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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

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Designed for success

Posted on: May 9, 2018
By Allen Wallace,, 803-777-5667

For some people, childhood dreams fade away, replaced by other things. For others, those dreams endure and become goals. For a lucky few, like Alex Kunkle, hard work and preparation meet just the right opportunity, and those dreams come true.

Kunkle will graduate from the University of South Carolina this week with a degree in retailing, and, thanks to her never-ending passion for fashion, a job in the industry on which she’s had her heart set since she was a little girl.

“I remember going to my older brother’s baseball games when I was in elementary school with all of my colored pencils and drawing pages upon pages of gowns,” Kunkle says. “When they resurfaced our pool table, I took that awful leftover green felt and made my little sister a dress that was put together with a glue gun and embellished with aquarium rocks. It was pure, unedited fashion from a 9-year-old.”

I find my inspiration in beautifully aged buildings, the stories of strangers I meet, and unique collections of artwork.

—Alex Kunkle, ’18, retailing

The Newberry native learned to sew from friend and mentor, Jan Davis, and as college decision time arrived, chose USC’s retailing major with a focus in fashion merchandising as her path to a career in fashion. She impressed faculty and fellow students alike throughout her time on campus, and in her final semester as an undergraduate, the chance she had been waiting for arrived.

As a senior this spring, she spent weeks designing and creating three outfits for USC Fashion Week, organized by the Fashion Board student organization. The judges included Miss Universe and Miss USA stylist Marquis Bias, USC Department of Retailing Chair Mark Rosenbaum, Miss South Carolina Suzi Roberts, Belk executive Caroline Riffel and America's Next Top Model alumna Bianca Chardei: not a group that would be easily impressed.

Kunkle blew them all away. Among a group of talented competitors, she stood out, winning first place in this year’s Student Designer Showcase with designs inspired by artist Gustav Klimt’s work, particularly those created during what art historians call his “golden phase.”

“I find my inspiration in beautifully aged buildings, the stories of strangers I meet, and unique collections of artwork,” Kunkle says.

The win earned Kunkle the chance to show her designs in the Finale Show alongside the spring lines from local boutiques, and to visit Belk’s headquarters for lunch and a tour with one of their private brand designers. The next day, she found out she had won even more.

A representative of world-renowned designer Mac Duggal contacted Kunkle and invited her to apply for a design assistant position with the Duggal team in Chicago. A flurry of even harder work ensued, as Kunkle rushed to assemble 20 sketches required for the application while also preparing a design for Greenville Fashion Week.

In Greenville, Gracen Grainger won Top Model while wearing a dress designed by Kunkle. That win was followed by the email Kunkle had been waiting for: the job offer.

“I am beyond excited about this opportunity,” Kunkle says. “I hope to design clothing for women that makes them feel empowered, worthy, and beautiful.”

Kunkle will work under Ieena Duggal, daughter of Mac Duggal, a very successful designer in her own right, and perhaps a kindred spirit. Ieena Duggal also grew up dreaming of fashion, and her first collection was designed for every woman.

Kunkle will take the dreams that started in Newberry and grew in Columbia to one of the fashion centers of the world, and has nothing but gratitude for those who helped her along the way.

“I found courage from my mother who taught me to take chances and to do everything whole-heartedly,” she says. “I also can’t thank my family and friends enough for the abundance of encouragement and support.”

Kunkle says future students with big dreams should take advantage of everything USC has to offer, from clubs to travel opportunities, and grab every chance to highlight their talents.

During Fashion Week, Bias, another small town South Carolina native with big dreams, said to a group of retailing students “You impress one person. The next thing you know you have a career.”

That very night, Kunkle impressed more than one person, and her career is off to a fantastic start.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.