Alumna Jess Burkhardt is using the skills she learned at Michigan State University in her current position as an Associate Designer at Under Armour, a global manufacturer of sports and casual apparel and footwear.
A 2016 graduate with a B.A. in Apparel and Textile Design (ATD) from the Department of Art, Art History, and Design, Burkhardt tailored her undergraduate courseworkto fit her career goals by focusing on activewear rather than taking the traditional route of the ATD program, which emphasizes avant-garde fashion.
Burkhardt credits her internship with Yigal Azrouël, a women’s ready-to-wear fashion brand based in New York City, for helping give her that focus.
“That internship, the summer before my senior year, allowed me to experience everything that goes into running a fashion brand,” she said, “but the most important thing I learned was that my interest was really in the activewear industry and opportunities outside of New York.”
To foster her passion for activewear, Burkhardt made that the central theme of all the projects she worked on when she returned to MSU following her time in New York City.
“I utilized my knitwear course to explore sports apparel fabrics, and I created a mini collection,” she said. “Even courses that focused on avant-garde were helpful because I learned about construction along with developing strong concepts. Whether or not it’s activewear, the ability to have a strong concept is incredibly important when designing for a season. If you have a compelling story linked to your designs, consumers are more likely to find an emotional connection and buy into it.”
Lifelong Love of Design
Burkhardt’s interest in design started at a young age, but she was unsure of how to make a career out of it.
“I come from a really small town and there weren’t a ton of people pursuing careers in design that I could look up to,” she said.
When she came to MSU, she chose to pursue apparel design because “it is an industry that always has a consumer.”
“I love the creative side, but I also have an interest in the business behind designing,” she said. “I like to know why people are drawn to certain products and what compels them to buy something. Fashion is a great mix of business and design and allows me to explore both interests.”
I love the creative side, but I also have an interest in the business behind designing. I like to know why people are drawn to certain products and what compels them to buy something. Fashion is a great mix of business and design and allows me to explore both interests.
Burkhardt initially was hired at Under Armour in 2017 as a Production Artist for the design team’s sports category, based at its global headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.
“That entry-level job was really a grind,” she said. “It involved all the technical work that gets our products out on the floor.”
A year later, she was working on women’s training products as an Assistant Designer, and soon after, she was promoted to Associate Designer.
“There is no typical day in my position as an Associate Designer,” Burkhardt said. “Depending on where we are at in the season, I could be researching trends for the upcoming seasons, sketching concepts and prototyping, coloring the line, building tech packs, or working with my tech designers in fit sessions.
“I also am constantly working with my cross-functional partners to solve problems. All of those people have different skills and bring different strengths to the table. Often, our best solutions come from brainstorming and empowering each other to express our ideas.”
Solid Foundation for a Career in Design
During her time at MSU, Burkhardt was exposed to people of vastly different backgrounds, which helped prepare her for her career.
“I had a unique advantage going to a large state school over a purely design-focused university because I met a lot of people outside of the design community,” she said. “That exposed me to lots of different ideas and opinions that I may not have gotten elsewhere. It taught me how to work with people who have different skillsets than me and how important it is to collaborate.”
Some of Burkhardt’s favorite memories, she says, from her time at MSU took place in the Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture building, where the ATD studios are located.
“There were a lot of late nights spent there,” she said, “and at the time, it felt exhausting, but I made a lot of memories and lifelong friendships working late on projects with my classmates.”
Burkhardt now advises students that their major is whatever they make of it and to use college as an opportunity to meet new people.
“Go beyond what is asked of you in class; never stop exploring things you are interested in. College is the one chance in your life where you have time to do so with no restrictions,” she said. “Take advantage of all of the different people you will meet during your undergraduate education. You never know what ideas will come from talking to someone who has a completely different background than you.”