Student finds fashion inspiration in China
Sakeenah Ashiru works on a dress she designed while studying at Jiangnan University
in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China. Ashiru, a junior in the LSU College of Agriculture,
spent a year in a study-abroad program at the Chinese university’s School of Textiles
and Garments.Photo provided by Sakeenah Ashiru
Sakeenah Ashiru named her mini clothing collection Midnight in China. The name is
more than a passing nod to the Asian influence seen in the rich red and black brocade
or silky floral fabrics she chose for her garments.
Ashiru, a junior in the LSU College of Agriculture majoring in textiles, apparel and
merchandising, spent many late nights working on the dresses, tops and skirts for
her collection in the city of Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China, during a year-long study-abroad
program at Jiangnan University.
Ashiru wanted to experience fashion design in another culture, so she looked into
“I thought of France, but that seemed cliché, plus I wanted to go somewhere I’d never
been,” Ashiru said.
Ashiru is originally from Lagos, Nigeria, and moved to the U.S. in 2010 when she was
14. She had traveled through several countries in Western Europe, so she decided that
Asia would give her a unique experience.
Chuanlan Liu, an associate professor in the Department of Textiles, Apparel Design
and Merchandising, is originally from Beijing. She helped Ashiru navigate the process
of choosing and applying to a program.
“She helped me translate the information I was receiving and gave me great advice
on what directions I needed to take,” Ashiru said.
The language barrier did not deter Ashiru. Classes were in Mandarin Chinese, a language
she did not speak. She said other students in the class helped translate for her until
she began picking it up.
“When you don’t know a language, your senses become sharper; you understand the body
language,” she said.
Over time Ashiru started to pick up the language and now is adept at bargaining in
fabric stores in Chinese.
The Jiangnan University School of Textiles and Garments is in the top 20 percent of
fashion design schools in China. Ashiru said the classes were very different from
what she was accustomed to at LSU. She would take one class per month and for each
complete a project that would determine her grade.
“I liked the class structure, and I had my own office and studio so I could work on
my projects at any time,” which often meant designing and sewing late into the night,
Ashiru created five garments while in China. She described her looks as modern meets
modest, and the clothes she designed there as East meets West – western-style silhouettes
with eastern fabrics.
Ashiru started sewing when she was a junior in high school and staged the first fashion
show at her school, Fontainebleau High School in Mandeville.
Ashiru said she likes blazing a trail. Her experience in China, the first year-long
study abroad for a student in her department, is helping to create a path for other
students. She is working with Liu to develop a program that other students could follow.
Through the exchange, Ashiru paid LSU tuition, and she said her living expenses were
much lower in China than in the U.S.
“I stayed in the international dorm, and it was about $241.62 for a whole semester,”
She worked out the math before she left to convince her parents that this was a good
investment. Ashiru did not receive credit for her classes, but she hopes that she
has helped to lay the foundation for other students to be able to receive course credit.
She said the experience was worth more than the credit.
“There is a lot of art in the culture there, and for an artsy person there is a lot
to pull from,” she said. She also said she enjoyed being around so many international
people and the diverse group of mindsets.
Outside of the classroom, Ashiru took in Chinese culture, visiting Shanghai, Hong
Kong and Beijing. She also attended Shanghai Fashion Week.
Liu visited Ashiru while she was at Jiangnan University and was impressed by Ashiru’s
determination and self-motivation.
“A global viewpoint is important in the fashion industry. This was a valuable experience
for her long-term growth and development as a designer,” Liu said.
Ashiru is involved in the LSU College of Agriculture’s Global Ag Ambassadors, a group
of students who help welcome international guests to campus and participate in international