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FAST 2022: Josephine Qi’s collection blooms from UCLA botanical garden onto runway

Fourth-year computational and systems biology student Defne Ercelen (left) and fourth-year business economics student Josephine Qi (right) pose together, wearing Qi’s design for the Fashion and Student Trends at UCLA spring runway show. Qi said she was inspired by the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden to create tree-influenced designs. (Emily Kohen/Daily Bruin)

By Breanna Diaz

May 23, 2022 6:36 p.m.

This post was updated May 25 at 10:09 p.m.

Josephine Qi is branching out into fashion with botanical-inspired creations.

The fourth-year business economics student’s designs are hitting the runway for a second time Friday. Following Qi’s freshman year collection, the six-piece line on display in Fashion and Student Trends at UCLA’s spring runway show was inspired by six favorite trees in the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, she said. As her final year comes to a close, Qi said her collection commemorates one of her favorite places on campus.

“I go there (the garden) about once a week, if not more, because there’s something new to see every time,” Qi said. “I wanted to kind of capture all the time I spent, not only on UCLA’s campus, but especially at the botanical garden.”

Qi’s first run at designing was during her freshman year when she said she created a fish-themed collection. While Qi didn’t participate in FAST during her second or third year because the COVID-19 pandemic pushed all activities online, she said she wanted to jump back in once more before graduating.

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For this year’s collection, Qi said she toyed with scrapped ideas from her freshman year collection, including a clown theme and a line inspired by road trips. But after deliberating her options, she said she decided to create an ode to her favorite place on campus. Qi originally planned to celebrate all plants in the garden, then narrowed her scope down to six specific trees whose features she liked or that reminded her of special memories.

“Here, I’m able to experiment more with different techniques that I wasn’t able to even think of back in freshman year,” Qi said. “My experience in freshman year helped me refine what I’m doing now.”

The patterns and shapes found on these trees influenced Qi’s designs, she said. One of the trees that lent itself as style inspiration was the “pink cloud” Japanese cherry tree, Qi said, which explodes with baseball-sized globes of rose-tinted flowers in the springtime. Another one is a particular eucalyptus tree whose bark will strip off and reveal an eye-catching, stark-white trunk, she said.

For these outfits, going from sketch to finished piece was not a straightforward task, Qi said. One of her designs based on the pink cloud flowering cherry tree was supposed to emulate the leaves’ globe shape, but Qi said she underestimated how much material she would need to create a skirt as puffy as she imagined. To troubleshoot, Qi said she cut the dress shorter and used the cut-offs to add more volume to the skirt.

To source materials reminiscent of the trees on a budget, Qi said she had to be thrifty. She frequented the UCLA Thrift Shop to find materials such as curtains, bedsheets and tablecloths she could repurpose into clothing, she said. There, she was able to find fabrics that matched features of some of the trees, she said, like a tablecloth with a similar bark pattern to the cherry tree.

Remixing existing fabrics into her designs played into FAST’s sustainability mission, Qi says. She hand painted the fabric of one dress to reflect bark patterns, used curtains found in her parents’ garage, and used materials such as wire, crystals and ribbon to make a crown that sways when the model walks.

At times, making six dresses from scratch was a tiring task, Qi said, as countless hours and manual labor went into crafting each piece. When things became overwhelming, Qi said she’d turn to her roommate, alumnus Hannah Fe Agustin, for support.

(Emily Kohen/Daily Bruin)
Ercelen models one of Qi’s designs, a white dress with colorful wings. Ercelen said she worked with Qi to practice poses that best showed off the dress’s unique feature. (Emily Kohen/Daily Bruin)

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As Qi’s sketches came to life over the course of the school year, Agustin said she had a front-row seat to their creation. Qi would often ask Agustin her thoughts on where a certain embellishment should go on a dress or for feedback on a design, she said. To help de-stress, Agustin said the pair would play Animal Crossing together or get out of their apartment to step away from work when needed. With the pieces coming together in their apartment, Agustin said she saw how Qi translated her method of self-care into a cohesive collection.

“What I’m imagining that this collection is for her and what she wants this collection to portray is a sense of peace and calm,” Agustin said. “Of the pieces that I’ve seen – completed or almost completed – I get this welcoming vibe from it.”

For the show itself, fourth-year computational and systems biology student Defne Ercelen said she is one of the models wearing Qi’s collection. She and Qi decided on having Ercelen wear a dress with wings from the sleeves, and Ercelen practiced poses that show off the dress’s features best.

Since her first FAST collection, Qi said her growth in constructing clean, professional garments has been rewarding as she has developed stronger sewing skills. Beyond FAST, sewing and fashion will remain a hobby for her as she pursues a career in accounting, as she enjoys sewing the most when it is just for fun.

“There’s a lot of joy in creating things,” Qi said. “There’s something very viscerally satisfying about holding something that you’ve made and being proud of what you’ve done.”

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Breanna Diaz
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