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Bringing It Home

Sabrina Pinello (left) and Brittany Bernath (right) Sabrina Pinello (left) and Brittany Bernath (right)

Home Fashion Products Association Scholarship Opens Possibilities

For Sabrina Pinello, there was something about the rug.

When she was a sophomore, the senior textile-design major visited the home of her roommate’s family for the weekend. “I walked in—I don’t know what it was—but I just got this overwhelming sense,” she recalls. “I was happy and excited and felt inspired.”

She got down on her hands and knees, and started running her fingers through the fibers, bringing her face up close to examine the structure of the woven fabric. Her roommate’s parents looked concerned. “It’s a carpet,” they said, stating the obvious. Pinello just wanted her sketchbook.

“Everything else I was thinking that wasn’t textile-related just went away,” she says. “I was in my zone.”

Pinello cutting fabrics to prepare them for her collection display

Pinello had always been tuned in to the ways color and texture “make a home feel like home.” After nearly three years of textile design classes at Jefferson, she now had a technical understanding of the ins and outs of fabric making. It all came together on that rug.

“I thought of all the things I’d learned in classes and started to apply that knowledge to what I was seeing,” she says. “I thought, ‘This is a thing that I can make.’” She was already drawing the designs in her head.

Junior Brittany Bernath, a fashion merchandising and management major, is the same way.

“Growing up, I used to watch HGTV with my mom,” she says. “We still watch. Home fashion can change your emotions. It elevates a space from a dull, plain room to one that can make you feel calm or happy or comfortable—at home.”

When the Home Fashion Products Association (HFPA) put out a call for scholarship applicants interested in the home, Pinello and Bernath jumped in with both feet.

Jim Geise, ’89, a senior sales account executive at the giant window-treatments manufacturer S. Lichtenberg, played a big part in bringing the HFPA scholarships to Jefferson. Students had been visiting Lichtenberg’s offices for years as part of the university’s New York Immersion Program. “I show them all about the soft home-fashion business,” he says, “window treatments, rugs, sheets, comforters—home products that are ready for retail.”

Geise has long been involved with his alma mater, serving on the Kanbar College Advancement Council and the Jefferson School of Business Advisory Board. “I’ve been in home for 30 years,” he says, “and I’ve been pushing the university to start home-fashion classes along with its apparel courses to help students become more diversified.”

His Lichtenberg colleagues are already impressed with Jefferson students who come through during the New York Immersion. “These students come in prepared,” one enthused. “They’re curious; they ask pointed questions; they want to touch, and they know how to hold our attention.”

The Home Fashion Products Association has been granting scholarships since 1996 to students enrolled in programs related to the home industry, primarily at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University. It wasn’t hard for Geise to persuade them to take a closer look at Jefferson students.

In addition to being an important source of financial aid, the HFPA scholarships connect students to fields of fashion beyond apparel.

“Home is a really big market for fashion,” notes associate professor Nioka Wyatt ’99, director of the Fashion Merchandising and Management Program. “The scholarship opens up more possibilities for students, and at Jefferson, it’s all about possibilities.”

After reviewing the scholarship applications, senior staff from Lichtenberg, including the company president, executive vice president, and director of design, came to Henry Avenue to interview the candidates.

“After I found out I‘d gotten the interview, I was super-excited,” Bernath says. “I wanted them to know the true passion I have for home fashion and brought projects from my apparel classes. I wanted them to know that the skills I learned in those classes can be applied to home fashion.”

We’re trying to open doors for students and draw young talent with fresh eyes into our industry.

Jim Geise, ’89

In the fall, the Home Fashion Products Association awarded scholarships to nine Jefferson students, including Bernath and Pinello. The association will be back at Jefferson again in 2020.

Bernath (left) and Geise (right) Bernath (left) and Geise (right)

“We’re trying to open doors for students and draw young talent with fresh eyes into our industry,” Geise explains. “My colleagues were definitely impressed.”

Bernath worked as a merchandising and design intern at Lichtenberg last summer. She turned enough heads to be invited back over the holiday break. “I never knew about the depth of home fashion before I interned,” she says. “That opened my eyes to the possibility.”

Noting the student response to the HFPA Scholarship, associate professor and director of the Textile Design Program Marcia Weiss ’83 says the university is developing a minor in soft home fashion for the fall of 2021. Like Jefferson’s textile design majors, the minor will be informed by artistic vision and practical know-how. “That marriage of the creative and the technical,” observes Weiss, “that’s where all our programs live.”

Pinello is working on her senior capstone project, which will be a home furnishings collection that will include her own fabrics and paintings as well as a chair whose upholstery she’ll design.

At graduation, she hopes to go into the home fashion industry, either in New York or North Carolina. “My dream is to design the fabric and program all the weaves, and then hand it in a flash drive to the technicians who run the looms,” Pinello says.

Bernath isn’t sure yet whether she’ll end up in apparel or home.

“Right now, I’m looking into merchandising or trend research in home fashion,” she says. “I’m open to possibilities.”