Dana McMahan threads together fashion and creation at UNC

Story by The Daily Tar Heel
Originally published Oct. 21, 2018, on dailytarheel.com

Dana McMahan, a professor of the practice at the School of Media and Journalism and the director of UNC workroom FashionMash program, thinks fashion is central to the community of artists and creators — especially at UNC. She has provided a platform for students to innovate within the world of advertising.

McMahan came to UNC in 2008 with a background in beauty, fashion and advertising. She said she realized UNC was lacking in this department.

“This campus is full of students who have these amazing skill sets from different places,” McMahan said. “But we didn’t have a platform to blend them all together.”

Since then, McMahan has created a workroom for students to focus on creating portfolio prototypes while working for a brand. Partnerships with brands began local and are now global, with this year’s brand being Gucci.

FashionMash is the umbrella concept for all of the branches of fashion-related learning at UNC.

“Mash refers to the fact that fashion impacts us all,” McMahan said. “Even if it isn’t something we are concentrating on as a decorative or expressive part of our lives, it is part of our experience of moving through the world.”

Along with FashionMash, McMahan oversees Coulture, a student-run fashion and lifestyle magazine on campus.

Alexandra Hehlen, founder of Coulture, said McMahan inspires her.

“Dana is a force of nature, a role model who is all at once kind, nurturing, relentlessly creative and powerful,” Hehlen said.

Dana is also a mentor to junior and editor in chief of CoulturePatrick Rosemond.

“Dana has taught me that my ideas matter," Rosemond said. "She invests in my ideas and has changed my perspective on what is possible."

Last year more than 500 students from Coulture, FashionMash classes and the FashionMash club created a fashion show and art installations for the Cartier brand project.

Many students attributed the success of the fashion show and installations to McMahan’s dedication to the program.

“Dana is fiery, strong and dedicated to coaxing greatness out of her students,” said Piper Anderson, co-chairperson of FashionMash. “The mere fact that she got Gucci to partner with UNC Workroom just illustrates her fearlessness, crazy connections and dedication to making this fashion program a thoroughly rewarding experience.”

McMahan sees UNC as a self-expressive campus and hopes this creativity will allow FashionMash to continue to grow.

“The creative collision is absolutely stunning and exciting and inspiring,” McMahan said.

The workroom is a space for innovation and chaotic artistry, but each summer the vibrant room is repainted white. McMahan wants each incoming class to start with a fresh slate to induce unique creativity.

Along with creating art and provoking thought, FashionMash is closely linked with advertising and sales. Combining these elements is something students continue to be excited about.

“There are lots of ways to attach the entrepreneurial arm,” McMahan said about the marketing aspect of FashionMash.

Part of what makes FashionMash unique is the diversity of ages, genders, majors and experience levels of those in the program. McMahan aspires to make the program accessible to anyone interested.

“There are a lot of ways to be a part of the creative industry,” McMahan said.

McMahan works to provide resources for her students, and she is supported by many partnerships and collaborations on campus. She said faculty and leadership at the UNC School of Media and Journalism, the team at Innovate Carolina, brand partners, outside donors and student enthusiasm are all essential contributors to the success of FashionMash.

“FashionMash serves one purpose,” McMahan said. “If this is where your passion is, and you have something you want to accomplish, we can figure out how to do it here.”