On Teaching Fashion: Guests in the Classroom

As I prepare for the new semester I am already thinking of which guests will be invited into our classroom for project critiques or lectures. We usually have outside professionals in the fashion industry visit our students and give them feedback on major projects or speak about their career path. The students enjoy this are more concerned with impressing these guests then us teachers, especially when they are celebrities or well-known designers.

Guest Speaker 

Bringing outside fashion professionals into our classrooms is beneficial as they bring in a current and unique perspective to our students. We learn about new manufacturing techniques, textile innovations, and more from our guests and the students and I really appreciate it. The opportunity for networking, possible internships and/or jobs is always welcome too. I usually seek out guests in our city and surrounding area but with current technology I can search for guests all over the world. My favorite guest was a fashion buyer and manager of a designer boutique in England. I have Skyped him into the classroom a few times as a guest lecturer with positive responses from the students. He is such a great speaker and gives excellent advice with a very different perspective than other guests. Most importantly, he knows that he is speaking to fashion students. He is honest about the fashion industry but he is careful to be encouraging and not to focus on the negative. He is reflective about his experiences when he was studying fashion design and merchandising and offers great advice. The first time I Skyped him in we had technical difficulties and it took an extra 15 minutes to figure out the problem, which left us with no video only audio, which worked out to be okay but not ideal. The 2nd time we were better prepared and had both the video and audio working properly.

As much as I appreciate the time that our guests give to our students, I have learned that they are not always aware of college life or perhaps have forgotten what it was like when they were a fashion student. I created a critique worksheet for our guests so that they could either read questions to ask students or at least use it as a guide of what to say to a student. If I have a new guest, I usually like to speak to them before I bring them in and make sure that they are aware of the project and what is expected of the students. It is often more work to bring a guest in to critique or speak to students than it is for me to just do it myself. Each student has invested so much time, money, and effort into a design and being given comments such as “trash it” or “start over” are not helpful. This type of feedback is difficult to undue in the following week and usually deflates the confidence of the student. Even with this concern, there is more benefit to both the students and myself at welcoming guests in our classroom and learning a different viewpoint. Do you bring guests into your classroom? How do you prepare your guests before they talk to your students? Please comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

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1 Comment

  • Olga M. January 09, 2015 03.11 pm

    Dear Karen, this is a very interesting article indeed! I can only imagine the interesting contribution your designer boutique manager made. Is there a recording of it anywhere? I had to laugh out loud when I read the line “trash it” or “start over”, because it reminded my of one of my harsh fashion tutors during the Central St Martins days. If I recall correctly, she actually carried a student’s visual presentation and chucked it in the bin. (Was it mine? Or someone elses? I don’t quite remember, but as the students were being assessed they felt for each other so much. If a fellow-student’s work got dissed it felt like it was your own!). Anyways, although the emotional impact and the strength of the message were quite severe, it did not actually teach anything. Criticism of a students hard work has to offer more than two words or else there will be no learning curve.


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