UPDATED: Student-led fashion week shows talent and creativity thrive at Jackson State University

(JACKSON, Miss.) — JSU Art Galleries hosted Jackson State University’s first bi-annual student-led fashion week, Feb 24-27, which featured a fashion walk, expo and panel discussion before climaxing with a fashion show inside Gallery1.

Founded by students Lee Payton and Shomari Johnson, the fashion week was designed so that each day was assigned an inspired theme like Cruella DeVille, which challenged faculty, staff and students to dress in their most fly black-and-white duds. The fashion show paired the work of designers, both students and local, with performances by area musicians.

Payton, 34, a first-year graphic design major, and Johnson, a data science and bioinformatics graduate student, also credit the help of approximately 70 students from various disciplines for pooling together their creative talents to make the week a success.

“Originally, I had an idea just for a fashion show because I was meeting artists and designers around campus, and I had an interest in designing clothes, and I’ve been writing music since I was 8 or 9,” explained Payton, a native of Jackson. “I started trying to make my own clothes, and when I got to school, I noticed there were a lot of people who were doing music and a lot of people who were designing clothes.”

Payton said he then began thinking about hosting a fashion show or experience at the HBCU. He later met Johnson and, together, they bounced suggestions back and forth.

“Well, when the idea was pitched to me, I naturally gravitated toward it because our minds are in sync, and we think in the same direction. So, I was on board immediately,” explained Johnson.

A native of Albany, Georgia, Johnson began gathering models and other people with various skills. “It kind of transformed into a joint effort. We wanted to collaborate with a lot of organizations on campus. So we went around to different organizations (Girls’ Coalition, IMS, and OutSpoken), and they also gave their input and actually helped contribute to the success that it became,” he said.

Terrie Briggs, an English education major, bumped into Payton and Johnson on campus and was invited to the model casting call. “I auditioned, and we were rehearsing ever since. The fashion show was really good. It was so much fun. We had a good time.”

When it came to selecting designers to participate, Lee said everyone just showed up. He also acknowledged that Zacchaeus Simmons, a JSU alum and owner of the clothing brand Zacari, was a big help.

“Based off of him and his connections, we came in contact with people who were aspiring in fashion. Through him and various people in the graphic design area, it just came together,” said Johnson.

Simmons said he used the show to gauge what people liked and didn’t like about his collection of tracksuits, shirts and hoodies. The entrepreneur shared that his brand name Zacari means the Lord remembers. “I believe that everyone has a gift, and they should use their gift to inspire people to find their purpose in life. Whatever career you have, you should use it as inspiration to your community,” said Simmons, who plans to host a three-day fashion exhibit called Tribe Fest at the Mississippi Museum of Art May 1-3, tentatively.

His mother, Dr. Milisha Hart-Simmons, traveled from Louisiana to watch her son present in the fashion show. “If we show our support for our children, they tend to conquer more things in life,” she explained.  “I wanted to be present because I’m very proud of him. I’m glad he’s a proud graduate of Jackson State  – Thee I Love.  I love his perseverance … and he’s a go-getter,” she said.

Nishiya Saunders, a freshmen child development major, was so moved by the fashion show she plans to audition for a modeling spot next year. “It was great. I’ve never been to a fashion show, so with this being my first experience, I loved it. I loved everything about it – the performances, the models. They did a good job.”

Andre Lamont Dyson II, goes by Dre Dys (Dice). A hip-hop artist and music education major, Dyson performed at the fashion show with fellow JSU student Parker DeLoach, aka ThtKidKer.

“I just came out to have a good time. I loved the event. It was dope to see our people doing their thang,” said the native of Anderson, Indiana.

Ishmaiah Graham, who goes by King Kem, is a junior mass communications major at JSU. Also moonlighting as a rapper, Graham performed his song “A Week” during an intermission. “I saw this as a pretty good opportunity to network and provide a strong platform to reach more people to help build my fan base,” said Graham, who describes himself as a versatile artist.

Support was abundant as students like Devin Cousin, aka MacccDev — also a hip-hop artist with Brent Faiyez vibes — explained that he came out to show love to his friends, both performers and designers. “It was amazing. It’s a lot of talent here, and that’s factual. No one can say differently.”

A preferred aspect of fashion week for Johnson was the exposure students received through the planning and execution phases. “They just didn’t see one particular aspect of it. They were able to see the design process from a fashion designer perspective. They also were able to see the photography process from the media team, plus development and videography,” he said. “So they were exposed to various industries, and so that was the main concept we wanted to get across.”

Johnson also pointed out that former JSU students who no longer attended the university were included on the project. “These students are now taking steps to enroll back in school. That is a major accomplishment and lets you know the potential of what this can be. This is one thing we sought to accomplish, and I feel like that’s what we did.”

For Payton, he believes the production of fashion week showed others how to make their own lane because “everyone is not going to land a great job when they leave school.” Hence, he said, fashion week provided students with a step-by-step process on how to create something sustainable for themselves.

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