On teaching fashion: What students want

A very important question for any teacher, lecturer, instructor or course leader is to ask: “What do our students want?” in the context of the program and course which is being taught.

There is of course the syllabus which dictates the content of a class, the anticipated learning outcomes and the credit points and it is connected to the degree which itself dictates the mandatory class content. But within these pre-set constrictions it is possible to ask our students about their wishes. And perhaps some of them can be integrated in the course curriculum. There is always an element of freedom and autonomy in fashion class, be it a design class or a marketing class. At the end of a BA or MA course, the students have to show a whole lot of autonomy when they design a final collection or in the fashion marketing programme, have to write an extensive thesis on a topic of their choice.

Stident working on a garment

Stident working on a garment – source here

My latest BA students wanted to write about very diverse and interesting topics ranging from sociological themes such as the politics of dress by female British monarchs as well Princes’ wives which demonstrate a more democratic relation of commoners and royals sartorial choices to marketing topics such as gender marketing targeted towards women in fashion advertising. Yet again another student was interested in the visibility of an iconic creative director in a luxury brand’s marketing communication and brand identity. I am very pleased with the personal choices of topics and the fact that these BA students knew what they wanted to dedicate their extensive thesis to. After all I spent an entire term teaching them various classes and emphasizing on the question: “What do you want?” and fostering curiosity.

Curious student – source here

In this respect, it payed off to encourage the students to voice their own ideas and curiosity on certain topics. But I will not exclude a scenario where this might backfire. On occasion I meet students who lack initiative, who show no interest in any particular topic and who seem to vegetate through their university degree. On other occasions I meet feisty students who know exactly what they want, make strong demands on their tutors and complain angrily when their wants are not satisfied.

Demanding student - source here

Demanding student – source here

My question to you is thus: Do you ever enquire as to what your students want? Do you encourage them to voice their academic interests and give them a chance to use this interest in a project? Or do you prefer to give the students rigid guidance and pre-determine what topics are available to them?

I am eager to hear about your experience!

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  • Glynis Hughs February 26, 2016 04.54 pm

    Since my BA Dissertation led to me taking a Masters in Early Modern History I would say they should be encouraged to think about their interests. There are so many good and thoughtful costume books, film books and historic clothing books being published at the moment too, it is a very exciting time to be studying. I think that so many students on costume courses don’t realise the potential of the acaedemic work and how much it feeds into the design and construction work too.

  • Asad February 27, 2016 01.34 pm

    As a fashion design student myself, I absolutely agree with you.

  • Olga February 27, 2016 04.56 pm

    Dear Asad and Glynis, thank you for your comments. Yes, I absolutely agree on the amazing and inspirational literature available to us. May I ask what you BA was? So far, my students showed interests in such diverse and unexpected topics which are related to their original course (fashion Management) but go into history, subcultures, sociology etc. And you are right to say that such amazing literature can be the source for that first inspiring spark.

  • Jennifer Doering March 03, 2016 02.30 pm

    My question to you is thus: Do you ever enquire as to what your students want? Do you encourage them to voice their academic interests and give them a chance to use this interest in a project? Or do you prefer to give the students rigid guidance and pre-determine what topics are available to them?

  • Jennifer Doering March 03, 2016 03.02 pm

    I am an adjunct fashion design instructor at two very different universities. I teach nine different courses. Depending on the course, I do allow the students to voice an interest in their project topics or even require it. (If the course is more skill based- ex. Adobe Illustrator or Kaledo, I do NOT.) At this point I typically encourage/require individual choice projects only for upper class courses; by that time the student has a good fundamental design background and has begun to develop a strong design sensibility and come into their own. Along with the freedom of choosing their topic comes the accountability to face the challenges, problems and potential to “fall out of love” with said topic, all of which can and has happened to some of my students. If there is one thing I try to impart to all of my students based on my 12 years of experience as a designer in the US fashion industry, it is that if you do not have a clear point of view that you are able to explore and yes, even have to justify at times, you will ultimately not find success for yourself, your brand or serve the customer you are seeking. University is a time to build that personal point of view, and that prepares the student to enter the real world of design where compromise with colleagues, answering to sales and reinvigorating brands are a daily experience. Personal exploration should be done during time as a student, as the luxury of time and energy for that reduces once out of school.

  • Olga March 14, 2016 11.17 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience Jannifer. It’s true, at university students do have the time and right to be proactive, find their calling and establish a unique point of view. But how do they manage once they encounter the “real” world out there? Back in the days, after graduating, I found that there was a big gap between the open-minded, proactive and creative world inside the uni and a very cold, pragmatic and unloving environment in the working world.


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