Q&A with design and merchandising alumnus Cooper Siville

By Jessica Bennett

Cooper Siville, apparel and merchandising ’17, is originally from Seattle, Washington, and chose to come to CSU because the design and merchandising program blends creativity with practical business applications. This summer, he completed an internship with Billy Reid in Florence, Alabama. Learn more about Siville, his internship, and his journey at CSU.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Design and merchandising alumnus Cooper Siville

I can really be summed up as a “fashion hobbyist” in all aspects of my life. I am an avid collector of avant garde and designer fashions from Saint Laurent, Dior, Haider Ackermann, Dries Van Noten and many other brands, and I have a wealth of knowledge about men’s runway from the past twenty years. I focus on named creative directors from luxury houses, as well as small boutique creators from common luxury.

I also have a real passion for the culinary arts, specifically Asian inspired street cuisines like tonkotsu ramen and pork belly bao. I’d love to curate and own a bespoke bar with a trained sommelier, several mixologists, and a cocktail and aperitif program with a real stage presence.

You can usually find me in the gym in the early morning, either doing compound lifts or practicing my boxing circuits. If not, I’m probably trail running.

Why did you choose Colorado State University and the Department of Design and Merchandising?

I’ve always had a knack as a creative, but did not want to pursue an applied or fine art program because of the limited exposure of those programs to a business background. The design and merchandising program is really the best of both worlds – it provides ample exposure to both the design and business spectrums, and really allows you to supplement your design experience with a real-world knowledge that helps you realistically achieve your goals. I narrowed my search down to four schools, including very prestigious schools like Central Saint Martins and Parsons, but ultimately chose Colorado State University because I felt that the smaller class sizes and the practical application classes would allow for a greater understanding and exposure to the material.

What are you doing at your internship?

I am currently the men’s development intern at Billy Reid in Florence, Alabama. My role revolves around the development and management of produced samples as well as preparation work for our multi-day event “Shindig” in August. I oversee all incoming salesman samples. So, I ensure proper item count, location, and compliance with our bill of materials and technical packs, and I relate this to our production team for final costing and purchase.

I also ensure that our incoming samples are photographed by our in-house eCommerce team, and that those photos make it to our wholesale team in New York for market week. My day-to-day routine changes quite frequently, which exposes me to several areas of our business. One day I may find myself creating product knowledge material for our products using the technical packs for reference, and another day I may be working with our lead designer to note desired deviations in our tailored category that needs to be reflected as changes in our design sketches. Because my role is to segue between design ideation and garment production, we are heavily involved in all areas of the process, from trims and findings, to fabrics, to labels, to constructions, and essentially everything in between.

What are you learning from it?

The biggest teaching point was learning to deal with restrictions from all manner of sources. In a perfect world, we purchase fabric, have that fabric sent to our production facility, have garments made and findings attached, cost the garments, and warehouse them for final sale. In the real world, I’m doing a sort of balancing act between meeting fabric sourcing minimums from the thirty Italian woolen mills we work with, then speaking with the production factories to ensure we are producing enough garments in a specific style to meet that minimum, and doing so all under the umbrella of meeting a 70-point gross margin to meet our wholesale objective.

What’s surprised you?

There is a surprising “emotional detachment” that needs to occur in both the design and development departments for a collection to be fully realized. There are certain styles that according to both our design and development team are top sellers that may be dropped from production because we cannot negotiate production barriers. In the same vein, there are styles we were not as confident with that will make wholesale because they match our pricing objectives. In essence, fashion design is not necessarily about whether a design is “good” or “bad,” but more about a style as it relates to the production industry at a specific point in time.

What are your career goals?

My final aspirations are to pursue a career as either a purchasing director or accounts liaison for an avant garde or luxury e-tailor like SSENSE or MR PORTER, where I would be working with all caliber of brands or wholesale clients. I have attempted to plot a career path that grants exposure to all segments of the industry in an attempt to completely understand the development and production process from start to finish, and have a firm grasp on the multitude of complexities therein. A grasp of the elementary processes that lead to a final garment being available for wholesale can lead to more efficient and effective purchases in the long run that better suit my employer’s merchandising agenda.

My time in the department mirrors this exact agenda – the end objective is not to have students with a very specific knowledge that works to heighten just one career or position, but rather to give students all of the knowledge possible, with the end goal that these teaching points can be used as building blocks for any number of careers. I am confident that I can translate any number of these points into any number of careers both in and out of the industry in the future.

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.