The Road to Runway: Gina and Lailaa's New York Fashion Week Experience

Sept. 21, 2023

Norton School of Human Ecology students share their experience at New York Fashion Week, including visits to Champion's design headquarters and marigold-infused runway shows. This reignited their passion for design and inspired their career aspirations.

NYFW 2023, Lailaa McClendon and Gina D'Onofrio, Norton School, Fashion Week, Fashion Major

Gina D'Onofrio and Laila McClendon at New York Fashion Week 2023.

Drew Bourland, University Marketing & Communications

Gina D’Onofrio, originally from New York, always had a fascination with fashion and style. During high school, she had the opportunity to study fashion illustration which sparked her interest in becoming a fashion designer. Coming to the University of Arizona, Gina had originally decided to pursue a career in veterinary science. However, as her freshman year drew to a close, she discovered that the university offered a fashion major. After meeting the advisors to learn more about the program, Gina’s love for fashion was reignited and was eager to begin her next semester as a Fashion Industry’s Science and Technology student at the Norton School of Human Ecology.   


Lailaa McClendon is a first-generation college student born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. Being from a small city far from the epicenter of fashion and entertainment, Lailaa knew that exposing herself to networking and experiential opportunities in the industry would be fundamental to her career. As a Retailing and Consumer Science major, Lailaa aspires to work in a role or company that allows her to bridge her interests in creativity, communications, and business with her devotion for diversity, equity, & inclusion initiatives, recognizing the importance of championing the mission to cultivate spaces where people and their ideas are celebrated.  


Gina D'Onofrio and Lailaa McClendon, University of Arizona fashion students, Norton School of Human Ecology, NYFW

Through strategic partnerships between The University of Arizona, Collegiate Licensing Company and IMG's fashion events division, students are offered the opportunity to attend a one-of-a-kind educational experience at Spring and Fall New York Fashion Weeks. In January of 2023, Gina and Lailaa learned about NYFW through various friends and mentors and decided to apply. After several rounds of assignments and interviews, they finally heard back from the selection committee with the news that they’d be attending New York Fashion Week in September of 2023!   


After three days spent in New York City visiting iconic sites, meeting with renowned designers, and living their fashion week aspirations, Gina and Lailaa shared some of the highlights of their experience.  

Crafting Inspiration and Memories at Champion’s NYC Headquarters 

Gina: On the first day, we had the opportunity to visit the Champion store in New York. The group received a tour of their design headquarters which included designs of their upcoming collabs and product launches as well as a sneak peak of their brand campaign. 


Gina: The second part of the day included talking with a panel of Champion’s designers. This was one of the highlights of my trip since I would love to go into the design world myself. Each designer was able to tell the story of how they got their start in design and what paths they took after college. One story in particular was especially fascinating given that the designer had experience working at Abercrombie, North Face, and Champion which are all top brands known for their quality and fun designs. This panel session was very inspirational because even though all the designers came from different cities, backgrounds, and walks of life, they all ended up in the same job, which gave me a lot of hope for what the future might have in store for me.  


Lailaa: At the panel discussions, I found the IMG and Champion employees to be very interesting and inspiring. From playing with Barbie dolls to drawing dresses and shoes for fun, I grew up loving fashion, but a career in the industry seemed unattainable and unrealistic. I let fashion remain as a hobby and nourished the interest only through shows and helping friends and family style their clothes. Nothing is crazy if you work for it. You won’t come into your dreams overnight, but you can achieve anything, really. 

Gina D'Onofrio and Lailaa McClendon, University of Arizona fashion students, Norton School of Human Ecology, NYFW

Lailaa: After the panel, we were each able to spend some time in the “maker space/workshop” designing our own Champion product. With the guidance of the designers and full access to their equipment, I was able to design an embroidered crewneck that said New York Fashion Week 2023 as a nice keepsake to remember the week-long experience.  


Front Show Magic and Behind-the-Scenes Insights 


Lailaa: The following day we had the opportunity to attend one of the fashion shows displaying a collection by Ukrainian designer, Bevza. The room was set up so that everyone essentially had a front row seat. The thing that I found most impressive about the fashion show was Bevza’s integration of marigold into her designs. Marigolds are the national flower of Ukraine, so there was a marigold seamlessly embedded into every piece of the collection from the jewelry to the  brooches on the dresses. My favorite marigold piece was a pair of heels.  

Gina: This whole day felt like an out of body experience. Even while waiting outside of the venue I felt like a celebrity, as various people would come up and ask me to pose for pictures with their makeup products for social media. The actual show was magical and I loved every outfit. As the show started, it was amazing to experience the lights dim and the runway light up, as beautiful models walked down the runway to the beat of the music.  

New York Fashion Week, UArizona, 2023 Fall Fashion Show

Gina: Following the show, we were able to stay for a Q&A panel with some of the producers, assistants, and experts that are responsible for making the show happen. There were many jobs within the industry that I didn’t even know existed but were crucial to the production of the show. Some of the roles included talent agents that hired models, concierges that were responsible for travel accommodations, and others that hired makeup artists. Each of those employees played a crucial role in the production. 

Fashion Week’s Transformational Impact 

Gina: Overall, the experience really changed my perspective of the fashion industry. When people think of fashion shows, they think about the models and the clothing, but what most people don’t think about is the behind the scenes superstars that are efficiently and effectively running the whole operation or collaborating with a group of people to decide on one piece of clothing. I am incredibly grateful for the Norton School and the University of Arizona for giving me the opportunity to go to fashion week and pushing me closer to figuring out my career path. I hope that I can one day be one of the designers on that panel so that future students can look up to me and feel the same sense of inspiration that I felt hearing the stories from today’s designers.  


Lailaa: This experience has made me realize that a career in fashion is something that I am not only truly interested in, but it is attainable. During the Champion and IMG panel, they said something that really resonated with me: “Fashion helps shape culture”. Being able to have a lasting impact on culture, in whatever form that it takes shape is something that truly excites me and pushes me to do more. Nothing is crazy if you work for it. You won’t come into your dreams overnight, but you can achieve anything, really.


Now accepting applications for Spring 2023 NYFW through October 5th.


Gina D'Onofrio and Lailaa McClendon, University of Arizona fashion students, Norton School of Human Ecology, New York Times Square




Estefania Villasenor