From Opportunity to Opry
By Matthew Salzano '18
PLU Marketing & Communications
Deanna Fallin ’09 wrote an email on April 8 to her former faculty adviser, Pacific Lutheran University Chair of Art and Design JP Avila, to share some exciting news.
“It’s crazy to think that I was just some young college kid, sitting in your office, trying not to cry over a recent breakup,” she wrote. “Look at me now! It’s so exciting!”
Originally from Burien, Wash., Fallin has gone from crying in Avila’s office at PLU, to being a successful designer almost 3000 miles away in Thomasville, Ga.
So successful, in fact, that her designs are featured on T-shirts at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.
Fallin said she’s “starstruck” by the reality her designs are being sold at a country music epicenter like the Grand Ole Opry.
Fallin, who also co-owns a restaurant with her husband, began her design career when she was asked to create art for Lizzy J’s, a boutique jewelry company.
She wasn’t quite sure how to feel.
“I come from literally as far away from South Georgia as I can get,” she said. “When they said they wanted a ‘southern charm’ t-shirt, I said ‘Is there any way we can brainstorm this? I don’t know what y’all do around here.’”
Their brainstormed list yielded designs that now appear in thousands of stores around the U.S., including The Opry Store.
Fallin attributes a lot of her success to PLU — especially Avila.
“[Avila] was my adviser and my mentor, and I still sort of treat him as my mentor,” Fallin said of the man who shared wisdom on everything from design principles to relationship problems.
“The things I learned in class I still employ every single day,” she said, adding “JP was always there to catch me.”
Avila held Fallin to high standards, pushed her to work hard and to stick to her guns during her time at PLU. He encouraged her to study away in England and helped her secure an internship at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The internship went so well, Avila said, they wanted to hire her after graduation.
That’s how he remembers Fallin — as a remarkable, dedicated student who was “always willing to try anything.”
“She was the type of student that sought out to be successful and it’s great to see someone from our department be just that,” Avila said. “I’m very proud of her.”
In an email to her old adviser, Fallin wrote that she has “never worked a day in [her] life,” because she is doing what she loves — designing. This vocational success, she said, comes from learning the lesson of hard work from Avila and being pushed by her PLU family.
“I know that if it wasn’t for JP, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He taught me that hard work pays off,” she said. “Being a small business owner and literally living my dream, I work hard every single day. I wouldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for my family and PLU family.”
Avila points out Fallin’s story is a lesson for any student — “creativity can take you places,” he said.
“Who would have thought a girl from Burien would end up designing in London, moving to the south, starting a restaurant and designing apparel for the Grand Ole Opry?” Avila said. “It makes me wonder — what will the next Lute will do with his or her life?”
This story originally appeared in the Marketing and Communications news section.