Traveling the World of Fashion

By Zahra Debbek, Office of International Programs

“The lifetime of rewards you get from your experience abroad are completely priceless and studying abroad has been a huge career boost. It improved the way I connect with people in the office and in building relationships with my suppliers overseas.” – Kelli Schmitz ’09

Washington State University alumna, Kelli Schmitz, who studied apparel merchandising, design, and textiles, is now the assistant product developer at the clothing company SanMar based in Seattle.

Growing up with both parents who are WSU graduates, Schmitz always knew that she was going to study in Pullman. She attended WSU in 2005 and earned her bachelor’s degree in 2009.

The Schmitz family portrait showing Cougar pride, 1992

Schmitz had always been interested in fashion. As a child, she would draw, design, and create clothes and new outfits out of old scrap materials. Her inspiration comes from her grandmother who taught her how to sew and knit.

“Days at grandma’s house were spent learning to knit, sew, and playing dress-up with scarves, sequin dresses, and high heel shoes,” Schmitz recalled.

She ‘stumbled upon’ Global Learning study abroad table in the CUB and started looking into studying in Europe. In the fall of 2008, she traveled to Italy as part of the Italian Studies and Fashion program. She also traveled to France, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany, and Ireland.

Kelli Schmitz at King’s Cross Station in London in 2008

Studying abroad has helped her broaden her knowledge about different textiles and garments from around the world.

Schmitz’s goal has always been to be able to travel while working in the fashion industry. Currently, she holds the position of sourcing and product development at SanMar.

As the assistant product developer, her job is “to determine where that garment will be made, the material, and help facilitating all the details that go into getting it into [the] warehouse,” she explained.

After receiving the designs from designers, Schmitz, alongside with her manager, decides what countries to source fabric from based on the fabric itself.

“For example, if we were handed a beaded top, I would look at India because the sewers are very good at embellishments and intricate details,” Schmitz said.

She has to travel to the places where the factories and fabric mills are located. She strongly believes that having the face-to-face connections make the working relationship stronger.

Kelli Schmitz at the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy in 2008

With the frequent change of fashion trends, Schmitz describes working in the fashion industry as “a roller-coaster.”

“It can be hard to predict where trends are coming from or going towards,” she said.

Kelli Schmitz at a WSU football game with her brother Scott

Schmitz is very grateful for her experience to study abroad, which allowed her to see a variety of styles, garments, design, and fashion trends from different countries. Studying abroad gave her the hands-on experience needed to go into the fashion industry.

Kelli Schmitz on graduation day, 2009