Alumnus fashion designer to offer ‘Jeanology’ program to students

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During a visit to campus last week, Donwan Harrell, owner and designer of Prps Jeans and a Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts alumnus, shared his career experiences and detailed his vision for the new international program, “Jeanology,” that he will teach this summer.

The Jeanology program is a unique opportunity for fashion design and merchandising students to learn how to develop, design, manufacture and properly position denim in the marketplace. Students who complete the program will receive a Certificate of Completion in Denim Product Development.

Harrell received a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in fashion design from the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising in 1989 and proceeded to work as a designer for Robert Stock, DKNY and Nike. He was the international director for organized team sports at Nike based in Hong Kong. During his tenure in that position, he designed uniforms for most of the National Basketball Association teams, international Olympic teams and several national teams participating in the 1999 Rugby World Cup and 2002 FIFA World Cup.

“I worked in the factories with a very hands-on approach because I had to develop on-the-team field product and it had to be durable, resilient and fitness-friendly,” Harrell said. “That’s how I got to really understand how to create a garment from scratch.”

After years of gaining experience in the fashion industry, he launched Prps Jeans, short for “purpose,” in 2002. His goal for the Japanese-made, New York-based label was to create unique denim using the best cotton available and inspired by the early days of denim. A huge fan of vintage denim, Harrell excavates jeans from the late 1800s from gold mines out west. Although dusty and dirty, jeans from that era were made of natural indigo, not the synthetic indigo that is common in jeans today.

“The patina of these jeans is really beautiful,” Harrell explained. “Typically the No. 2, or the Levi’s original 201, and the original No. 5, or the 501 as they’re called today, are the types of jeans that I have in my office that I have been excavating for 12 years. They’re my springboard for inspiration.”

The successful label now has three sub-labels, Prps, Prps Noir and Prps Goods & Co., which are sold in every major department store around the world and have been worn by a wide variety of A-list celebrities. Harrell was also recently tapped to design Lee Jeans’ 125th anniversary celebration collection and was given complete creative control over the project.

The idea for the “Jeanology” program came from Harrell. The denim industry is a $14 billion business in the United States alone. Harrell chose VCU, his alma mater, to give his time, skills and knowledge to interested students to learn about this booming industry.

“The sad reality is when you graduate and you’re in fashion design, you will not have a clue how to finish a pair of jeans,” Harrell explained to the more than 80 fashion design and merchandising students in attendance. “That was the original idea of why I wanted to create a denim class. “

“Right now, you don’t know anything about potassium spray, the difference between pigment, sulfur and the reactive dye. I want to teach you all of this during the program to give you an advantage and to make you commercially viable to a company. When you actually understand how to finish and know all of the chemical processes, all of the different machines, how to actually complete a garment, it gives you a huge advantage over the other students who are applying for jobs.”

The program is broken up into three levels. Level one is three credits and will take place May 11–22 in Richmond. Lectures will focus on the history and impact of denim on Western society, while understanding the current denim market share and how it’s made globally.

Level two is 45 contact hours and will take place June 1–5 in New York City at the Prps office. Students will learn how to write denim specs for manufacturing consistency, how to speak the denim language and how to prepare a portfolio worthy of the high-end denim brands.

Level three is also 45 contact hours and is offered June 8–12 in Guimaraes, Portugal. Students will get hands-on learning experience from the factory floor and will become familiar with modern wash methods and machinery, develop basic understanding of the wet and dry processes of mass manufacturing and will meet first-class professionals from denim mills and button suppliers.

“Portugal is the best outside of Japan,” Harrell said. “They have all of the latest and greatest machinery and students will see everything from start to finish. They will actually make a pair of jeans themselves by the end of the class. Everything they have learned within the classroom, they have to apply to a product at the factory.”

Applications are available in the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising. The deadline to apply is Thursday, April 30. For costs and other information, contact Donna Reamy at (804) 828-5904 or


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