This Saturday is Portland Sewing's Fashion Forward graduate show, featuring the graduates of an intensive program that goes beyond apparel construction techniques to guide students into thinking about how to hone their focus and market themselves. I always love a good student show, but this one tends to produce designers and collections that are more fully formed than in undergraduate shows like those produced by the Art Institute. In anticipation of this weekend's debuts we spoke to some of the students to get a sense of what to expect.

Next up: Jessica Van Hulle's The Lady Jessica:

  • Jessica Van Hulle via Facebook

MERCURY: Where were you in your (apparel-related) career prior to Fashion Forward?
Jessica Van Hulle: I have been professionally designing Halloween costumes, lingerie and sexy high-heeled shoes for industry-leading manufacturers since 2008. In 2011, I started my own business and have been a freelance designer since then.

What drove you to seek it out? Is it what you expected?
My background is actually in science fiction/fantasy illustration and fine art. I was offered my first fashion design job because of my drawing ability. I fell in love with fashion design, but eventually felt limited and wanted to expand into apparel. However, I lacked technical skills. The Fashion Forward program is the best option for getting those skills quickly and affordably, with the support I need.

What are your thoughts on the experience?
It is a challenging experience and I’m very glad I’m doing it. I think “the buddy system” is the only way to go when I'm taking a leap forward in life. I’m guessing that’s true for many people. I don’t think I could have, or would have, done this without my fellow Fashion Forward designers, Sharon Blair, and the instructors at Portland Sewing.

What did you learn?
In addition to the technical patternmaking, industrial sewing techniques, and apparel manufacturing business classes, I got crystal clear on WHY I am doing this. Yes, it is to make exquisite garments, and tap into an underserved part of the market, but most importantly it is to support women in feeling beautiful and in loving themselves more.