From classroom to boardroom: WSU fashion design and merchandising students pitch to Shinola execs

Working in teams, Wayne State University fashion design and merchandising students looked to cater Detroit-based Shinola's iconic products to consumers in Berlin, Dublin, Singapore and Tokyo — creating custom designs for each locale and planning pop-up shop openings.

Zoë Rogula sat in Detroit's Shinola headquarters on Milwaukee Avenue with a sense of déjà vu.

Standing in front of her were Wayne State University fashion design and merchandising students, there to pitch ideas to a room of executives. It was the end of the fall 2023 semester and the culmination of their work in WSU Professor Monika Sinclair’s Merchandising II course in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art, Art History, and Design.

But it was also exactly one year prior that Rogula was in the same position as the current Warriors, having herself pitched to Shinola when she was in Sinclair's class.

"It was such a full-circle moment for me, to be sitting there watching these students," Rogula said. "Honestly, I looked at them and thought, 'Wow, I see so much of myself.' And whether it was the slight tinge of nervousness, confidence and eagerness, I thought it was so great to see."

Zoë Rogula (left), a recent WSU fashion design and merchandising program alumna who now works at Shinola as a wholesale brand coordinator. She credits Professor Monika Sinclair (right) for playing a crucial role in her career development.

Rogula, who graduated in 2022 and now works at Shinola full time as a wholesale brand coordinator, emphasized the crucial role Sinclair played in her career development. "I, literally, attribute Monika to my success,” Rogula said. “She would hate me for saying that, but I really do think that what she provides to her students is invaluable."

For this current round of student presenters, just as she did for Rogula’s class, Sinclair worked with them to perfect their presentations. And despite the nerves, Sinclair said everything ran smoothly.

"I just choked up. I couldn't help it. I just know how hard they worked. I felt so proud of them, in every single way possible," Sinclair said. "They deserve to have projects that are based on real situations going on today. I feel that it best prepares them for their future careers."

This year’s prompt was internationalization. Working in teams, the students looked to cater Shinola's iconic products to consumers in Berlin, Dublin, Singapore and Tokyo — creating custom designs for each locale and planning pop-up shop openings.

The project involved research into Shinola as a brand and the consumers of the global cities the students chose. Sinclair has years of international industry experience, which she uses to help guide her students.

"They had to really show me why it would make sense,” Sinclair said. “They would dig into consumer data such as market research, understanding the Shinola target customer and then seeking it out in that city by demographics, psychographics, what type of lifestyles they lead, what is the competition doing over there. So they had to research not only the customers in that area that are local but also tourists who travel to that area.”

Wayne State fashion design and merchandising students pitch to Shinola executives.

Now in the second year, Sinclair’s relationship with Shinola began by happenstance when she went to get something repaired.

"It was genuinely because I was in there with the Shinola product that needed to be fixed for my mother-in-law,” Sinclair said. “I felt like it was just a natural thing, and for a friendly and approachable brand. I would love to maintain the relationship with Shinola. I think they're a great organization. I would only maintain a relationship with a company I felt treated their employees well, would be a good place for potential students to work and — they check off all those boxes."

Sinclair said she is glad to have this opportunity to show off her students' work, which continues to impress her.

“I feel like it's unfair to my students that I hoard their projects, grade them, and only my eyes can see them," she said. "I'm so proud of what kind of talent I come across here, and I've taught at other schools. I've taught at the Fashion Institute of New York, I've taught at New York University and at SCAD in Savannah, Georgia. And the Wayne student is very, very unique in many ways — in terms of grit, working with not that many resources, and churning out some of the best work I've seen personally.”

Students also received a tour of Shinola's headquarters and operations.

When asked what Sinclair wanted her students to walk away with, she answered with a single word — confidence. "I get worried when they leave here that they'll forget how good they are,” she said, “because you get into that entry-level role, and you don't feel as accomplished at the start. But they are."

Rogula said she got that and more from Sinclair's professional experience and guidance as a mentor.

"Monika's background for a while with adidas, as head of marketing for their North and South America Fashion Group, and working with wholesale partners was directly translatable to what I do now with Shinola,” Rogula said. “Speaking to setups and visuals, and all those things absolutely 100% applicable, as well as the presentations, attention to detail, and of course, the confidence. All of it."

Story by Kate Vaughn, communications student assistant for the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts.

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