Isabella Diorio, a 2016 graduate of Anderson-Shiro High School and 2020 graduate of Kent State University, is a young woman intent on moving forward with life, doing what she loves. Diorio’s fashion design skills have brought her recognition as an emerging talent in the United States and abroad.
Diorio, 22, has been interested in fashion since she learned to sew at age 8. She honed her skills in her high school fashion design class and began sketching clothing designs, making some of her own apparel, as well as costumes for the Texas Renaissance Festival.
She said, “I decided I could see myself doing this, and that is when I really started looking into schools.”
Learning by design
Diorio graduated this spring from Kent State University in Ohio with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a minor in International Business.
Primary factors in applying to Kent State’s fashion design program, among the top 25 nationwide, were that a portfolio was not required for admission and that travel abroad was a requirement of the degree plan. This allowed Diorio to live in the fashion meccas of Paris and Italy as well as New York City.
Diorio said, “I wanted to see how it worked in different parts of the world. Get a more holistic view of it.”
As for that International Business minor, Diorio said, “It’s important to know that no matter where you’re getting your fabrics or whatever you need to make your stuff, that there’s communication, that you know what’s going on, and you understand the logistics of it all. I had to take all those classes in accounting, business management and marketing. I wanted to combine the business side with the actual more artsy, hands-on side.”
Finding your niche
Diorio’s program offered print design, pattern making and merchandizing, which is store setup and management. She got some experience with print design at a company in Cleveland. Pattern making, she suggested, is considered by some to be the most financially lucrative. She decided that merchandizing “was not my forte,” and between her sophomore and junior year, knew the direction she wanted to go.
Diorio said, “I prefer to be hands-on. I like to make the clothes and I’m all about creating the patterns and doing it start to finish. My focus is in sustainable design and environmentally friendly.”
According to Diorio, you won’t find a Project Runway or New York fashion school cutthroat mentality at Kent State.
Diorio said, “We all got along together. You just had to put the work in and try hard at what you were doing to stand out. If you can make something that is quality and has a message, people will see it. It’s finding your niche and excelling in that and doing the best you can in the market you want to fit into.”
Style and sustainability
Geography often reflects individual style and Diorio’s “feminine edgy,” reveals her southern roots.
She said, “I like the leather meets lace idea where the harder elements mix with the soft more feminine elements like a big dress with a leather bodice, kind of mixing the styles.”
For Diorio’s award winning senior thesis collection, she used secondhand fabric with recycled old military uniforms. Her tools of the trade include a sewing machine, a serger to finish edges and a cover stitch machine for knit wear and T-shirts.
She said, “It’s easier to have machines that specifically do one thing than have one that does 400 different things and it breaks and you’re stuck.”
Her reduce, reuse, recycle sustainable philosophy also extends threads.
Diorio said, “All the thread I use is eco dyed so it’s not chemical heavy and it’s very durable and thick.”
Diorio’s senior thesis collection, F.E.T. (Feminine Engagement Team), received Best in Show at Kent State’s annual fashion show. Inspiration often comes from unexpected sources, and for Diorio, it was an article about the challenges of returning female veterans. According to Diorio, many return home with a multitude of health issues, are uncomfortable with authority figures and represent the fastest growing demographic of the homeless population.
Diorio also learned that it wasn’t until 2011 that uniforms were tailored to fit women correctly, and that revelation inspired recycling the thrift store military uniforms into an environmentally-friendly garment with a feminine edgy look.
Diorio dedicated the F.E.T. Collection to late Kent State University graduate First Lieutenant Ashley White-Stumpf killed in action in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Oct. 22, 2011. White-Stumpf was among the first groups of females to go into combat zones as the newly created Cultural Support Team. These were special units of female Army soldiers that were meant to build relationships with Afghan citizens as Green Berets and Army Rangers searched compounds in the rugged desert of Kandahar.
Diorio said, “When I make something, I want it to tell a story and mean something.”
Diorio’s F.E.T. Collection received international recognition when she was selected as one of 33 finalists from 14 countries to compete in the 2020 iD International Emerging Designer Awards, June 5, in Dunedin, New Zealand. As this article goes to press, Diorio the only finalist from the United States, awaits word on the outcome of the “virtual” fashion show and awards ceremony.
Challenges and gratitude
In addition to what she called a “sad” graduation, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, Diorio faced challenges preparing for her end of course fashion show and the international competition.
She said, “It was interesting to do the photography with the restrictions and to find a friend willing to make the clothes. This is what we look forward to. I’ve worked over two years on this collection to be able to show it, and a virtual show is not very fun.”
As for the job market, Diorio said a lot of fashion houses aren’t hiring, but in the meantime, she has a plan for the next year. Diorio will be working with a friend in her Cleveland boutique making clothes for the store by day and working on her own designs by night. But she’s not alone.
Diorio said, “My family has always been supportive. It’s not exactly a traditional career.”
According to Diorio, some students lack any financial support from their families while other parents have to be convinced that a fashion career can be successful.
Acknowledging her own family’s sacrifices, Diorio said, “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”