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Anna G. Larson, Published October 24 2013

In military fashion: NDSU student puts fashion career on hold to join National Guard

FARGO - After a conversation with Taylor Markel, it’s difficult to imagine her wearing fatigues and standing quiet.

Gold bangles clinking, the 20-year-old North Dakota State University apparel and textiles major eagerly talks about creating clothing with “Julia,” her sewing machine.

She explains that her designs are mostly red carpet-worthy gowns, but she also wants to make urban-vintage street clothes and hopes to have her own boutique someday.

“My personal style is urban-vintage. I love hip-hop and rap, that helps me bring an edge to it,” Taylor says, adding that Eminem and Drake are two of her favorite hip-hop artists. “But I also love polka dots and vintage elements. I totally express myself through clothing.”

Jan. 29, Taylor will trade fashion for a uniform and leave for Army basic training in Fort Sill, Okla. She talks about the National Guard with the same enthusiasm she expresses for fashion and music.

Her main reason for joining the Guard is to grow as a person, she says. The financial perk of having some school paid for once she completes her six-year contract is secondary.

“The tougher I am coming out of this, the tougher I’ll be going into the fashion industry,” Taylor says. “I feel like two parts of me are going to collaborate. It will boost my confidence, and it’ll show me that hey, I can do this. I don’t always know what I’m capable of.”

Women make up nearly 15 percent, or 207,308, of the 1.4 million people enlisted in active-duty military services in the U.S., according to Pentagon data.

Taylor isn’t “at all” nervous to be a woman in the Guard.

“I’ll be sure I’m treated with respect. I’m not concerned about that,” she says. “I think it’s great that women are starting to integrate themselves into more male-dominated fields.”

Taylor’s parents were surprised when she first told them she was considering joining the Guard.

“With our world as crazy as it is and war time, that was the last thing on our minds, that she would ever want to check into that,” says Taylor’s mom, Sandra Markel.

After meeting with Taylor’s sergeant, Sandra and Taylor’s dad, Curt Markel, felt more comfortable with their daughter’s decision, although they’ll worry about her.

“It’s not about not trusting her or thinking she can or can’t do it, but what she may experience and encounter, where she may go for basic training or being deployed. I’m more nervous in that respect,” Curt says.

To prepare for basic training, Taylor’s been running and lifting weights in addition to attending drill the first weekend of every month.

Mental preparation for Taylor means spending extra time with her parents and 16-year-old sister. The 20-week training period will be the longest she’s been away from her family.

“I’m just trying to make great memories and enjoy the civilian life,” Taylor says.

Taylor learned about the Guard from a few of her co-workers at BioLife Plasma Services. They told her about their experiences with the military and how it shaped their lives.

“It snagged the adventurousness in me, hearing how it built them as a person, mentally, physically, emotionally,” Taylor says. “When I told people, they said, ‘Peppy little fashion Taylor going into the Army?’ That’s another thing I wanted to show – there’s a little more to me than meets the eye.”

Born in Bismarck and raised in Fargo, Taylor says she’s always been a creative soul. She’s written poetry and short stories since second grade and started sketching in high school at Fargo North. She now has five sketchbooks packed with her designs.

“I pull inspiration from literally everywhere around me, so I love every and any kind of new adventure or experience I can get my hands on,” she says.

She entered a fashion design contest sponsored by E! and designer Adrianna Papell a few years ago, and earned the 52nd spot out of 676 entrants. Taylor persuaded her fellow NDSU students to vote for her by taking the podium during a chemistry class in the 400-seat Gate City Bank Auditorium. She says some classmates still remember her for that when she bumps into them around campus.

Locally, she’s entered creations in West Acres’ annual “Design Green, Win Green” contest. One of her designs, a pink tutu dress, caught Carol Cwiak’s attention.

Cwiak, the undergraduate coordinator for the emergency management program at NDSU, wrote about Taylor’s design on her blog, The New Forty. She sent the blog entry to Taylor via Facebook, and the women started talking.

“I’ve just come to know her as being a very bright and shiny and positive young woman, a great role model,” Cwiak says. “It’s always comforting to see someone that young who’s got their head on straight, who’s focused, who has their goals and can articulate what they are and see the vision long-term and to work at it incrementally. That’s really a gift.”

Cwiak doesn’t teach in Taylor’s area of study, but she embraced the opportunity to mentor the “bright, shiny” NDSU student.

“I think it’s important for us, as women, to promote young people like this and help them along on their path,” she says.

Eventually, Taylor would like to be deployed so she’ll have another new experience under her belt. Once her contract is up, she plans to move to L.A. or New York to pursue a career in fashion.

“My Guard dedication will set back my move to New York or L.A., but I’m a very positive person, and I try not to focus on the negatives,” Taylor says.

Sketching sessions will be put on hold at basic training, but Taylor’s confident she’ll emerge a stronger, more self-assured person, and so are her parents.

“I think she’ll be the only fashionista Army National Guard member,” Sandra says. “As long as she’s happy, she knows she always has support from her family.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525