Teaching Fashion: All Part of the Job

One of the aspects I find most daunting about being in academia is the fact that what I am teaching, is what these students will likely use in their future careers. Very true from a classroom perspective but one of things I enjoy most about the daily interaction with students is learning what they would LIKE to do and providing connections and opportunities to build on those interests. It’s easy when working in the so-called ivory tower of higher learning to forget that the theoretical thinking and skills we teach will be transferred to real world situations. It is equally easy to cut ourselves off from those real world situations. Every one is busy. Does anyone want one more committee meeting, one more assignment to grade, one more obligation? However, no matter how busy on-campus commitments keep instructors, it is important that we keep abreast of career paths in fashion and dress – both those that have been around for years and those that are cutting edge.

Every October, Fashion Group International of Minneapolis and St. Paul hosts Career Day. The majors within my department are required to attend, therefore I also had the pleasure of attending the event. Not looking for a new career. Although I must admit, visual merchandising is tempting. Terrible hours however. I’m not a morning person. I went to attend a few of the sessions in order to make contacts for potential internships for my students and see what was happening in the outside-of-academia world that would directly apply to the courses I teach – and to see which of my students actually attended.

First up was the visual merchandising panel: three women representing Nordstrom’s at the Mall of America (who knew that was their 4th biggest store in the country!?), Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis and Herberger’s (a Minnesota based department store that is owned by Bonwit Teller). This was mainly a “how to get a career in visual merchandising” panel. The come-aways from that were

    1. Interest and/or experience in art or theater. Every single one of them said they couldn’t teach a visual eye. You either have it or you don’t
    2. A willingness to get dirty and use powertools
    3. Persistence – take a job in sales in a store and let it be known that you are willing to help the visual people when they need an extra hand.

And, yes, it would help if you are a morning person. They didn’t say that but it’s true.

Another panel I attended was on Social Media in Retail. I was intrigued by the inclusion of this panel because it was rather out of sync with the rather staid panels of “Human Resources” (not how to interview but how to get a job in human resources),”Durable Goods” and “Product Development”. Plus, I teach Non-Store Retailing and social media as used by retail or as a marketing tools is very difficult to encapsulate. It is a very quickly evolving retail tool and little has been done to quantify and categorize the effectiveness of the various tools. Furthermore, while there are professional PR firms that can structure and manage businesses use of social media, much of what is done is conducted on an individual basis by lone individuals within a store or corporate environment. Store owners may pick an employee who is generally young and on facebook a lot. This often results in haphazard or ineffective use of the available tools.

The three panelists I heard represented a spectrum of social media involvement and size of business. Elizabeth Dehn is a writer and magazine editor who left her lifestyle editor position at Minnesota Monthly last February. She felt she was ‘stuck’ in the print world and loosing the ability to really stay with the times. She recognized the impact social media had on lifestyle topics – fashion, travel, food and beauty. Voíla! Beauty Bets was born. Bridget O’Brien works for Covered, a specialty boutique in the trendy Uptown area of Minneapolis. Bridget is the youngest member of the Covered team and holds the title(s) style advisor/events/PR. Yes, she runs the facebook and twitter accounts as well as planning private shopping parties. As she said, shopping for jeans can be traumatic, like shopping for a bathing suit. A little champagne always helps. Bridget Jewell is the PR coordinator for the Mall of America. A claim to fame – she was on hand during the filming of TLC’s Mall Cops.

Elizabeth’s take on social media is little different than the other two. Her blog is a nearly daily review of some type of beauty product – hair, makeup, spa, skincare. She even has a budget section. Her choices to review range from Dysport (the new botox) to silver nail polish (just perfect for New Year’s Eve). She is unbiased to a fault. Being a friend or acquaintance or her colorist guarantees nothing but the possibility of being mentioned on her blog. She is NOT paid to write the reviews. Instead, her income comes from sponsors of her site. I just looked and at current count, she has nineteen sponsors. She links her blog posts to facebook and twitter accounts.

Bridget and Bridget approach social media for the same purpose – to increase traffic to their respective places of employment. Bridget O’Brien from Covered works facebook and twitter multiple times daily with updates of new products, items that are selling fast and promos they are running. December 30 she posted “Hey Covered Girls!! Don’t forget 30% off any item today and tomorrow! Time to find the perfect NYE outfit!! As always the champagne is popped!” I wasn’t kidding when I said she talked about champagne and jeans shopping! Bridget Jewell, from MOA, works to increase traffic to the mall as a whole and maintain a more ‘personal’ connection to the consumers. She really reads peoples comments and responds to them – at all hours of the day! The Mall of America facebook page highlights new stores, events at the mall and addresses customer concerns. The MOA blog highlights current trends, events and celebrity sightings. Twitter, Foursquare, and YouTube are also regularly used as marketing tools by the Mall of America.

Three different approaches to using social media with retail implications – and each of these women got into when it was (is?) still cutting edge and really not defined. So what should students take away from this? Each said that if you want a job using social media become well acquainted with the establishment where you want to work. You can’t shout your enthusiasm to the virtual world multiple times a day if you don’t believe in what you are doing and saying. These are not one-off ads or catchy tag lines. This is multiple times a day promotion. And they did say multiple – that was a big theme from the two Bridgets (and from other retailers who use facebook), you have to post several times a day or you will be lost in the mass of other people’s postings. Also, learn to be somewhat tech savvy. Not talking high level programming but know enough to be dangerous and make yourself standout. Or at least enough to know how far you CAN push your programmer.

I would bet five years ago visual merchandising was on the career day agenda. I would also bet that five years ago someone whose job was blogging, facebook and twitter was not. Who knows what kind of jobs will be out there for our students in another five years? Pushing them to attend career fairs, secure internships (even in areas that might be outside their comfort zone) and keeping well-informed on new and innovative career is all part of the job.

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1 Comment

  • Ellen January 27, 2011 11.38 am

    Fashion Group International of Dallas hosts its Career Day in April. Like the one in Minneapolis / St. Paul, it is a great opportunity to learn from professionals working in the fashion industry. See http://www.dallascareerday.org/ for more information.


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