How Top Fashion Programs Are Preparing Students for the Real World

Fashion colleges and universities across the country have retained their strength in a challenging retail environment, thanks to the constant innovations and expansion of focused programs.

Savannah College of Art and Design, for example, annually injects $600 million into its resident state, and the Fashion Institute of Technology launched its third international location in Songdo (a “smart” city near Seoul), South Korea, last fall. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Parsons School of Design said the college puts an emphasis on integrating fashion into other areas of study and disciplines, resulting in students’ gaining the opportunity to explore fashion from varied approaches.

According to the spokesperson, that could mean anything from the creation of wearable tech for patients with breast cancer to the manufacturing of sustainable textiles from unconventional materials.

This sense of rethinking the fashion industry has paid off — Tom Gattis, dean of the School of Design Arts at Columbus College of Art & Design, explained there is much positivity to be gleaned from the developing transformations in the retail landscape. “Retail and fashion are changing a lot right now, which is incredibly exciting from a designer’s point of view,” he said. “Design is all about solving complex problems and finding creative solutions.”

Gattis added that CCAD places an emphasis on footwear, pointing out that the college has classroom projects that involve shoe design — but its relationship to the field doesn’t end there.

“When it comes to shoes, we have established a great relationship with Sitrana, a Santiago, Chile-based leather goods company specializing in men’s footwear,” he said. “For a few years now, our students have met with leaders at Sitrana in workshops and visits to learn more about shoemaking.”

Gattis continued that this spring, a group of CCAD students have the opportunity to work on a project with the company and will travel to Santiago for a week. “Prior to their trip, the students will each design a pair of shoes and send the designs to Sitrana for review,” he said. “Then, once they’re in Santiago, the students will tour the city’s shoe district and work with the makers at Sitrana. Plus, one lucky student will come home with a custom-made pair of shoes featuring their design.”

Gattis emphasized the value of such projects. “It’s a great experience for our students to learn how these shoes are made. They’re handcrafted — there’s a person who makes the heels and a person who makes the uppers. So it’s not the same thing as going to a factory in China where everything is machine-made,” he said. “There’s an appreciation that comes in seeing that. It helps our students understand the heritage and process.”

Gattis said this also encourages the students to fully understand the difference between a $500 pair of men’s leather shoes as opposed to an $80 alternative.“The real-world projects at CCAD don’t just connect students with industry leaders. They provide CCAD students with the expertise and skills they need to succeed — whether they want to climb the corporate ladder or start their own companies,” he said.

Arming students with the resources they need to succeed in a competitive retail workforce, colleges and universities have demonstrated their commitment to not just persevere in changing times but thrive.

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