In today’s highly competitive job market in the fashion industry, raw talent and a degree from a top tier design school oftentimes aren’t enough to land a coveted position. Hiring managers are looking for candidates who have a history of hands-on experience in specific areas and with latest technologies. Central Michigan University's fashion program has been arming its students with this kind of training for years, which is why it has a whopping 92-percent success rate when it comes to job placement of its graduates. To ensure that track record stays in tact, the school is looking to the future of fashion and evolving its curriculum in order to help its students stay ahead of the curve.
Last fall, CMU began offering an online bachelor’s degree program in Fashion Merchandising and Design. Within the program, students can choose to concentrate in either visual merchandising or product development—both highly sought-after fields in the industry. We asked Dr. Michael Mamp, Associate Professor of Fashion Merchandising and Design and graduate of the school, to break down each concentration and explain why each will be so beneficial in today’s (and tomorrow’s!) job market.
Technology has always had an impact on the fashion industry, says Mamp. “In the beginning, it was getting everyone to go from hand drawing and hand pattern-making to digital rendering and digital pattern making. Now, it’s all about 3D visualization and 3D fit, as well as product lifecycle management and 3D printing.” Students who enroll in either of CMU’s online fashion concentrations will get both technical and real-world training that addresses this shift.
Employees who work in visual merchandising tend to fall into two categories, says Mamp. There are those who work in corporate offices and those who work in the field. “Employees in the offices are typically focused on the creation of directives, or computer aided-design (CAD)-based documents, that give stores direction on what's coming, where to put it, how to style it, how to present it. Then those who are in the field take those documents, interpret them, and help educate store teams and others on how to interpret those documents to their space in the best way because every store has different architecture.”
Visual merchandising students at CMU, regardless of whether they’re enrolled online or on campus, will learn how to create merchandising directives using CAD. “I always say you have to communicate to the lowest common denominator,” says Mamp. “It has to be really clear, really specific. If you make a mistake in this document, that is lost labor and lost time in possibly 900 stores. You've just cost the company money.”
Where the online and on-campus course differs is in the execution arena. When Mamp teaches the course on campus, he uses a mock store as a hands-on opportunity for students to practice things like setting a window, changing out marketing and placing product on the floor. Online students must partner with a retailer in their community to get similar experience, and Mamp says that in many ways that can be even more beneficial because it ends up becoming a mini-internship in a real-store environment.
When Mamp thinks about what the future of product development holds, he envisions a world in which the halls of fashion companies will not be lined with racks and racks of samples. “Think of the impact that that has on the cost of the good, the environment, the raw materials, et cetera. I think the next frontier is figuring out how to reduce that.”
One of the ways to get closer to that goal is through the 3D visualization and printing that students learn in the product development concentration. Look at it this way, says Mamp: “We have a body scan of a real person. We can fit it to that person on the computer screen. We don't need to have four samples of a T-shirt.”
In the capstone course, students work in groups to come up with an idea for a brand and then develop a series of CAD renderings of product that would be a part of that brand. They then use product lifecycle management (PLM) software to enter all of the information about the product, including original concept, pricing, sourcing, raw materials, technical drawing, specifications and measurements, into a shared system. We’re one of the only schools to offer PLM training, says Mamp. “They don’t even teach this at FIT or Parsons.” And finally, they create a prototype of the product.
While most of his students go on to work in fashion at retailers like Neiman Marcus, Target, Kohl’s and more, Mamp has also seen first-hand how transferable the skills they learn can be. “Although obviously, the focus and the content of all our courses is primarily on fashion or apparel, someone could easily take these skills and apply them to a variety of consumer product categories,” he says. “We have people who are working in home goods, home textiles, home decor. We have people who have gone into textile-focused positions who are developing interior textiles and components for private jets. I have someone who has just joined the online product development degree who currently works in product development for a door manufacturer. She's taking this major with a product development focus, specifically because she wants to improve her CAD skills, and also her understanding of 3D printing and prototyping and 3D visualization.”