A woman standing in a room with dress forms.
Kennedi Woods is graduating from VCU with a fashion degree, with minors in marketing and art history and a certificate in human-centered design. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Class of 2023: Kennedi Woods has fashioned a New York state of mind

After getting a taste of VCU in high school, fashion major nurtured her passion and summoned pandemic-era perseverance to reach the big city, starting with New York Fashion Week.

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Kennedi Woods used to joke that her favorite holiday was the Met Gala.

She loved shopping and clothes, and TV programs such as “America's Next Top Model” and red-carpet coverage of award shows offered a look at the latest trends. The annual Met Gala in New York City is considered “fashion’s biggest night out.”

So as Woods embarked on her college journey in 2019, her mother had advised her to pursue a passion so she could build a career, not just “hold jobs.” The choice was clear, and Woods is now graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a fashion degree with a concentration in fashion merchandising, with minors in marketing and art history as well as a certificate in human-centered design from the da Vinci Center for Innovation.

A native of Gainesville in Northern Virginia, Woods was introduced to VCU as a high school sophomore, living in a dorm for three weeks during a summer intensive program at the School of the Arts. She got to work in the studios and with VCUarts professors who uphold the school’s national reputation.

“That experience solidified that VCU and the department here was the right place for me,” said Woods, but “I knew I wanted to go to a bigger university that had more to offer than art programs. When I was comparing cost to value, especially as an in-state resident, VCU was the leader.”

She noted that Rudy Lopez, an assistant professor of fashion design and merchandising who taught the summer intensive program, was later her professor on multiple occasions and made a big impact.

“He is so knowledgeable about the industry and taught the soft skills you need to survive in it. His classes were challenging, but they prepared me for the real world,” Woods said, noting Lopez’s willingness to mentor students outside of class. “He gave me some of the best advice because he has an amazing way of imparting his wisdom in a way that is relatable.”

She also cited the impact of Charles Ajemian, a Richmond-area innovation technologist who taught her Conscious Capitalism course at the da Vinci Center. Woods said she learned how passion can be molded into profit that can then be turned into impact.

“He is one of the kindest, most warm-hearted and brilliant people I've ever met,” Woods said. “The course brings everything I've learned in undergrad thus far full circle. He is so integrated and invested in the health and well-being of the Richmond community.”

She praised Lopez and Ajemian, both VCU alums, for sharing their passion with new students. “Their commitment and energy both in and out the classroom is something that they can't 'teach' me how to have, but I have been able to learn from through their example.”

Like all of her peers, Woods endured highs and lows related to the pandemic – and in her case, one led to the other.

As part of a fashion class that visited Italy, Woods looked forward to attending Milan Fashion Week, only to have COVID scuttle the plan. So she turned her sights closer to home: New York Fashion Week – and participating in it, not just attending.

She searched LinkedIn for people with ties to NYFW, messaging them for advice to find a production assistant role – it would build on her interest in event or experiential production. Leslie Russo, the president of fashion events and properties for IMG, responded and asked Woods to share her résumé and her availability. Less than two weeks from the start of NYFW, she secured the role.

“During the week, I worked on events such as the Tiffany Brown Foundation brunch and Ella Emhoff Likes to Knit pop-up activation, brand activations for Core Hydration water and Tresemmé, and fashion shows for designers such as Sergio Hudson, Christian Siriano and The Blonds,” Woods said.

New York is beckoning again. After graduating, Woods has an internship there working in production at Anomaly, which was Adweek’s 2022 U.S. Agency of the Year. She hopes it will develop into a full-time position, supporting her long-term plans of becoming an experiential producer.

Even amid her dedicated pursuits, Woods is proud of doing the wide array of things she wanted to do in college while graduating on time.

“I look at the vision boards I've created over the years and see the dreams and ideas I had that turned into realities,” she said. “I took classes, like glassblowing, out of pure interest. I was able to use the pandemic as a springboard for exponential growth and perseverance. I met my best friends. I had an article published in the Richmond Times Dispatch. I was able to travel for leisure, school and work. I made connections in New York City — [it was] one of the biggest things I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to do by choosing to go to school in Richmond.

“I learned so much about myself, the fields I'm interested in and life in general while at VCU.”