehaus Awards for Fashion Excellence runway show and securing a summer design internship at Kohl’s their junior year. At Kohls, Martin worked on the brand Urban Pipeline and eventually landed a full-time position at the company.  

Columbia helped Martin develop two important professional skills: the ability to process critiques of their work without taking it personally and public speaking. 

“If you can’t speak in front of a group, it’s difficult to show engagement in corporate settings,” she says. 

After earning a degree in Fashion Design, Martin started at Kohl’s as a full-time assistant designer, working at the company’s main office outside of Milwaukee. She focused on a number of brands and categories on the men’s team while there, including knit and woven tops, bottoms, swimwear, and sleepwear. Kohl’s promoted them to associate designer, but after more than 2 years of living in Milwaukee, Martin was ready for a change and set their sights on New York. 

Thanks to connections made at Kohl’s, Martin found a job as an associate designer at the apparel and fashion company American Dream Team Network (ADTN). After six months of hard work, Martin was promoted to designer, and today, continues to live and work in New York City. 

 As the designer for ADTN’s brand Hollywood the Jean People, Martin’s focus is on young men’s and boys’ clothing as well as some small capsules for girls, a collection of clothes that can fit onto a four-way fixture or a table program at a retailer.

Martin also gets to work on private label programs for a variety of stores, as well as work on the licenses ADTN has, including Hang Ten, SmileyWorld, and Paul Frank.  

Martin’s favorite part about the job: the variety of projects.  

 “One day I could be designing and tech packing our young men’s line, and the next I’m working on a SmileyWorld kids’ capsule for Target or Walmart,” she says. “I also really enjoy the people I work with, we’re a tight knit crew, which is really important in an office as small as ours.” 

Throughout it all, Martin has found that fashion design is sometimes fun but it’s also a lot of demanding work. Problem-solving skills and teamwork are keys to success in the industry.  

“You’ll always need to work with other people to accomplish your goals and projects,” she says. 

Martin’s advice to those wanting to break into fashion design: Balance your portfolio with realistic commercial products and fun designs in your aesthetic.  

“Companies need to know that you can do amazing things,” Martin says. “But they also need to know that you can translate those ideas into money-making opportunities.”