Altering Fashion Design

April 6, 2015

Apparel Design and Technology teaches fashion to fit a new century

When Joy Rhodes, professor of Fashion Merchandising and Design, took her sabbatical in 2013, she knew she wanted to use the time to study the latest technology, processes and trends in fashion product development.

What she didn't realize at the time was that her sabbatical would lead her to completely rework the department’s curriculum and even change the name of a JCCC AAS degree.

What it’s called

"It's now called Apparel Design and Technology," Rhodes said of the associate degree formerly known as Fashion Design. It's one of two associate degrees the department offers, with the other being Fashion Merchandising.

Joan McCrillis, professor and chair of the department, said the Merchandising AAS concentrates more on retail and wholesale sales. "Most of the graduates from that program go into management," she said. "But the Design and Technology degree gets more exposure, thanks in part to the annual spring fashion show."

The name change reflects the focus shift from a fashion designer's pen-and-paper artistry to include business-related technologies and manufacturing processes. High-end fashion is creative, but it's also technical. Accurate and detailed product specifications along with fit quality are key to a successful product in the industry.

Where it came from

During her sabbatical, Rhodes shadowed professionals in the fashion industry and discussed with them the skills they considered crucial to working in the field.

She discovered that the industry's biggest job opportunities were within the field of clothing technology, where construction, fabric and fit meet.

"It's one thing to make a pattern, but it’s another thing to make different sizes, and make it fit and look good," she said.

What it does

The Apparel Design and Technology degree includes three new classes and modifications in most of the others. New classes include Draping; Apparel Fit, Alteration and Analysis; and Apparel Specification Technology.

That last class ("we call it Apparel Spec Tech," Rhodes explained) incorporates a Product Lifecycle Management  (PLM) software program that is widely used throughout the industry. Rhodes wrote the grant for the software. When it was approved, and when she shared the software with the class, the students "were very excited," she said.

"I think we were one of the first places outside of the industry to even have a site license," she explained. "The students couldn't believe that they were working on software that (at the time) even big universities didn't have."

Updating the curriculum is a constant process in fashion, Rhodes said.

"You have to always be changing," she said. "It's a race to get product to market quicker, so all these new systems are being put into place, and our students need to know about them."

The JCCC difference

Students within the fashion design and merchandising program succeed in part because of the smaller classes and experienced professors, Rhodes said. "You hear that a lot about community colleges, but it's true in our department especially, since many other schools offer classes taught by teaching assistants with very little on-the-job experience," she said.

At JCCC, the professors have worked within the fashion industry, and they know what it takes to succeed.

Twice a year Rhodes travels with students to fashion showcases, one in Las Vegas and one in New York.

"The students love the individualized attention," Rhodes said. "We want to see them succeed, and they know that."