Evelyn Siao ’21 was awarded the top prize of $17,500 in the Fashion Scholarship Fund’s 2021 Case Study Scholarship challenge. Siao was one of four finalists vying for the FSF Board of Directors Chairman’s Award. Television host Tamron Hall announced the winner as part of a virtual celebration on Jan. 12, 2021.
“It truly came as a surprise,” says Siao, “but I’m so grateful and happy to receive the award and represent Lehigh.”
The FSF awards over $1.2 million in scholarships each year to U.S. college students and is aimed at helping students succeed in all sectors of the fashion industry: design, merchandising, analytics, marketing and supply chain, among others, according to its website. This year’s challenge attracted over 600 applicants from 66 universities. Only 100 applicants were selected for $7,500 scholarships. The top four finalists each receive an extra $5,000.
FSF also offers internships, mentorships, as well as talent acquisition, educational and networking events.
Lehigh has been participating in the FSF awards since 2007, averaging two to three scholarship winners each year. Siao is the first finalist the university has ever had.
“Honestly,” says Siao, a marketing major at Lehigh Business with a design minor, “when I submitted my case study, I was thinking, ‘Oh, there's no way I'm going to win an award’ much less be a finalist.”
Students were tasked with developing a case study identifying a current political, cultural, or social phenomenon and selecting a product from a pre-existing fashion, beauty or lifestyle brand to integrate the phenomenon into an online and in-store merchandise campaign while maintaining brand integrity and authenticity, according to the FSF website.
The cases were judged on creativity, feasibility, research, clarity and format.
“I knew right away I wanted to do something related to women's rights because my family has a lot of strong working women,” says Siao. “I wanted to focus on diversity, wage discrimination and transparency.”
Her idea came to her while she was shopping for jeans. Siao says she and her friends had been discussing issues around not being able to fit things in their pockets the way men can (think smartphones). She did some research and found that women’s clothes, in general, have smaller or no pockets compared to men’s clothes.
Siao remembers, “I thought, the size of men's pockets and women's pockets, that is a kind of an inequality, and men having deeper pockets which also means having money. I kind of was like, ‘Whoa!’”
Siao created her case study for Levi Strauss & Co, pitching the idea that Levi’s should spearhead the movement to close the gender wage gap in the fashion industry. Siao calls the campaign #DeeperPockets. Levi’s would manufacture jeans with deeper pockets for women with a portion of the proceeds going to the nonprofit Equal Pay Today!, says Siao.
Siao’s 18-page brief includes targeted customers, product assortment, merchandising and distribution plans, marketing campaigns and a profit and loss statement.
It’s a lot of self-learning,” explains Nevena Koukova, associate professor, Lehigh Business marketing department and campus faculty adviser for the FSF Award. “The students do tons of research and then apply what they’ve studied in their marketing classes.” The awards are open to any sophomore, junior or senior student at Lehigh, not just business students, according to Koukova.
Siao entered Lehigh as a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, planning on being pre-med. “I quickly realized that wasn't for me,” she says with a laugh. “I never told anyone that I wanted to pursue fashion because I think I was scared to admit it to myself. I thought it was too risky.”
She switched to the College of Business for her sophomore year, thinking she could get into the fashion industry through marketing. “But, once I started doing marketing and all the business classes,” Siao says, “I realized that I really actually do like business.”
The 2022 FSF case study prompts will be published in February 2021. Lehigh students should contact Nevena Koukova for more information. The deadline to apply is October of 2021.
Story by Rob Gerth