Award-winning instructor inspires students in design and merchandising
Kevin Kissell (’97, ’00, ’08) was the type of kid who planned the outfit he was going to wear to tackle life on the farm. It didn’t matter that his clothes were bound to get dirty, it mattered that they matched. Kissell was immersed in the world of fibers and textiles at a young age, as his mother and grandmother taught him how to crochet and embroider. This fostered his love for textiles and fashion.
Kissell now shares that passion with his students as an instructor in the Department of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State University. Kissell teaches a wide array of classes on both the design and retail side of the industry, including digital technology, draping, store design and international retailing. His industry experience in the both design and retail allows him to share real-world experience with his students and give them a window into their future careers.
“I had a student the other day come in and tell me they had to rearrange their store because sales were down. Immediately after that, sales went back up,” Kissell recalls. “I told her, ‘See, what I’m teaching you works!'”
Kissell’s industry experience began when he took a job with Gap Inc. after graduating from CSU with a B.A. in art and a minor in apparel. He worked there for 15 years in-store and as a visual merchandiser. He set store layouts and traffic patterns and now teaches that kind of theory on consumer behavior in his classes.
After leaving Gap, Kissell dabbled in apparel design working for a small sportswear company in Seattle. There he was a design assistant working on pattern-making and the actual construction of clothing.
While real-world experience was eye opening, he wanted to continue his schooling at CSU and work toward a master’s degree in design and merchandising. “I really like this department, and I think we have a really good reputation in academia for what we teach and how we teach it,” Kissell said of his decision to come back to his alma mater to continue his education.
After earning his master’s degree, he went to work for Gap again. Unfortunately, he was laid off after the company hit an economic downturn. “It ended up being a good thing because it allowed me to go back to school,” Kissell explained.
This time, he pursued an MFA in fibers from, you guessed it, CSU.
“I grew up in Fort Collins, too,” Kissell said with a laugh. “It’s difficult to leave this town.”
In fact, Kissell’s love for Colorado recently won him an award from the Handweavers Guild of America for a shawl he created while living in Detroit and feeling homesick for Colorado. The piece, entitled “I Built a Constellation Liar Out of the Thoughts that Fluttered There,” was inspired by the differences in the Detroit and Colorado sky.
Kissell used a process of ikat dyeing, which involves bleaching yarn and adding color back in, to create an atmospheric look with colors of the sky and ground. After weaving the piece, Kissell hand-beaded the constellations he could see from his house in Detroit with lapis, onyx and turquoise stones.
“I like to put a hidden meaning into my pieces. So with the shawl you can see the beading, but unless you pick it up and investigate it, you might not know that they’re constellations,” Kissell explained. “I like people to really spend time with my work and find their own meaning in it.”
This desire for people to find meaning in his work also translates into the classroom. Handwork of any kind can be a slow and tedious process, but Kissell encourages his students to do a lot of hand sewing specifically to slow them down.
“Hand sewing gets the students into the flow and the zen of it,” Kissell said. “They’re so fast-paced, but if you make them slow down, it teaches them to appreciate their work and find meaning in it.”