Fashion forward

UCM Students at the Forefront of Sustainable Styles

By Emily Kepley, Marketing Undergraduate Student

Cydni Runway

When Cydni Stanford took the runway at KC Fashion Week this spring, it was the culmination of her childhood dream. As a junior in the University of Central Missouri’s Fashion and Apparel Merchandising (FAME) program, she showcased her own clothing line called Décalage. The word can be translated from French to mean “the act of shifting.”

“I picked Décalage for my brand name because my overall objective is to aid in moving fashion to a sustainable and eco-friendly space,” Stanford says, “while also shifting people’s ideas about what sustainable fashion can be.”

Sustainability and diversity are two common threads in Stanford’s work and the FAME program at UCM.


Diversity Woven in Common Threads

When Stanford was growing up in Kansas City, she enjoyed watching models on TV and going thrifting with her family. Her parents — Tasha Martin-Stanford, ’95, ’97, and Richard Stanford, ’94 — both graduated from UCM and met on campus.

Her mother is a speech pathologist, and her father owns Priority1, a business that connects older adults and individuals needing medical care with in-home health professionals. Since both of her parents are successful UCM alumni, Stanford considered UCM when looking into universities where she could pursue a career in fashion. Unlike programs that focus solely on design, the FAME program at UCM is business oriented with creative aspects such as design and presentation intertwined.

Stanford received the Alumni Legacy Scholarship, a competitive scholarship which is available to incoming freshmen who are children or grandchildren of UCM alumni. She has also received the Maurine Poage Achauer Scholarship, the Katzentine/ Carswell/Cheatham Scholarship and the Tolivar H. Franklin Scholarship through the UCM Alumni Foundation.

After just a year and a half in the program, Stanford was in a position to achieve her goal of becoming a KC Fashion Week designer. She had modeled in the show for four seasons after first taking to the runway at age 14 in the Kansas City Natural Hair and Wellness Expo. It was a dream come true when she found out the clothing she designed would be featured in KC Fashion Week’s Spring/Summer 2021 show.

Cydni Stanford modeling

Cydni Stanford modeled for KC Fashion Week for four seasons.

Stanford’s Décalage collection consists of five designs inspired by the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, when as many as 300 African Americans were killed in the span of about 16 hours starting on Memorial Day. She learned about this event when the Black Lives Matter movement brought to light a century-old history that was not widely known.

In 1913, Booker T. Washington coined Greenwood, a 35-block district in north Tulsa, “the Negro Wall Street of America,” a name soon shortened to “Black Wall Street.” It was a self-contained community of approximately 10,000 African Americans, including successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs who took pride in the way they dressed. Stanford took inspiration from the strength of this community, which was burned to the ground by a mob of neighboring white residents who felt threatened by its presence.

Stanford brought this lost history to life through the colors and materials in her clothing line. Red represents the blood that was shed in the massacre, green represents the wealth of Greenwood, and cowry shells symbolize preservation of prosperity, as these shells are rare and have been used as currency in many African countries.

“I wanted to include the shells as a reminder to anyone wearing my designs that they should be proud of their skin and where they come from,” Stanford says. “We have the power to continue to innovate and prosper for generations to come.”

KC Fashion Week - credit Jason Atherton

Morgan Warren Embry models Stanford's dress with cowry-shell belt.
Photo by Jason Atherton/KC Fashion Week


Sustainable Practice for the Fabric of the Future

Stanford’s clothing line incorporates sustainably sourced fabric, a concept emphasized in the FAME program. Thrifting with her family and upcycling once-loved clothes is where Stanford found her calling to become a sustainable designer. She put her passion into practice with her Décalage designs, utilizing material from old pillowcases and used clothing items.

“I even looked at curtains at one point, and rugs, and anything that my mom was going to try to throw away,” Stanford says. “I’ve always been a sustainable designer at heart.”

When she was developing her fashions this spring, Stanford was taking the Sustainability for Consumer Products course with associate professor and program coordinator Melissa Abner, ’08. In this class, Abner teaches ways to make what is reportedly one of the most polluting industries in the world more environmentally friendly. She covers topics such as global sourcing, labor issues, sustainable resources, the environmental effects of microplastics and manufacturing, waste products, how to keep donated clothes out of landfills and ethical wardrobe care. Overall, Abner encourages students to buy better, source better and make better.

According to a 2019 report published by United Nations News, the fashion industry is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of global wastewater. The same report stated that producing a pair of jeans requires about 2,000 gallons of water, which is equivalent to the amount an average person drinks in seven years.

Statistics like these have prompted UCM students to think creatively about the future of fashion. One example of this is the Recycle, Restyle and Revamp fashion show, an annual community event highlighting clothing and accessories created using thrifted or trashed materials.

