Two female professors help a male student with a fashion project

Mental Health Takes Center Stage at Runway 2024: ‘True Delusion’


Runway, Buffalo State University’s Fashion and Textile Technology (FTT) Department’s annual student-produced fashion show, presented by New Era Cap, returns Saturday, April 20, with the theme “True Delusion,” which explores the layers and facets of mental health.

For the past five years, Runway themes have focused on equality, sustainability, and other social justice issues. This year, said Buffalo State lecturer and Runway director Erin Habes, ’03, ’18, students were inspired by the 2024 total solar eclipse that took place on April 8. 

“We could have taken it literally, but the students put a spin on it,” Habes said. “They did a lot of research. There are phases of emotion just like phases of an eclipse. There is a moment of total darkness, but then there is light, which felt like a mental health tie-in.”

Runway 2024 sponsors include the mental health organizations Better Mynd, Crisis Services, and Evergreen Health. “I think the focus on mental health really attracted sponsors to come on board and support students,” Habes said. “The eclipse was such an incredible experience on Buffalo State’s campus. Now we get to share our story, our part.”

“True Delusion” invites the exploration of fantasy versus reality and emphasizes that things may not always be as they seem, just as someone’s mental state might not be apparent from the outside.

Xavier “Zii” Spencer, a senior FTT major and first-time Runway designer, felt an immediate connection to the theme.

“True delusion, the delusion of being something else you’re actually not, ties into me having bipolar disorder and schizophrenia,” he said. “My collection shows what I feel is true about me, but also gives the delusion of “You thought this is me, but it’s not. I can show the layers of who I actually am—something much bigger.” 

Male student modeling at fashion show

Xavier “Zii” Spencer models at Runway 2023.

Spencer’s collection represents emotions and personality traits. “I came up with different states of how I feel throughout the day and how they change constantly,” he said. “I thought about how I’d go about it—elegant, scary, surprising? I brainstormed.”

Spencer said, regardless of season, he is “always wearing puffer coats,” so he wanted to incorporate them into in his collection. Each of Spencer’s four designs—which represent depression, anxiety, anger, and a “shapeshifting personality,” that he describes as the constant motion between the other three—have a puffer coat element.

“No matter what, that’s always part of me,” he said. “The way that I wear winter stuff and the way I layer is similar to putting on a costume. Each outfit is a layer of how I’m feeling. My collection represents the layering of my heart, as well as the layering of people’s everyday growth and how they evolve as a people.”

Spencer thinks the connection between fashion and mental health is a natural one. “People say they have one style but, in all actuality, people’s styles change with how they’re feeling that day,” he said. “With clothing, you’re wearing your emotions on your sleeve. You might be bolder and more confident, or you might be more to yourself. Clothing isn’t just clothing; you are wearing your emotion on the outside.”

“Clothing isn’t just clothing; you are wearing your emotion on the outside.”

- Zii Spencer, Senior FTT Major and Runway Designer

Runway provides important applied learning experience for students like Spencer with ambitious post-graduation aspirations. 

“Runway helps amplify my dedication to get something done and showcase my capabilities,” he said. “It brings everybody together into a single mind and hope for what life could be in the future. I want to start a brand, get myself out there, and travel a lot to learn more about fashion and how it impacts people and their beliefs.”

Spencer said Buffalo State has prepared him to make those real-world connections. “In this major, there is a lot of group work,” he said. “At first, I didn’t understand why, but then I realized the fashion industry is very collaborative. The classes here have really taught me to understand people.”

And that understanding and support, Habes said, is what this year’s show is all about. 

“In four years of college, there are a lot of ups and downs,” Habes said. “This theme sums up what Buffalo State truly is: a network, a family. We help students get through their challenges. That’s really the essence of the show.”

To learn more about Runway 2024 and to purchase tickets, please visit the Runway website. Admission is $20 for the general public and $100 for VIP access.

Photos by Jesse Steffan-Colucci, Buffalo State photographer.