A selection of sketches and materials from CCAD student designs for a skater competing in the 2024 U S Figure Skating Championships UFSF Fashion Photos 231214 29

Columbus College of Art & Design Fashion Design students swapped the runway for a championship ice rink in a project that gave them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design for a professional athlete, thanks to a partnership among the college, U.S. Figure Skating and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission.

Fashion and figure skating: a perfect match ahead of the U.S. national championship in Columbus

When it was announced that the 2024 Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships would take place in Columbus, U.S. Figure Skating and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission sought a creative partner to celebrate the intersection of fashion and figure skating (not to mention Columbus’s status as a fashion industry powerhouse). After all, Columbus is the no. 1 metro in the U.S. for the concentration of professionals working in the apparel and fashion industry.

“In figure skating, an athlete is able to express themselves through what they wear on the ice,” says Kara Raney, past Director of Media and Digital Strategy for U.S. Figure Skating. “Skaters are able to select an outfit that fits who they are and what they represent, and often change [costumes] season to season along with their music and routines. It’s an integral part of their athletic performance.”

The Greater Columbus Sports Commission tapped Columbus College of Art & Design and its network of talented Fashion Design students and alumni to create a skating costume for the national championships.

Students design costume concepts for national champion Isabeau Levito

In partnership with U.S. Figure Skating, students in CCAD’s Fashion Design Professional Practice course took on a four-week classroom project to create costume concepts for 2023 Women's National Champion Isabeau Levito. Students held a client intake session to learn Levito’s performance and style preferences, including cut, color, and fabric. They then completed the full client sketch process, from selecting fabric swatches and appliques to presenting their final designs.

Fashion Design student Maggie Aspell
Fashion Design student Maggie Aspell works on a costume design for 2023 U.S. Figure Skating National Champion Isabeau Levito.

Maggie Aspell (Fashion Design, 2025) selected a soft frost color palette to achieve an elegant, vintage look, mimicking the nostalgic mood conveyed in Levito’s song selection. Aspell also incorporated a unique lace scarf headpiece and floral wrap skirt to add dream-like movement to the costume.

Mackenzie Daugherty (Fashion Design, 2025) chose to mimic 1980s ballet silhouettes for her sketches, based on Levito’s love for ballet-inspired fashion. Her periwinkle color choice was also intentional given the setting. “I wanted the costume to pick up the natural colors of the ice. Periwinkle was a shade that aligned with Isabeau’s colors preferences while reflecting her competition scenery.” 

Morgan Reiners (Fashion Design, 2025) went for a moody and powerful design with criss-cross neck, back detailing, and a flared skirt full of fringe and ruffle details. “If I was an Olympic athlete, I would want to feel confident, beautiful, and strong. It was important to incorporate that into my design,” she says.

Representatives from U.S. Figure Skating and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission were present during both classroom midpoint and final presentations to provide timely feedback to help students achieve their best work

Sketch designs from Fashion Design student Morgan Reiners.
Sketch designs from Fashion Design student Morgan Reiners.

“Taking part in the design challenge as a class allowed students to see peer work and hear collective feedback, providing insight into how client direction can be interpreted in a multitude of ways,” says Fashion Design Assistant Professor Audrey Nicolas. “Learning how to work with a client while having both faculty and professional mentorship helps students gain the confidence they need to execute client work in their future careers.

Columbus designer, mentor, and CCAD alum Austin Tootle provides a helping hand

In addition to guidance from Nicolas and the figure skating and sports commission representatives, students were also mentored by acclaimed designer and alum Austin Tootle (Fashion Design, 2022), whose collection for the 2023 New York Fashion Week caught the attention of Good Day Columbus and other outlets.

In tandem with the student classroom project, Tootle designed a custom costume for Levito to wear during the 2024 Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships. That project, along with his design expertise, made Tootle perfectly positioned to provide real-time feedback from Levito, along with specific guidance on constructing a garment for athletic competition.

“Getting all my concepts and ideas into one garment, while also ensuring I met the client’s needs and performance criteria, was the hardest challenge,” says Aspell. “Austin’s mentorship was really helpful.”

Tootle and students
CCAD alum Austin Tootle provides guidance on Fashion Design students’ sketches.

Tootle reminded students to keep Levito’s athletic performance needs in mind when selecting fabrics and considering garment structure. “Designing for a client who spins and twirls is very different from designing for the standard runway many students are used to,” says Tootle.

He also encouraged students to find the sweet spot of celebrating their personal creativity while aligning with client needs, noting that staying true to yourself and design principles is critical to career success. “CCAD lets you tap into your creative freedom when you work on projects,” says Tootle. “It really allowed me to do what I felt fit for my design style. I encouraged students to do the same.”

Reiners says instruction from Tootle helped her find her creative footing. “Designing for a figure skater intimated me at first,” she says. “I felt very overwhelmed because I wasn’t familiar with athletic costume design. Hearing Austin talk about his experience with the fabrics and strict guidelines was helpful to point me in the right direction. His critiques are positive and constructive.”

At the conclusion of the classroom project, Levito and CCAD faculty selected top designs from among the students’ work. For their win, Daugherty and Reiners and fellow students Sarah Allen and Dominic Ciucci (both Fashion Design, 2025), got to attend the Columbus championships, meet Levito in person, and see how costumes like Tootle’s final design for Levito perform on ice.

U.S. figure skater Isabeau Levito
U.S. figure skater Isabeau Levito dons a custom costume from CCAD alum Austin Tootle. Photo courtesy of Joe Maiorana/Greater Columbus Sports Commission.

Classroom collaborations create real-world experiences and portfolio pieces that advance students’ careers

Fashion Design Assistant Professor Audrey Nicolas
Fashion Design Assistant Professor Audrey Nicolas provides guidance on student sketches.

Creative collaboration projects at CCAD provide students with invaluable real-world experiences and opportunities to bolster such essential business skills as critical thinking, time management, and creative problem solving, and set them up for lifelong success.

“This is my first time designing for a client, and it was nice to learn how to work within provided requirements and boundaries,” says Reiners. “It’s not always easy to find the balance between what you think is cool and what someone else will think is cool. This project has given me great insight into what it’s like to work with a client.”

Partner projects give many CCAD students like Reiners their first opportunity to work on real-life assignments with businesses and organizations. Along with impressive portfolio work, students walk away with professional critique experience and work skills necessary to help launch their creative careers.

And for organizations like U.S. Figure Skating, partnerships provide businesses with access to the exceptional emerging art and design talent in Columbus. Creative minds are essential to business growth and success, and collaborations with CCAD allow for problem solving and unique solutions.

“It was wonderful to see creative collaboration come to life in the classroom,” says Nicolas. “Both U.S Figure Skating and Austin were influential in helping students hone their creative voice while gaining critical client relationship skills. Students walk away with top-notch portfolio work, along with a truly memorable experience.”

“I can’t believe I got to design for a possible Olympic figure skater,” says Reiners. “The opportunity is one in a million.”

Read more about additional collaborative, real-world experience classroom projects, and how they benefit students and employers, on our blog. Past partnerships include 99P Labs (backed by Honda), Form5 Prosthetics, Pelotonia, and many others.