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Athena Alumnus Making a Splash as a Designer

Dominique Simmons wanted to be a professional football player, but little did he know that was not the fate that awaited him: he was going to be a fashion designer.

He left Stephen F. Austin University after two years and graduated instead from Texas Woman’s University with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design. Dominique was studying at TWU when he decided to study abroad to broaden his education overseas. He chose Athena’s program in Florence, Italy, and interned at a fashion institute during fall 2016.

For Dominique, Florence gave him time to think and focused his career choice. He said, “Even before you take your first class in college, it seems like people are already asking you, ‘so what are you going to do after you graduate?’ College at times can seem like a stressful time clock that never sleeps. By the time most people finish college, they are so mentally and physically drained, to the point where they don’t even work in the career field that they received their degree in. When I traveled to Italy to study abroad, I saw the direction that I wanted to go for my career. I was living and studying in a relaxed environment that allowed me to think clearly. In an artistic sense, studying abroad enabled me to view my painting in a different light, in order for me to figure out my next step in completing my masterpiece.”

Through Athena’s program at SRISA in Florence, Dominique learned how the world of fashion design works, especially the Italian fashion world, with practical, hands-on courses and lectures. He said, “The program at SRISA provides students with an education not only in the classroom; it provides students with experiences outside of the classroom. I had an amazing opportunity to travel with the other fashion students to Milan Fashion Week. The staff at SRISA are well connected with many influential people in the fashion industry; therefore, me and the students had a wonderful opportunity to attend several fashion shows and events.”

One memory particularly stands out for Dominique, “I will never forget the time when I was waiting to get into one fashion show, and suddenly a photographer started taking photos of me! Before I knew it, other photographers joined him and started taking photos as well! It was such a surreal moment because it came out of nowhere. One minute I was patiently waiting in line, and the next minute, I had photographers continuously snapping photos of me outside of a fashion show. I was so happy and shocked that all I could do was smile while the flashes continued. Minutes later, one of the staff members at SRISA met up with me in line and she used her connections to get both of us front-row seats for the fashion show. This experience was a blessing because I was able to get a ‘sneak peek’ of my future life as a fashion designer. SRISA is a wonderful program because it not only educates students about fashion, but they also provide students with a ‘front row view’ of the world of fashion.”

Educated and inspired by his days living in Florence, Dominique took his admiration and love of women and transformed it into a brand for women of all ages, races and cultures: GWENIVX, specializing in high-end dresses, complements and handbags. The Killen (Texas) Daily Herald published an article recounting how he started his GWENIVX brand. Dominique showcased his dress designs at 2017 Austin Fashion Week in Texas, and in an interview last year he described his work in Italy.

      Fiore Bianco handbag, one of Simmons’ creations

Since then, Dominique hasn’t stop designing and working in what he really loves. “I am currently working on my new handbag collection. I am immensely excited because every handbag in my collection is highly creative and supremely unique. I believe that this collection will not only be inspiring for the wearer of each handbag, but it will be equally inspiring for the viewer of each handbag as well. From an artistic perspective, each handbag has a flower-like quality that gives the overall structure of the handbag a unique appearance. Each handbag will be paired with a series of inspiring poems that talk about the love of God, the beauty of women, and the uniqueness of a flower. I will be pre-releasing a few handbags from my collection before the end of this year. The full collection will be released on my website: www.gwenivx.com in the Fall of 2020.”

Dominique says that students interested in fashion design “absolutely” should study abroad. “A flower cannot grow if it is only exposed to one source. It has to have sunlight, water, nutrients and it also has to be in an environment that constantly promotes its growth. The same idea goes for a student who wants to grow as a fashion designer. Spending countless hours in the sewing studio at your school is great. However, as a fashion designer, it is essential that you are exposed to other sources and environments that will enable you to grow. I was exposed to another world of fashion that I never knew about.”

His inspiration started from the moment he arrived at the airport in Italy. “I was so amazed when I saw the flight attendants! It was evident to me that their uniforms were definitely ‘runway ready!’ Their entire ensemble was so impressive because it showed me how other countries viewed fashion. It was such a beautiful sight to walk the streets in Italy every day and see everyone from the young to the old dressed as if they were the models in their own fashion shows. Seeing others’ passion for how they wore their clothes inspired me because it showed me that fashion is not just all about the ‘look.’ Fashion is freedom to be who you want to be and how you want to be it. It is a way to introduce yourself to the world without saying a single word. I would have never been able to understand fashion the way I do now if I had not studied abroad. There is a major difference between an online search of fashion compared to actually living in another country and seeing how fashion is appreciated every single day.”

Dominique’s time in Florence included more than just immersion in the fashion industry, of course. He explained, “The amazing part about my study abroad program was that I not only had an opportunity for growth in the fashion industry, but I had an opportunity to learn Italian. I had an amazing Italian teacher who was ‘molto gentile’ é ‘molto divertente!’ She created a positive environment where I was able to not only learn Italian, but I was also able to learn about the amazing history of Italy.”

Who knows all of the different types of exciting career paths that come from study abroad? Dominique is a living example of the concept that you can make a career out of your passion.

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