Design on deck

Nick Rogers went to college on a baseball scholarship, then decided to study fashion.

Published May 12, 2007

TAMPA - Passion can be tricky. Steered with sharp instincts, it takes you on an exhilarating, soul-satisfying ride. Guided like a student in Day 1 of driver's ed, it can land you in the ditch of life.

When his passion needed direction, Nick Rogers' instincts were sharp.

A scholarship baseball player, Rogers realized early in his college career that he had lost his enthusiasm for the sport. He then had to figure out what else he could do with his life that would inspire him. His parents pushed him to consider his longtime interest in fashion.

In October 2005, he started classes at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Tampa. Today, at age 22, his career shift is paying off. Rogers will be one of three menswear designers featured in the school's annual student fashion show tonight at the Tampa Convention Center.

"A baseball guy turning fashion," Rogers said while waiting for a photo shoot to begin in an academy classroom Monday. "That might just be a sign of things to come."

He has been interested in fashion almost as long as he has in baseball.

Rogers grew up in Alexandria, Va., outside Washington, where his parents tried to get him excited about sports. "I did karate and soccer. I didn't like getting hurt," he said, "so I chose baseball."

He was a pitcher, a lefty, and good enough that when it came time for college, institutions of higher learning were eager to fund his education if he would play for them.

"I didn't really have a career goal in mind. I just wanted to go to school to play baseball," he said.

His fashion passion started coming out in junior high.

"A big thing . . . was having different-colored sneakers than everyone else," Rogers said. "So I used to paint people's shoes different colors." He also made T-shirts with people's names or nicknames, or funny slogans.

He charged his customers, but he can't remember how much. "It was probably something along the lines of like, 'Buy me two school lunches.' . . . I was just happy to be doing something pretty crafty."

During the baseball season, he played two positions: pitcher and "fashionable guy." The latter made him a target for teammates' jibes. "But I just dealt with it because it's just who I was," he said.

After Rogers graduated high school in 2003, he went to Radford University in Radford, Va., on a baseball scholarship. But he left after one semester when his personal life got a little overwhelming. On top of the usual freshman-year adjustments, his parents divorced just before he left home for school.

He moved in with his dad for a few months and took classes at Northern Virginia Community College. Then a friend called to tell him the baseball coach at Manatee Community College in Bradenton was interested in him. So Rogers flew down, threw for the coach and got another scholarship offer.

He moved down here and immersed himself in the college baseball life again. Not long into it, he quit.

"I could sense the people around me, they had the passion . . . to succeed. . . . And my passion was lacking," he said. "So I was like, you know what. . . . I'm going to let it go."

He continued taking classes, in business and advertising, but tried to figure out exactly who he was without baseball. As much as he liked fashion, he didn't turn to it immediately. His parents pushed him in that direction.

"My parents were really able to shine through. They said, 'Do what your passion is, not what's going to make you the money.'"

His mother suggested that he consider art schools. "(It) never even dawned on me that I would do something like that," Rogers said.

So he looked at fashion schools in Florida, which led him to the Tampa academy.

His gravitation toward menswear began in his first class in which he was allowed to design whatever he wanted. He started with jeans. Encouraging feedback boosted his confidence.

"I know what guys like," he said. "I think there's a lot of guys out there like me, they might pay an extra dollar to have something that someone else doesn't have. They might really appreciate a handmade garment as opposed to something that's been cranked out a million times and everyone has it."

He would eventually like to focus on denim. "Everyone needs a good pair of jeans," Rogers said. "They're starting to pay good money for good jeans."

He is on track to graduate a year from now. His immediate post-school goal is to just get his foot in the door somewhere.

He doesn't play baseball anymore. Occasionally he'll play catch with friends. He has no regrets about quitting.

"Because it's brought me where I am today," Rogers said. "And I'm very happy."



The annual student fashion show of Tampa's International Academy of Design and Technology is tonight with a design expo at 5 and runway show at 8 at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St. $10 students with ID, $20 general admission, $40 reserved floor seating. Ticketmaster at outlets; www.ticketmaster.com; (813) 287-8844, (727) 898-2100.