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University School student takes hands-on approach to solving dearth of skirts

Kendall Ross models her three skirt styles, a soft pleat version (left), scallop edge (center), and five-pocket corduroy (right).

Kendall Ross models her three skirt styles, a soft pleat version (left), scallop edge (center), and five-pocket corduroy (right).

Sept. 6, 2013

River Hills — Kendall Ross is gaining something of a reputation at University School of Milwaukee.

Her cell number is making its way around the school, handed off from girl to girl on scraps of paper and text messages. When the phone rings and girls approach her in the hallway, the questions are always the same.

“Do you have the skirts?”

“Are you the skirt girl?”

Yes, Kendall Ross is the skirt girl.

Ross, a senior at USM, began to notice in her freshman year an inherent difficulty in fulfilling the school dress code, which requires khaki slacks or a khaki skirt. Students could go out to area retailers and choose from a pithy selection of skirts, or worse yet, order from approved uniform companies.

“They literally can stand up,” said Kendall’s father, Bruce, CEO of Milwaukee-based Celebrity Fashion Group. “The fabric, I don’t want to say it’s bullet proof, but it’s heavy and you can’t style it.”

It runs in the family

Drawing on her studies at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, as well as her formidable pedigree — her grandmother Audrey Ross was reportedly the original designer of the “poodle skirt,” and the Ross name dates back to Junior House of Milwaukee, a former fashion powerhouse founded in 1945 — Kendall Ross got to work over the summer, designing skirts tailored to the needs of USM clientele.

“When I found out that my grandmother had accomplished that, I thought that I wanted to be just like her,” reminisced Kendall Ross, “to do something fashion related.”

While the skirts are comparably priced to those one may find at a local retailer, the two Rosses point to the stylish designs and little details, like orange piping and hangar loops, as evidence of a superior skirt. And, they added, the skirts are manufactured out of Brooklyn, NY, making the markup almost nonexistent in relation to clothing made overseas and imported by big-name retailers.

Evidently, USM students agree.

When Kendall held a sale on school grounds over the weekend she sold nearly $10,000 worth of skirts and took in overflow orders on Monday. It’s a win-win, she said, since the girls get fashionable, school-approved apparel and she gets good practice at design and entrepreneurship.

“I was really fortunate that I was able to do something that I love that really helps everyone in my community,” Kendall said. “That’s a reward in itself.”

Designs receive praise

According to Bruce Ross, Kendall’s designs have been applauded by CEOs of several major fashion retailers. At the same time, the Rosses report that several USM mothers have also shown interest in purchasing the skirts for themselves.

“I’ll probably never wear a khaki skirt or navy blazer after University School,” Kendall said. “It’s hard not to think of them as a uniform, but other people really like them.”

Though they at best expect to break even on the venture, it’s a tailor-made exercise for Kendall, who plans to pursue a business major in college before breaking into the fashion industry.

“I really enjoyed the whole process and the design process,” she said Kendall Ross. “For the future, I’m more interested in the business side of it, that appeals to me the most.”

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