RU fashion design major studies for a semester halfway around the world

Savannah Fender in New Zealand

RU junior Savannah took her fashion design studies to "windy Wellington" in New Zealand for a semester.

For Savannah Fender, a semester study abroad experience in New Zealand was world-expanding, not to mention earth-shaking. 

The junior fashion design major and marketing minor from Marion, Va., said the four-month study abroad experience "got her creative juices flowing and was full of important lessons in how to connect across cultures and sell her work."

Fender took three classes at Massey University in Wellington, the self-proclaimed capital of cool in New Zealand. She took a lecture class on fashion history, which she described as heavy on British and Asian influences and  two studio classes, one on draping, for which the challenge was to create a "zero-waste" garment, and one in which she and a four-person  team designed and developed a marketing plan for a 10-garment line. They also had to produce four items from the line as prototypes for New Zealand designer Kate Sylvester.

"I had to forget about the way I normally measure," she said.  "The whole world uses metric, why do we have to be different?"

Massey University's School of Design

Fender studied at the Massey University School of Design, housed in a a former museum in Wellington, New Zealand, the self-proclaimed Kiwi capital of cool.

The disruption to her normal sewing skill set was not the only one she overcame.  Wellington and Fender's apartment, called the Cube, was rocked by earthquakes and aftershocks several times during her stay. One quake measured 6.5 on the Richter scale and sent her and her two "Kiwi" roommates scurrying.

"I was on my way back from a hike when a big earthquake happened.  The streetlights were swaying, cars stopped and people were running out of buildings." she said. "In time, I learned how to quake proof the room."

The quakes, the 23-hour trip to her a new college on a distant continent and the chance to make friends from Europe, Asia and New Zealand helped her become more cultured and confident.  "I feel like I really expanded my knowledge of cultures and people and how to take care of myself. After all, mom and dad really were a world away."

The academic approach at Massey forced her to stand on her own as well. "The classes at Massey were bigger, but the professors were helpful and willing to take time to work with me, an exchange student. I really appreciate the small class sizes we have here at RU."

Studying abroad prevented the feeling of a daily grind as she was eager to see and do as much as possible while in New Zealand. "I never really got in a routine. As soon as I got my work done, I wanted to see what's close or do what I hadn't done yet. The things I was interested in and that were new and exciting to me were things my Kiwi friends in Wellington took for granted or overlooked. It gave me a new perspective on where I grew up and the things I have overlooked or forgotten about."

Among her experiences in New Zealand was a weekend stint as a volunteer at the country's Fashion Week in Auckland where she dressed the models, worked backstage and made some connections at the various receptions and parties. She also took a two-week road trip around the North Island during which she visited her Kiwi flatmates's homes, natural hot springs, a family sheep ranch and enjoyed some beach time.


"I wanted to go to an outdoor environment with a laid-back atmosphere," she said. "The most amazing thing about New Zealand is that you may have seen glaciers, volcanoes, mountains and beaches before, but never in one place and within miles, or kilometers, of each other.  Fashion-wise, Kiwis are known for their hipster and daring style."

Fender counted on the International Education Center for help as she prepared for the study abroad experience. "I didn’t want to come back and have to be a super senior, so the IEC staff really helped make the academics work and count towards my studies here at Radford."

Feb 25, 2014