Cydni Stanford Jean Jacket

Stanford models an upcycled denim jacket.

A FAME student who participated in the show this past spring is Marlowe Welch, a sophomore who created two designer bags from upcycled denim.

“We learn about ways to prevent so much harm to the Earth from the fashion industry,” says Welch, who also took Abner’s sustainability class. “Everybody has to wear clothes, and a lot of people don’t think about the harm that fashion is doing to the Earth.”

Not only do students get the experience of designing and creating, but they also help run the fashion show. Welch gained experience with lighting as part of the production process, and several other students learned about event management.

FAME students get to go behind the scenes and gain real-world experience through partnerships with KC Fashion Week and other organizations, preparing them for multiple facets of the industry.

“Fashion is so experience based, and you have to kind of work your way up and make those connections,” Abner says. “But a lot of our students work while they’re in school. So, they advance faster in their careers.”

Professor Melissa Abner teaches the Sustainability for Consumer Products course. Her students have designed clothes from upcycled materials ranging from plastic bags to used CDs and solar eclipse glasses.

Fashion Students

Professor Melissa Abner works with students Mason McClain and Raquel Smith-Collier.


Faculty, Alumni Help Move Fashion Forward

Erica Spurgeon, ’09, ’17, is a forward thinker who has helped develop the program to be up to date with industry trends and technology. As a certified MakerBot 3D printer curriculum creator and operator, Spurgeon helps students utilize 3D printing, as well as vinyl cutting and sublimation printing on fabric.

Students are able to learn the industry standard for graphic design with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and use industry forecaster WGSN to keep up on fashion trends. They also use Chief Architect software for 3D store design in Abner’s Visual Merchandising class.

FAME students have access to the Fashion Business Association, where they can make connections and learn from companies like Buckle, Rally House, Nordstrom, Dillard’s and more.

Tiffany Cochran, ’05, is a FAME alumna who has worked with Buckle for 15 years. She has recruited and hired many UCM students for internships and jobs. According to Cochran, UCM students have an edge among other graduates, with industry-ready skills and an outstanding work ethic. One student Cochran hired was Brianna Durand, ’17, who worked part time at the Lee’s Summit Buckle location while earning a FAME degree with minors in Business and Marketing.

“I worked my way up completing leadership training and my internship,” says Durand, who now manages the Buckle in Augusta, Georgia. “I’ve made lifelong friends, and I couldn’t be more appreciative for all the life lessons I’ve endured along the way.”

Fashion Brianna
Alumna Brianna Durand got her start in the fashion industry at UCM.


Cochran now interacts with students in a new way, teaching her first class, Textile Science, as an adjunct professor in the FAME program. As senior director of events and alumni engagement with the UCM Alumni Foundation, she also helps connect alumni to the current program. One way to get involved is by serving on the UCM Fashion Advisory Board, as Cochran has done, to provide feedback and ensure that the curriculum is keeping up with the industry.

“It’s great to see how much the program has advanced … just with the feedback the students and industry workers give,” says board member Quinn Ahrens, ’19, who recently started working at Hey Dude Shoes. This career opportunity came from his connections within the FAME alumni network.

Jessica Williams, ’15, serves on the board and also gives back to the program through class visits. Williams has worked her way up at Walmart to become an associate Omni merchant for women’s footwear companywide.

“One of the best aspects of UCM’s fashion program is that they allow industry professionals to visit and speak in the seminar class,” she says. “I love that I am able to answer some of the same questions I had as a student.”

Calli Green, ’11, is an alumna volunteer who wrote a fashion column for The Muleskinner at UCM and now publishes her own magazine, Local Fashion Link. The magazine is part of her business of the same name, connecting the Kansas City community to the local fashion scene through shows, education and philanthropy.

“I don’t think that we have had a show yet that didn’t involve a model that is a UCM alum, an intern from UCM or a fashion student,” Green says, adding that UCM is always represented at Local Runway, a biannual fashion show featuring KC-based designers and boutiques.

With a career focus, industry connections and so many opportunities to gain experience, students are able to grow their network both on and off the runway. For Stanford, the runway was only one step toward her goal of becoming a successful fashion designer.

When brainstorming ideas for her first clothing brand, Stanford explored various words and phrases in different languages.

“French stuck out to me because Paris is one of the birthplaces of fashion, and one of my biggest career goals is to present a line at Paris Fashion Week.”

Now with her Décalage brand on its way to being established, Paris doesn’t seem so far away.

FAME fashion apparel

Students in the fashion program at UCM design and sell university-branded apparel.

Help move fashion forward at UCM! Purchase student-designed UCM apparel at, volunteer at or donate to the program




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