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WVU students receive national fashion scholarship

Two West Virginia University fashion, dress and merchandising students were recently named YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund recipients for their Generation Z-inspired designs. 

Riley O'Neil

Juniors Riley O’Neil and Jillian Smith were awarded $7,500 each for projects based on creative designs inspired by and targeted to those born after 1996. 

Jillian Smith

The YMA Scholarship is an industry-funded scholarship awarded to 211 students across the country. The challenge this year was to identify the key purchase drivers for Generation Z, develop a line of fashion products and partner with the retailer that would launch the line. 

O’Neil designed Patched Up, a line of patches for “a generation patching up the broken world.” It was inspired by the social injustices and environmental concerns championed by many in Generation Z. 

Riley O'Neil's patches include the rose she designed.

 “I thought a lot about what Gen Z has lived through and my own personal experiences. We were born into a world of chaos and disaster with 9/11. We grew up with Sandy Hook happening and all of these school shootings. We got into high school and we had the rise of police brutality. So I took a lot of that into account and designed something to give back to organizations that helped to take a stand,” she explained. 

Having lost a friend, Antwon Rose, Jr., to police brutality, O’Neil created a patch in his memory: a rose with the phrase “Never Again.” 

She also designed a butterfly made from inkblots to benefit Break the Stigma, an advocacy and educational outreach organization dedicated to eliminating the stigma associated with mental health disorders. 

“You always see the inkblot test when it comes to mental illness. It was just fun to make something so pretty out of something that can be so scary,” she said. 

Four of O'Neil's patch designs.

Patched Up is “taking protest signs off the street and onto our everyday lives.” 

The line would be sustainability sourced and allow buyers to customize their look using patches. 

She said she is considering bringing her line to life, albeit, on a smaller scale than presented in her YMA case study. 

Smith took a different route for her case study, focusing on Generation Z’s proclivity for technology. 

Creating a marketing design, color story, fabric story and sketches, she collaborated with Adidas for a high-tech athleisure line, Unplugged. 

Four of Jillian Smith's designs.

 “I did mine on everything that’s come about in this year. I decided to go the mental health route. My generation is so technology driven. We’ve grown up in this generation where social media is everything. I think technology just kind of messes with your head,” Smith explained. 

She used lightweight jersey knit materials and incorporated smart fabrics like Myant to measure heart rate. She also used it to track screen time. 

“If you’re off your phone for so many hours during the day, you rack up points and get a discount with Adidas,” she said. 

Four additional designs

Getting to design clothes for herself instead of doing an assignment for a grade was something different for her, she added. 

“I set out to win. It was stressful, but my professors helped me a lot. This semester was when we really learned how to draw for the industry and I had so many problems. I got so down on myself. To see now that my designs actually won is crazy. I was confident and hopeful, but I did not expect to win,” she said. 

Smith plans to put her scholarship award into savings and use it to buy material for her final projects before using it for her ultimate career goal: starting a business. 



CONTACT: Lindsay Willey
Interim Director of Marketing and Communications
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

Photo Captions:
Top left: Riley O'Neil
Top Right: Jillian Smith
PatchedUp: Four of Riley O'Neil's designs for her line Patched Up.
PatchedUp2: Four additional designs for Riley O'Neil's line Patched Up.
Unplugged: Looks 1-4 in Jillian Smith's Unplugged line.
Unplugged2: Looks 5-8 in Jillian Smith's Unplugged line.