UMN student wins national competition using VR

Kim Than will head to New York City to work with Kate Spade after designing a VR fashion store.

Headshot+of+Kim+Than

Courtesy of Kim Than

Than used the University’s new VR studio to create her project.

by Madison Roth

Kim Than, a fourth-year retail merchandising student in the University of Minnesota’s College of Design, won a national design competition using a virtual reality (VR) software from the University’s VR studio.

Than was selected as a finalist for the WindowsWear Mentorship Program where she created an immersive fashion store using VR. Her prize was a paid internship in New York City with Kate Spade, the designer fashion brand Than tailored her project to.

The finalists for the competition were announced online with each finalist then discussing their project to the judges over Zoom. There were 10 finalists from universities across the country.

“I was so happy. I didn’t think I was going to win, but I was so excited to see that I did,” Than said.

Juanjuan Wu, the College of Design professor who taught Than’s VR retail merchandising class, presented the opportunity to enter the competition to her students by offering them extra credit if they modified their final project and submitted it to the competition.

Than decided to take on the challenge and worked on the majority of her project during finals week, making the desire to have the perfect project that much harder. Luckily, she had her friends supporting her along the way.

“I told my friends that we could go for second place,” Than said. “My friends said ‘You really have potential, why don’t you just try your best and go for first place?’ They were my emotional and physical support.”

Along with her friends, Than’s biggest supporter was professor Wu.

“I gave Kim feedback and we bounced off ideas with each other,” Wu said. “She did very well and I knew she had good potential.”

Wu added that Than did extensive background research on past projects from the competition and pushed herself to make her project stand out compared to everyone else’s by adding intimate details and putting in extensive hours.

“Her work is going to be seen by Kate Spade executives, and they are going to help her expand her talent,” Wu said. “It’s exciting for her.”

Than and Wu worked closely together throughout the entire project, and Wu said Than already thanked her several times before Than even knew she won the competition.

Another exciting part of Than’s accomplishments is the recognition it brings to the University.

Steve Yang, assistant dean for student services for the College of Design, said he was excited for Than and the opportunities her accomplishments will provide for the new VR Studio, which opened in September 2021 inside the University’s Health Sciences Library

“Kim’s curiosity and drive to apply design principles and thinking to new platforms is something the entire college community is proud of. We love to see our students applying what they learn in class to the real world, and we can’t wait to see what she does next,” Yang said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

The VR Studio is open to anyone and everyone, and Charlie Heinz, who runs the VR Studio and gave instructions for Than’s class, said he is looking forward to seeing people like Than coming into the studio to be inspired in their work.

“This space, the professor’s innovative idea for instruction and the student’s initiative made it possible for the opportunity to happen,” Heinz said. “I think that’s really cool.”