Woman in a white Stetson and white t-shirt
May 2022

An Immediate Bond

For volunteer Sol Armada de la Cruz, bringing alumni together across generations “feeds the soul.”

Sol Armada de la Cruz 92 AP took the helm of RISD’s Alumni Club of Los Angeles right before the pandemic hit. She hosted one gathering at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “and it was great!” she says. “But then the world ended.”

Despite the disheartening timing, and the less-than-ideal online events Armada de la Cruz organized when in-person gatherings were deemed too risky, she is excited to gear up again. Yes to RISD happy hours, family picnics, panel discussions and studio visits; yes to “bringing everybody back to that feeling of connection after being so scattered,” she says. But her main objective is to facilitate networking, especially for recent graduates. “They’re coming out of school at a very uncertain time, probably with a lot of debt,” Armada de la Cruz notes. And she knows from experience that the RISD alumni community can help. “I got my first internship through a RISD grad, somebody who was a few years older than me and gave me a chance,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if a RISD person is 20 years older than you or 20 years younger. There’s an immediate bond because of what you both experienced.”

For Armada de la Cruz, that experience translated into “problem-solving in its purest form” and “a well-rounded knowledge of the arts,” she says. That became clear as she launched her career in fashion at Tommy Hilfiger in New York, where she worked with peers who had graduated from Parsons or FIT. “They knew where to get the best zippers in the city, but I had an understanding of art history and design in general,” she says. “The key to having a professional creative career is seeing how you’re part of a bigger picture. You have to be elastic, and RISD helps your mind be elastic.”

Today, Armada de la Cruz manages licensing and brand partnerships for WarnerMedia, which means that when you walk into Saks Fifth Avenue and see merchandise from the new Batman movie, it’s because Armada de la Cruz made that deal happen more than a year ago. The work is a long way from her beginnings at RISD in the late 1980s. “I was 17, born and raised in the Caribbean, 12 years of Catholic school. Going to RISD was like landing on the surface of the moon,” Armada de la Cruz recalls. “But RISD made me the person I am today, professionally—being exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking and being part of a creative community.”

Armada de la Cruz’s drive to volunteer for the Alumni Club of Los Angeles comes from her younger self, too. Partway through her time at RISD, her mother died unexpectedly. Her family’s financial situation became more precarious, and she worried that she might have to withdraw from school. Her department chair, and even the college president, stepped in and found extra financial aid to ensure that didn’t happen. Armada de la Cruz says, “I’m very conscious that if I hadn’t been able to stay, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

Besides, volunteering for RISD, while often challenging, brings Armada de la Cruz specific kinds of joy. She says, “It makes me happy to do outreach with a student. It makes me happy to do a portfolio review. It makes me happy to help anyone who has questions about design careers. And it’s so satisfying to see different generations of alumni come together. Giving back feeds a part of your soul.”