By Diane Cho
Updated Sep 12, 2018 @ 11:45 am
Credit: JP Yim/Getty Images

The 11th annual Supima Design Competition runway show was an incredible display of original and innovative student designs, all created exclusively with donated Supima cotton fabrics. Each contestant had to create five women’s eveningwear looks while a panel of industry judges, including the founder of Fashion Week Fern Mallis and InStyle’s Ruthie Friedlander, critiqued each look. At the end of the show, judge and host June Ambrose announced this year’s winner.

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FIT’s Lili Shi earned her spot as the 2018 Supima Design Competition’s top designer. She received a $10,000 check from Supima to jumpstart her design career and will be showing her collection during Paris Fashion Week later this month.

“This competition was nearly impossible to judge,” Friedlander said. “Everyone had such a unique point of view, and I think honestly, it came down to such tiny things. Lili Shi had such a strong image: it was graphic, three-dimensional, it referenced brands we love (Commes des Garcons) without it seeming like a replica. It felt modern and incredibly well made. It was like a work of art versus a dress and that was so impressive to see.”

After the announcement, Shi took the stage to say an emotional thank you to everyone who helped her get to this moment. “I want to say thank you to the Supima Team, to FIT for giving me this great opportunity, thank you to my mentors and mom… thank you!”

Credit: JP Yim/Getty Images

The competition began in 2008 and was created to give runway exposure and to mentor emerging talent from American’s leading design schools. Throughout the process, the designers received guidance and advice about their collections, while also being exposed to the marketing and business side of the industry.

“This competition is the single most important thing to the longevity, existence and continuation of bringing new designers to the marketplace,” Ambrose said. “If we don’t have incubator programs like this — to harness and mentor — it’s just harder for them. They need to be nurtured.”

Supima also partnered with talent recruitment firm 24Seven to market the finalists’ portfolios to fashion houses across North American and Europe. Each designer had one on one sessions with CFDA Award-winning designer Bibhu Mohapatra, who returned for the fourth year as a mentor to the designers. He was highly involved in each part of the competition process, from the mood board stage to the final runway looks. He worked with each finalist to help them grow as designers so they would be fully ready to enter the fashion industry with all of the tools they need to succeed.

“The designers have evolved beautifully,” Mohapatra said. “The bar is always raised every year. The materials stay the same but the expectations are higher. The finalists became confident individuals who can stand on their own with their ideas. That’s what Supima does — they give them this unique platform to prepare them to go through this process so they’re polished and know how to speak about their own work. Every single one of them has shown incredible growth.”

To learn more about the winner, finalists and competition, visit