Making it work: Program adjusts to increased interest
Fashion design classes cater to influx of students
Fabric surrounds Justin Stutzman. A fifth-year senior, Stutzman is one of six students in IU's individualized major program in fashion design. The runway show for his senior line isn't until March 24, but he works tirelessly, as if it's tomorrow. It's hard to succeed in the fashion industry, he says, and with a recent flood of "wannabe" designers applying to fashion schools, including IU, it's only going to get harder.
For the past five semesters, IU's Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design has offered an average of 35 courses in the subject. But the new year brings a surge: The spring 2007 semester is seeing a jump to 42 courses, a 20 percent increase. Introductory apparel courses can hold 250 students, and classes are always bursting at the seams with anywhere from 15 to 30 students finding themselves on waiting lists.
Many look to television media as the root of the growing trend.
"I think there can be no denying the tabloid nature of television, and the extent to which many people are fascinated by that tabloid television," said Kate Rowold, an apparel-merchandising professor who mentors the six design students. "And part of that tabloid television is the red carpet and the runway."
What Rowold is hinting at is the Bravo network's hit show "Project Runway."
Design students not
"It's giving a false presentation that you can just go into a studio and create something very easily," Suzy Shelton, a fifth-year senior in fashion design, said of the TV program, which began in 2004. "It takes a lot of skill and knowledge to know how to create what (the contestants) are making."
Many design students are quick to point out problems the trend causes. Stutzman doesn't watch the show, but he said he has mixed feelings about the designer boom.
"Design is kind of my life, and I think it's a fun part of life. I don't know how I feel about 'Project Runway' bringing all these people to it," he said.
Senior James DiMartino was recently admitted to the design program for the spring semester.
"A lot of people come into the major and just think, 'Oh, apparel, that means I get to do something with clothes,'" he said. "And there's maybe two or three classes in the whole apparel-merchandising program that have anything to do with clothing."
But that's set to change. About 90 to 120 students receive degrees in apparel merchandising a year, Rowold said. The merchandising degree concentrates on the business aspects of the fashion industry, but it isn't limited to numbers and computers. A newly adapted fashion certificate program, along with plans for a fashion-design degree, will teach and nurture the skills required for budding designers, such as sketching, sewing and concept.
Tailoring a new program
Within five years, the department hopes to add another level to its program -- a fashion-design degree separate from the individualized major program.
"We began the process last year to propose a bachelor's degree in fashion design," Rowold said. "We're working through some of the details."
"Our students are business-based with a passion for the product," said Janis Shaffer, a senior lecturer in apparel merchandising. They learn beyond the classroom, taking field trips to Chicago, Las Vegas and even Asia, something Shaffer said only the Kelley School of Business can rival -- giving the program the reputation necessary to speed the process of adding a fashion-design degree.
Rowold said the program is rigorous and not for everyone. Of the 250 who fill introductory lectures, less than half finish with majors and even fewer obtain minors. Fewer still even have the chance for certificates or degrees because they either can't handle the workload or won't receive the required faculty support for the degree program.
"There are quite a few students who begin the fashion-design certificate program and they really think they're going to be (degree) students," she said. "But as they hear more and more about the program and as they see students in the lab working and working and working, then some of them change their minds along they way."
Despite those who choose a different path, the fashion-design certificate and degree programs are growing with popularity of "Project Runway" which is about to begin its fourth season.
"It could be good," Stutzman said. "I mean, what if this show brings so many designers to the table that (the United States) become like a French power in the fashion industry?"
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