Missouri State University
Stefanie Schmith

Stefanie Schmith

  • Designer for Tillsonburg Apparel
  • Hongkong, China
  • Clothing, textiles and merchandising

'Fashion is another way people express themselves'

Stefanie Schmith remembers the first time she saw a handbag she designed being carried by a woman in the street.

It took everything she had not to run after the woman yelling: “That’s my handbag! I designed that!”

Schmith, a 2005 graduate with a bachelor’s in clothing, textiles and merchandising, moved to New York City the day after graduation with her five closest friends from MSU. She worked for
companies including Talbots, where she designed accessories such as bags, belts and shoes, and worked with factories and manufacturers to develop products.

After five years with Talbots, she found an opportunity with Charlotte Ronson, a young, contemporary line.

“They were prepping me to move to Hong Kong, and I moved there after working for them a year.” She had never lived or worked outside the States before, but for the past two and a half years she has been back and forth between Asia and NYC.

“Hong Kong is very Western, but it’s still Asia. You will see Starbucks, McDonald’s and Outback Steakhouse next to an elderly local wearing a straw hat by a fish market and noodle shops.
You can see it once was a British colony — almost everyone speaks English and there are many British expats around. Sometimes you feel like you’re in Asia, sometimes you feel like you’re in Anytown, U.K. It’s actually quite lovely.”

Schmith is now a designer with Tillsonburg Apparel, a supplier to major brands in the U.S. and U.K. She mostly designs for four brands: one is fun and contemporary; one is for younger
women but is more conservative and work-oriented; one has cruise and resort items for an older clientele; and one is a higher-end, classic American brand.

Here’s how her job works: Representatives from the brands (which Schmith must keep confidential) come to Tillsonburg to talk with her and her peers.

“The retailer will come to us every season and say they need a certain number of designs.” They talk to her about their brand’s image, and their color palette and inspiration for the season. They tell her if they want blouses or dresses, pants or skirts. They talk about pleats, sequins, necklines, prints and more. Then, “we have about six weeks to come up with concepts, create sketches, get mock-ups, go to factories, check samples and present
our designs to the companies.”

Schmith said Missouri State gave her a great foundation for this work. She still keeps in touch with some of her instructors, including Jenifer Roberts.

Roberts remembers Schmith as a petite girl with a big voice and big talent.

“Stefanie was very motivated; you could just tell at graduation she had set high goals for herself,” said Roberts, an assistant professor in the fashion and interior design department. “Our graduates now stand on the shoulders of individuals like Stefanie, because she
blazed the trail of going to New York and getting connections and good jobs. When
she lived in New York, she would email us to let us know about internships, and
joined us for dinners when we were there to network with our students. She would
say things like, ‘When you get to New York just call me; I can help you out!’ ”

Schmith has now found friends and fun in Hong Kong. They go out to dinner, barbecue on rooftops and hike to hidden beaches. “It’s pretty much always hot and humid, and on weekends and nights it feels like you’re on vacation. In some places, it feels like you’re in paradise.”

She’s going to stay in Hong Kong as long as her contract allows, then move back to New York — both cities have special places in her heart. Either way, she’ll keep working in her field.

“I am a creative person. I like music and art and film. I take those and put them into my work — fashion is another way people express themselves. Everybody gets up and gets dressed. And you can feel good in what you’re wearing. Fashion is my passion. I know that
rhymes, but it’s true!”