When Leah Rama was in high school, she skipped a speech class to attend an art class with a friend. That day, the students were drawing images of hands. She went home and started drawing hands.
That was the moment she realized she needed to pursue art as more than a pastime.
Now, as a designer for fashion giant Michael Kors and a finalist for an international art competition, Rama is taking the lead for women in the fashion industry.
An Abilene native, Rama graduated from ACU in 2012 with a bachelor of fine arts in two-dimensional studio art. She went on to earn a master of fine arts in fashion design at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Rama said she likes taking complex conceptual ideas and translating them into visual information, but she is also inspired by everyday observations, such as the patterns made by soap suds.
Rama’s artist grandmother was her earliest inspiration. Throughout her childhood, her grandmother taught her the color wheel, painting techniques and how to mix colors.
"I’ve always been creatively inclined," Rama said. "My mind is always churning out ideas."
While growing up, Rama designed everything from clothing to buildings, inventions and patterns. She inherited a collection of vintage clothes – what she called her first “fashion history” course – but her professional interest in fashion began with an aptitude test that pointed her that way.
Her choice to study fashion design was somewhat ironic, she says, because in high school she was an anti-materialist, concerned with excessive consumption and waste, poor working conditions for laborers, a lack of sustainability and other issues in the industry. At the same time, she knew she wanted to be a part of solving these problems.
"I want to be able to use my skills and creative gifts to make a change in an industry that's running on old tracks," Rama said.
Although she now works with Michael Kors and his collection design team, Rama is still passionate about making an impact in her own way.
Dr. Kristina Davis, associate professor of communication and sociology and Rama's cousin-in-law, said Rama's art is indicative of her personality.
"She's bright, colorful, fun," Davis said. "Her success shows that we have a vibrant and thriving art and design program" at ACU.
Adobe x Colossal Contest
Rama saw advertisements for The World's Biggest Art Show Ever, an Adobe X Colossal international competition for women. Ten finalists created original designs using Adobe programs; then Colossal, a company that hand paints murals, painted the artwork on buildings in Brooklyn, New York.
The contest was geared toward women as Adobe was making a push for female empowerment.
"In creative industries, there's a huge disparity between male and female artists," Rama said. "When it comes to professional art, a lot of times women get associated with crafts and men get associated with higher levels of design."
Rama decided some of her fashion designs were colorful, bright and would look good on a building even though they weren’t traditional art. She entered the competition and was contacted by Adobe for an interview, during which she was told had been selected as one of the 10 finalists.
"By the expression on my face, you would have thought I won the lottery," Rama said.
Along with women from Australia, Canada, Germany, Baltimore and the Netherlands, Rama spent four days in Brooklyn visiting Adobe and Colossal workshops and seeing the progression of their art to giant murals.
Rama’s piece, titled "See the Unseen," was inspired by an in-depth study of the concept of ghosts. She used the portrait of her family's supposed ghost, Perchta von Rosenberg, throughout the design.
"Ghosts are normally thought of as people, but they can also be regrets, dreams, hopes, better versions of ourselves; they are things that exist whether we choose to see them or not," Rama said. " 'See the Unseen' is meant to be a call to action that brings up a discussion on spirituality and values."
To see more of Rama's work click here.