How I Helped Plan the World’s Largest Student Run Fashion Event

This past school year, I was very fortunate to have the role of Producer of Mass Exodus 2015.

In its 27th year, Mass Exodus is the world’s largest student-run fashion event which annually features the work of graduating students from the School of Fashion at Ryerson in the form of two runway shows and an exhibit.

Cathy Nguyen, Producer

On April 1st 2015, we welcomed 3,000 guests to the Mattamy Athletic Centre; behind the scenes we had over 700 people working backstage including 320 models, 130 graduating students, and the Mass Exodus Team. Mass Exodus is produced by a class of primarily 3rd year Fashion Communication students, comprised of 37 people including exchange students and interns who are divided into 9 committees, such as PR & Marketing and Stage & Show. One of these committees is the Executive Committee, comprised of 5 individuals in roles such as Creative Director and Communications Director who are responsible for the other 8 committees. Finally, the person who manages the Directors is the Producer—which is where I come in.

Whenever someone asked me this year what I was up to, I had it in mind to recite the above paragraph, if I wanted to do my team and myself any justice, but what I normally said was “Oh, you know. School… work.” This often lead to “Oh, aren’t you doing that fashion thing?” and after I cried a little tear inside, I invited them to Mass Exodus hoping they would see the scale of this event, and would no longer refer to anything I’ve worked so hard on as just a “thing.”

People often ask (by “people,” I mean my mom, and by “often,” I mean once) how I got this position and the simple answer is an interview by the faculty members who instruct the class. The more complicated answer falls somewhere between an intense drive to prove myself and my stumbled-upon passion for Student Affairs.

When I graduated from high school many moons ago, I decided to attend the University of British Columbia. After my first year, I pretty much had a foot out the door. It’s a wonderful institution, but it just wasn’t for me. Most of my learning didn’t come from my classes, but from being involved with the Arts Undergraduate Society as a VP, Events Assistant where I planned social events for students. I was also highly involved in my residence and it’s the reason I stayed at UBC for a second year because I became a Residence Advisor, which was one of the best experiences of my life.

Jeanne Beker, Canadian TV host

Once I came to Ryerson University, I almost altogether disengaged with everything I had become passionate about. Why? Many students have problems transitioning into university and I, even with all my experience helping other students transition, found it difficult. In a new city, in a program famous for its competitiveness, and since I chose not to live in residence, I was dealing with living on my own for the first time. It felt like I had chosen to pack up my life, catch a flight, and leave every support system I had built. It took me two years, but I decided to return to working in Student Affairs and it has been a very grounding and delightful experience.

Fast forward to the present, I have had two amazing jobs in Student Life Programs doing exactly what I am good at, in an environment I love. In these roles, I’ve been applying my skills, that I am learning in fashion school, in a way that helps students. I’m now able to help students in a meaningful way that are having experiences similar to mine when I came to Ryerson. Talk about transferrable skills! The experience and support I have received in this department gave me the confidence to apply to be the Producer of Mass Exodus 2015, something I knew I wanted from the day I found out about this program, but didn’t have the courage to do until I was an Events Lead on the 2014 Orientation Team.

The role of Producer was very demanding, but it was important for me to apply my learning from working in Student Affairs in the development and execution of Mass Exodus 2015. Student Affairs at Ryerson prides itself on helping to develop students holistically and it’s not always the outcome that matters most, but instead the focus is on the entire process and ensuring that it is inclusive, accessible, and meaningful. In some ways, it was completely natural for me to transfer my Student Affairs ideologies to Mass Exodus. For example, one of the guiding principles at the School of Fashion is diversity. Our runway models are of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, abilities and we love and embrace that. We also decided to make our Curated Show open to the public, whereas in past years tickets have been sold. This made our event much more accessible to students and guests.

The executives behind Mass Exodus.

At other times, it was more complicated. We chose to move forward with branding that included a lot of cool retro photographs from Ryerson and Toronto Archives. Everything turned out wonderful, but we faced challenges simply because the individuals in the photos were not representative of Ryerson’s diverse population. Another example was during our Walk This Way Workshop with Canadian supermodel Stacey McKenzie. A song with inappropriate, offensive language started playing, on repeat, and as far as I could tell no one really noticed—except for me. In the spirit of being intentionally inclusive, I took it upon myself to change the song. (This sounds easy, but as a result of a not-so-good auxiliary cord and an iPod that only had inappropriate songs, it definitely became more of a tech problem and we had to bring in a laptop from the opposite side of the venue and it took a little bit of time before everything was sorted out; Stacey was extremely understanding and accommodating and her workshop went off without a hitch.)

We talk a lot of about transitions in Student Affairs, and I see events as transitions, too, albeit much shorter and less complicated ones. How does a guest who walks in the door on the first floor get to their seat on the fourth floor? How do I make this experience easy and enjoyable for every type of person that attends? What kind of message gets communicated when a guest hears an inappropriate song? What happens if someone has a bad experience? How can we follow up? I’m grateful that I can answer these questions as someone who has organized a hundred events, but also because I was a student who worked in and learned the values of Student Affairs.