URI design student wins Los Angeles Fashion Council runway competition

Prestigious award recognizes emerging designers

KINGSTON, R.I., Nov. 7, 2014 – West African textiles have always fascinated Sania Josiah, who was born in Liberia and grew up in Ghana. Now the emerging designer is making a name for herself with clothes inspired by her heritage.

The University of Rhode Island graduate recently won a big award in the West coast design world – first place in the Open Runway competition organized by the Los Angeles Fashion Council.

The win allowed her to show her collection at an even bigger event – Los Angeles Fashion Week in early October.

“That was a huge deal,” said Josiah, 24, who grew up in Providence and is now living in Los Angeles. “That was my debut in the fashion world. I got a lot of great feedback.”

Josiah’s dresses, shirt dresses, jumpsuits, shorts and crop tops were singled out for combining a West African style with a modern silhouette. She even won a rave review in The Los Angeles Times, which praised the fashion council for “putting an enthusiastic young designer on our radar.”

Josiah graduated from URI’s Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design program in 2012 and moved to Los Angeles right away to pursue her dream of becoming a designer. She’s on her way.

“I’m just getting started,” she said. “There’s no stopping me. It’s exciting.”

Josiah was born in Liberia, but fled the country in the early 1990s to escape a bloody civil war. Her family settled in Ghana, where her mother worked as a seamstress from home, sewing loose-fitting tunics called dashikis.

“I remember watching her sew,” she said, “but never thought I’d do it myself.”

The family eventually moved to Providence, where Josiah attended the local public schools. She took a fashion sketching class in high school and started to consider design as a career.

By her sophomore year at URI, it was settled: she would major in fashion design. Over the years, she learned how to drape fabric and sew. She took pattern making and design classes, as well as marketing and business courses.

She showed her creations at URI fashion shows and even won a few, including a “Spring Splash” student show and a show that focused on environmentally friendly garments. (Josiah created a dress made of newspapers and trash bags.)

“URI was a great experience for me,” she said. “It helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my career, that I wanted to be a designer. It was a stepping stone into the fashion world.”

A few months after graduation, she enrolled in an 18-month program at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, honing her skills as a designer. She graduated in June.

Her award-winning collection is unique for its use of West African textiles and mixed-fabric pieces. Suede is paired with mesh, sateen with a West African print and lace with waxed cloth.

“My look is edgy, but ladylike,” she said. “Anyone can wear my clothes – not just women of African descent.”

To pay the rent, Josiah is working part-time as a designer for a manufacturer of car mats, but she’s never far from her studio. She’s making contacts and knocking on doors of fashion houses to turn her label into a national brand.

Susan Hannel, chair of the Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design Department at URI, has only praise for her former student.

“Sania was always a very hard worker when it came to her apparel design work,” said Hannel. “As an undergraduate, she spent much of her free time in the studio. Her dedication led to two design awards during URI’s Spring Splash in 2011: best sewn quality and judges’ choice. The judges noted that her visual presentation of her collections was very strong, a strength clearly evident in her collection for the Los Angeles Fashion Council’s Open Runway Competition.”

Click here to see Josiah’s work