José Orellana was roughly 8 years old when his mom walked in and found her son, scissors in hand, snipping away at her curtains.
“She was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I was making clothes for my Barbie. I was fortunate enough to be brought up in a community where it didn’t matter if you played with dolls or did things boys aren’t supposed to do. My mom and I went to the fabric store and bought fabric,” Orellana said.
Although he was young, his path was clear: Orellana wanted to be a fashion designer.
Excelling, finding mentors at MSU
He grew up in California and attended the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. After graduation, his mother moved to Springfield and Orellana followed.
After taking a year off, he enrolled in Missouri State’s merchandising and fashion design department.
Orellana immediately stood out, says Dr. Jenifer Roberts, assistant professor of merchandising.
“He was one of those students who excelled in everything he did. He placed high expectations on himself, so I expected him to turn in work that was exceptional,” Roberts said.
And he delivered. An assignment was not just an assignment — it was an opportunity. A chance to showcase his creativity and designs. Orellana approached everything as if it were going to appear on a runway or be seen by a famous designer.
In the department, he found two mentors who have become lifelong friends: Roberts and Sandra Bailey, an assistant professor.
“They were and still are very nurturing. When they see talent, they nurture it. They are not threatened by it, they are excited by it. At design schools there is a lot of jealousy, and at MSU it was not like that,” Orellana said.
While on campus, Orellana worked with the MSU phone campaign.
“I learned patience and being able to communicate, how to talk to a complete stranger. This is what I am doing still,” he said. “It gave me some life skills in terms of being able to approach someone without knowing them. In the fashion industry, it’s all about networking. You have to be out there.”
“There I am backstage”
Before students graduate from the merchandising and fashion design department, they complete an internship.
Orellana had his heart set on Isaac Mizrahi in New York City. When he didn’t get a response, he kept calling and emailing. Persistence paid off. He finally secured a summer internship there in 2008.
Orellana must have stood out. Once he returned to Springfield, his supervisor from Isaac Mizrahi offered to fly Orellana back to New York for Fashion Week because he’d worked so hard all summer.
“There I am backstage, and they tell all the staff from Isaac to take a seat so we can watch the show along with the rest of the fashionistas! All these magazine models — some of the most beautiful models in the world — walk out wearing the gowns we worked on all summer long. I felt like, I’ve made it. It can only grow from here. It’s a magical time. It’s amazing.”
Offering expertise to students
A week after graduation in May 2009, Orellana moved to New York City with three bags, two month’s rent and one big dream.
Since that time, he’s held a variety of jobs at industry leaders including Hugo Boss, Isaac Mizrahi Live! on QVC, Parke & Ronen, Lee Apparel and Nautica. He’s now freelancing for fashion companies.
He shares his experiences with students at Missouri State.
“José has offered critiques for our seniors who are getting ready to put their collections into their senior showcases,” said Roberts. “He spent two days critiquing their designs and helped formulate a collection. He was able to give back to students as an alumnus.”
When the faculty lead students on trips to New York, Orellana meets with them, answers questions and shares stories and resources.
Roberts and Bailey were always there for him when Orellana was a student, and he is there for their students now that he’s a professional.
“They are a fountain of knowledge,” he said. “They do their best and they are the best at what they do.”