Mike Ternosky ’00, Head Designer at Obey Clothing, Talks About Fashion Industry

Mike Ternosky '00, head designer and president of Obey Clothing, talks to PhilaU students and faculty in the DEC Center.

Mike Ternosky ’00, head designer of Obey Clothing, talks to PhilaU students and faculty in the DEC Center.

Mike Ternosky ’00, head designer of OBEY Clothing, returned to campus this week to talk to students about his experience as a streetwear designer and share insights on making it in today’s fast-moving fashion marketplace.

Ternosky spoke to two packed sessions in the DEC Forum Sept. 21 about his unique path in the fashion world. Growing up skateboarding and surfing in Avalon, N.J., he came to PhilaU to study fashion design. Shortly after graduating, this combination of interests led him to California, where in 2000 he helped establish OBEY Clothing as an offshoot of the work of artist Shepard Fairey.

“I had a real passion for the punk-rock, streetwear aesthetic, and it felt right,” said Ternosky, who turned down a job offer at Urban Outfitters to work at the fledgling clothing brand. The new designs drew on Fairey’s artistic style—he is known for his iconic “Hope” poster of President Obama—and Ternosky’s expertise in fashion design–and their shared interest in the boarding subculture.

Today, Ternosky still is influenced by underground culture around the globe. He wants his collections to tell the narratives of different subcultures and draws inspirations from underground printmakers and books, themes in zines and musicians like Kurt Vile and Travis Scott, as well as his adopted city of Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife Nicole and their two children.

The PhilaU students were attentive as Ternosky talked about the value of a strong technical foundation in design, and the importance of having true passion for their work.

“I learned key technical things at this school,” he said. “A strong foundation really is essential.” He stressed the importance of collaboration both in the workplace and at school, and his experiences collaborating with college friends in other design majors—knitters, weavers and printmakers—while working on his senior collections.

“Fast forward to the real-world work environment,” he said, “and that’s what it is all about—100 percent collaboration.”

When interviewing for jobs, Ternosky advised students to include in their portfolios materials that demonstrate their processes and to be prepared to discuss their inspirations and passions in detail, both of which he said are essential to his own hiring process.

Ultimately, he said, design is about drawing inspiration from “the people you know and the friends you’ve made” and the things they’re inspired by—whether it be sneakers or punk rock. “In the modern design world, real fashion can be so many things,” he said.

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