New York and Los Angeles are known to be the most popular places where young fashion designers and stylists go to chase their dreams. However, Kent State fashion student Todd White is turning Ohio into an emerging fashion and art scene with his styling company, Fashion Haus.
Wearing an Elton John T-shirt, tan plaid dress pants and a Playboy bunny gem on his nail, White stands out in the crowd of trend-obsessed fashion students at Kent State University.
The 22-year-old Cincinnati native and fashion merchandising student always knew he wanted to be a stylist and didn’t want to wait until after graduation to start Fashion Haus.
“I feel like to get the most out of my college experience I should be building my career at the same time I’m chasing my degree,” White says.
Although you don’t need to get a degree in order to be a fashion stylist — celebrity stylist Law Roach, who has had A-list clients such as Zendaya, Ariana Grande and Tiffany Haddish has built his empire on hustle, skill and being the first “image architect” — White credits his fashion classes for helping his styling skills flourish.
“Visuals and [fashion technology] were hard at the time, but they helped me when it came to putting a vision together or like a mood board for projects that I have,” White says.
He also gives the Fashion School props for allowing him to get an early start on fashion styling. During his freshman year, White was a stylist for student fashion shows.
“I feel like it has helped and prepared me with things I’ve been doing within the past year,” White says. “If I didn’t do those things, I would be lost and not have a clear understanding of what I should be doing for my job.”
Before the idea of Fashion Haus came to fruition, White came across local photographer Ivan Huang on Instagram and DMed him, saying he wanted to do a shoot.
“I went to his apartment and we took a bunch of magazine cutouts and put them all over the bathroom wall, like a bunch of sparkly stuff everywhere,” Huang says.
The 21-year-old says that after the first shoot, he and White started working together nonstop for six months straight.
“I didn’t work with anyone else other than Todd,” Huang says. “He just kept on finding more work for me and him to do together.”
Finding models was easy for White thanks to many aspiring models at Kent State.
“Modeling has always been one of those things people want to do but they’re not sure how to break in,” White says. He explains that there are up-and-coming models on campus who are willing to work for free or at a low cost in order to gain experience and have shots for their growing portfolio.
Stepping into the modeling industry comes at a high price with traditional agencies receiving whopping commissions. CNN Money reported in its investigate series “Runway Injustice” that modeling agencies often charge 20 percent commission, significantly reducing models’ paychecks. For example, one model received just $15 from a $500 catalogue shoot. Another was promised $74,000 over six years but only received $30,000. Plus, agencies also take a huge chunk out of their model’s paychecks for other expenses, including test shots, promo video, transportation and other administrative fews.
Fashion Haus is also about giving young creatives a chance to show their work and gain professional experience. Local fashion designers are able to work with Fashion Haus to have their designs featured in shoots.
Fashion Haus has used designs from Kent State fashion student Amani in two of their last shoots.
Amani says she contributed tops when Fashion Haus styled Cleveland-based DJ Angie Owens, aka DJ Misses.
Usually Fashion Haus uses designs that Amani already created, but White told Amani about the kind of look he wanted when styling Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion. Amani ended up creating a Louis Vuitton bikini top that Hot Girl Meg paired with ripped low-rider jeans, a waist chain and clear heels, an ode to the early 2000s.
Amani says she has enjoyed working with Fashion Haus and it has helped her designs gain more attention.
“We all come together and build each other’s portfolio and it definitely has allowed other people to see my talents like ‘oh yeah, she can be taken seriously as a designer.”’ Amani says.
She also enjoys the networking aspect of Fashion Haus.
The most recent mixer Fashion Haus did was Taste of Fashion Haus in October in Cleveland. Young creatives in Ohio networked, and designers and artists had a space to introduce their brand with a small pop-up shop.
Visitors also sampled Fashion Haus by seeing pictures of the photo shoots they’ve done.
“I’m very grateful for the outcome,” White says. “The most recent one, we hit our 120-125 (shoots) mark. We definitely see it growing.”
Although Fashion Haus’s fan base has been growing, there are still challenges to running a styling company in the Midwest.
White said the toughest obstacle he has faced with Fashion Haus is a lack of resources.
In New York and LA, there are dozens of showrooms on every corner of the street. However, the spots for big fashion designers and fashion empires are vacant in Ohio, leaving jobs for stylists harder to come by.
“In New York and LA, things are more accessible versus here,” White says. “You can work and reach out to a designer. But because there’s no fashion scene here, they really don’t know how the industry works, and they’re not willing to work with you.”
White hopes that, after graduation this spring, he can be bicoastal.
“I want to live in New York and LA because there are certain times in the year where New York pops and the opportunity is there, and there are certain times when LA pops and the opportunity is there,” White says.
He is still unsure about his future, but White hopes to be working with a streetwear brand or on a creative team in corporate fashion. White believes the sky’s the limit and is keeping an open mind about his future while still chasing his dreams.
“Different opportunities come to me all the time. Just wherever the opportunity is is where I’m going to be,” White says.
Follow Fashion Haus on Instagram at @fashionhaususa.
Jillian Holness is a recent graduate of Kent State University’s School of Journalism. Photos used with permission from Fashion Haus.