On Teaching Fashion: Working Together

screenshot from i.e. Carrie website

Design + Merchandising = reality when our students enter the Industry, which is goal oriented and team focused.  In my department, we offer a few core classes that merchandisers and designers both take simultaneously. I view these courses as hot beds for cross-pollination. Lecture courses in product development and seminar courses (in my case a seminar I taught on fashion and sustainability) are ideal, as these courses are populated with design and merchandising students. In the case I share below, an industry partnered project provided inspiration and a common framework for working together.

i.e. Carrie was framed as a midterm assignment in a seminar course that covers the five cannons of sustainability as they relate to the fashion and apparel industry. The students worked in collaboration to design a digital whitepaper resource elaborating on issues Carrie Freiman, founder of Carry Parry (graduate of the UD Certificate in Sustainable Apparel Business and eco-fashion rising star) put forth. Topics included:

  • Educating and interacting with stakeholders on social responsibility
  • Innovative sales techniques- direct to consumers sales
  • Garment care for different fabrics and info on green dry cleaning
  • Fiber and fabric education: pictures/links/videos
  • Information about fabric dyeing and printing

All the topics required research in both the design and merchandising areas, culminating in a meshing of key knowledge from both areas. I assigned students the task of self-organizing, placing one student in charge of managing each team.  Each group was able to “meet” Carrie to discuss issues via skype conversations and email.

screenshot from i.e. Carrie website

Outcomes were inspiring. Students were assessed on innovative solutions, sustainability concerns, on the ability to analyze their topic and articulate their solutions, while working together as a team as well as how they brought skills and talents collaboratively into the fold. Carrie provided feedback to each team. Each team assessed their own contributions as well as contributions of collaborators.

At the starting gate, students gravitated toward the research piece where they felt they could best contribute their skills.  Students were able to learn new skills, developing knowledge on a variety of lesser-known aspects from working with teammates.  For example, merchandisers were able to go through the process of dyeing fabric and color matching. Designers received insight from their merchandising collaborators on costing and assortment planning.  Both merchandisers and designers benefited from the sustainability focus of the project by working hands-on with Carrie who is dedicated to sustainable apparel business practices. Most importantly, Carrie was able to use some of the resources the students developed!

screenshot from Carry Parry website

This is one small example of cross-pollination between foci within the Fashion and Apparel umbrella. Current job postings for entry-level fashion positions require skills that transcend academic majors. Providing an opportunity for students to exercise and build tangible “cross-over” skills is essential to their success in the fashion marketplace.

A few pointers:

  • Reach out to a local industry partner or business to engage the students and offer a framework and goal
  • Place a student in charge who can organize and delegate tasks. If all students are new to you ask your colleagues for recommend someone
  • Offer base resources to kick start student brainstorming
  • Hand out a recent job posting and discuss skills required
  • Set up a group website to capture projects, this provides a good teaching example as well

I am curious to hear from readers. What innovative solutions have you developed to provide your students opportunities for experience and practice?  Happy teaching!


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1 Comment

  • Katya Roelse October 06, 2012 11.07 am

    Very often design students are told to apply for generic technical design positions when they graduate. While that’s a place a lot of young designers start, I think it boxes them in and can send them down the “rat race” road with little knowledge of how they fit into it. I teach a fashion foundation class that covers the industry as a whole and on the last day of class I ask them to pick a product, any product, and then we brainstorm on it. I make a web and have them tell me all the positions, steps, and processes that they’ve learned that go into making it. It’s fascinating and eye-opening for them to realize how vast the industry is, how many roles overlap, and how you can start one place and end up in another.


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