From swimmer to merch-man

Professor Ian Mull’s life in fashion


 Staff Photographer || Ian Mull, a faculty member in apparel merchandising and design, poses this Friday in a classroom in Wightman with dressmaking forms. "I have an advantage in fashion," said Mull, "I came from an unconventional perspective, and the fact that I came back to school because I wanted to, not because I had to."

Ian Mull, fixed-term faculty member of the apparel and merchandising department, has worn many hats in life including swimmer for the United States National Team, fashion buyer and now published author.

Mull, in April 2014, published his graduate-thesis “Pin,” which explores people’s usage of Pinterest. It was recognized as the 2013 Master’s Level Student Paper Award from the International Textile and Apparel Association.

Mull also currently teaches five classes in the fashion apparel and merchandising department, and he is relaunching his men’s accessory business, “The Runaway” based in Lansing.

Mull said he balances everything by doing the best he can at the moment.

“I used to be the type of person who had to be a 100 percent at everything,” Mull said. “That lead to me having a microfocus. I realize now I have to spread it out more.”

Mull said he did his thesis on Pinterest because in 2010, when he started the research. It was the most visually interesting of the social media platforms.

“Facebook at the time was a lot of type, and there was not a lot of visual components,” Mull said. “Fashion is very visual, so we thought it would be a great social media tool to examine fashion.”

Mull conducted the research with Seuno-Eun “Joy” Lee, professor of apparel merchandising and design. She said that working with someone with a zest for research made their experiment that much more rewarding.

“He has a great skill in organization and understanding of research topics and articles,” Lee said.

Mull said part of the research examined how people’s motivation on Pinterest. He said that people use it for fashion, cooking, organization, creative projects and virtual exploration. The interesting thing about doing research on social media is that in many ways, it examines a moment of time.

“When we look back, we can look at social media and how it has evolved over time,” Mull said. “I believe if we did our study now, we would have totally different results.”

Mull’s journey to Central Michigan University was unorthodox, as he was originally a swimmer for the U.S. National Team and was an alternate for the 1996 Olympics Games. Meanwhile received his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University in psychology and was able to become a swim coach.

After a while, he became disenchanted with swimming and decided to go into fashion retail for the next seven years. Mull held a variety of roles in the retail industry, including sales management positions and later worked as a buyer.

Moving away from Michigan after graduating, Mull found his way back to that state during the recession.

“My partner got a really great job at Michigan State, so we moved from California to here,” he said. “My job was not really translatable. I couldn’t find a good job that inspired me.”

He decided to go back to earn his master’s degree at CMU, and at first, he felt out of his element. He had no formal education in retail, and it took him a whole semester to realize his professional experiences were actually an advantage.

Mull has been teaching at the university for three years. He said the best part of teaching is when he feels he is no longer leading the classroom discussion – rather, when he sets up the students with enough tools to have their own meaningful classroom dialogue.

When he is not teaching classes or doing his research, he is busy with his business. Mull subleases a space in Lansing to a number of different fashion-oriented businesses. He also has pieces of fashion design equipment each business can use for a small fee. The businesses have their individual offices and retail space.

“We are seeing this entrepreneur shift, and I feel like I’m the inaugural class,” Mull said

The business launched over a year ago and should have products for the public by the end of this month.

Courtney Williams, Pontiac senior, has taken two classes and currently is taking a class with Mull. She said it is always exciting to be in one of his classes because he makes learning fun.

“He creates a comfortable learning environment so that you are able to progress as a student and retain the information presented,” Williams said.

For Lee, the same qualities that makes Mull a great researcher, such as being able to handle the uncertainties that come with research, contribute to his success as an instructor.

“That’s why he is so successful as an instructor because he can handle all the uncertain things that happen with teaching,” Lee said.