Jefferson Students Win ABC “Good Morning America” Fashion Challenge

“Good Morning America” host Lara Spencer announces Jefferson students Keren Espina and Tommy Heidebrecht as the  winning designers.

“Good Morning America” host Lara Spencer announces Jefferson students Keren Espina and Tommy Heidebrecht as the winning designers.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America” Nov. 24, two Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) fashion design students wowed the judges and won the show’s competition to redesign a wedding gown into a totally new fashion-forward look.

Jefferson students Keren Espina and Tommy Heidebrecht first looked stunned and quickly broke out in broad smiles as “Good Morning America” host Lara Spencer announced the winners in front of a cheering crowd just outside the GMA studio in New York’s Times Square.

The students’ winning design was a three-piece ensemble in shades of yellow and blue featuring shorts, bustier top and a jacket with stunning handwork of a large Van Gogh-inspired sunflower on the back.

“We’ve gone to thousands of fashion shows,” said celebrity stylist Joe Zee, one of the judges. “That could be on a runway.”

Keren Espina and Tommy Heidebrecht in the "Good Morning America" studio.

Keren Espina and Tommy Heidebrecht in the “Good Morning America” studio.

“It is incredible to win,” said Heidebrecht, a junior. “It’s great to know that all the hard work paid off, and to have it validated by some important people in the industry is amazing.”

The “Good Morning America” competition kicked off in New York on Aug. 29, when the Jefferson students and teams from Marist College and Montclair State University were presented with the design challenge: take a traditional long, white, beaded wedding gown and turn it into a sensational new outfit.

Through several weeks of sleepless nights and weekend work—and visits by GMA to record their progress on camera—Espina and Heidebrecht deconstructed, designed, dyed, sewed and ironed their way to the top.

Then, on Sept. 14, the students presented their final designs to judges during a runway show at the “Good Morning America” studio, where Espina and Heidebrecht were declared the winners. The students were asked to keep their win under wraps until the segment aired.

The competition was judged by Zee and Anne Fulenwider, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire magazine. Designer Leanne Marshall, a “Project Runway” winner, served as a technical advisor. The designs were judged on creativity, technical skills and sustainability—using as much as possible of the original gown, including beading, lace and trim.

(From left): Editor Anne Fulenwider, Tommy Heidebrecht, model wearing the winning look, stylist Joe Zee and Keren Espina with the winner's trophy.

(from left): Editor Anne Fulenwider, student Tommy Heidebrecht, model Fadiagne, stylist Joe Zee and student Keren Espina with the winner’s trophy.

“I’m beyond excited, as well as grateful, for the opportunity to participate and proud to represent the University and the fashion design program,” said Espina, a senior. She expects the experience of designing the winning outfit and competing on national TV in a high-pressure environment will help open doors as she enters the fashion industry after graduating in May.

“In my fashion design career, I will have to consider the cost of a design, the various customers and the ever-changing trends,” Espina said. “All these aspects were incorporated in the ‘Good Morning America’ challenge.”

The students said they were grateful to the Jefferson fashion design faculty for their support in the competition. “Everyone took an interest,” Heidebrecht said. “We received design feedback and general advice on everything from fabric content to dyeing techniques.”

“I’m so proud of Tommy and Keren,” said Sheila Connelly, director of Jefferson’s fashion design program. “The original wedding dress is unrecognizable with the dyeing, surface detail and embellishments they created during many sleepless nights. Winning this challenge on national television is wonderful recognition for our internationally acclaimed Jefferson fashion design program.”

Watch the segment below.

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