Columbus Students Launch Limited Run Fashion Line
Industry plant isn’t a compliment. It’s slang for that artist who blew up without putting in the work, chasing trends rather than building an artistic vision. They’re an imposter. They’re astroturf.
But students like Michaela Matheney are turning that idea on its head. She’s the marketing lead for Industry Plant, a student-created fashion line hosting a Short North pop-up shop this week.
“People say that you’re not supposed to be there or that you don’t deserve to be where you are, and we’re taking that definition and making it positive for us,” Matheney explains. “Saying that even though we’re young and we’re Black, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a place in any industry—especially the Columbus fashion industry.”
Matheney is one of 15 high schools who took part in the intensive 10 week paid internship. The students went from idea to finished product, picking up branding, design, production and marketing skills along the way. The program has the backing of the Columbus Fashion Alliance and My Brothers Keeper, the program begun during the Obama administration to help Black boys and young men.
Matheney is a senior this year and she’s dual-enrolled at Columbus State, so she’ll be graduating with an associate’s degree, too.
“Prior to this I’ve always known that I wanted to go into marketing but as far as an industry, I never knew,” Matheney said. “And me doing this in fashion meant a lot to me. I really do think that fashion might be the way to go. I might have a passion for fashion.”
Their pieces are lining the walls at 640 North High, right in the heart of the Short North. A DJ is spinning records and the kids are dancing in front of huge mirror, only stopping to pose for friends snapping photos with a cell phone. It’s loud enough the gallery next door gives them a gentle nudge to turn things down, but the mood is exuberant. Ronny Oppong headed up the program.
“My group of kids was 14 to 18,” Oppong said. “They love fashion they love streetwear they love retail and they contribute a lot to that, but this program gives them the opportunity to understand who puts those things on those racks.”
Oppong studied fashion merchandising at Ohio State. He explains the Industry Plant label as a way of taking hold of the indirect influence Black youth already exert in the world of fashion, by taking a direct role in making products.
“The minority builds up culture, the majority appropriates said culture and then it’s spun around and sold back to the minority,” Oppong says. “Now you have these kids who can stand up along any of these brands and say I know how they made those shirts. I know the process, I know production, I know how to source that out, I know trend.”
The point of the project as Oppong describes it, is education and empowerment. None of the pieces are being sold. Instead they’re giving them away to people 21 and under who visit the pop-up shop.
Josh Dailey worked on the design team. His favorite piece is the Industry Plant worldwide t-shirt.
“I was just working on something and I seen this post on Instagram and I was like that global logo is fire, but I need to flip it and make it my own,” Dailey describes. “And so I’ve been excited for that since I even thought of it, to now seeing it in person is crazy.”
Dailey is also heading into his senior year, and he’s been doing freelance design work through a platform called Dribble for years. But he said the internship, and seeing the full production process play out, is having an impact as he thinks about what’s next.
“I think I’ll always be doing design, but after this internship, being able to design the clothes and really put my hands on it, I really feel like I want to go into that space,” Dailey said.
Funding for the $300,000 program came from My Brother’s Keeper and the City of Columbus. Oppong says there has been talk of a potential second-run collection. Both Dailey and Matheney said they’d be excited at the prospect of more work on the Industry Plant project.