Friday, May 28, 2010

Semester review, part 2: fashion industry class

Before the start of the semester I was excitedly looking forward to my fashion industry class. I know I want to become a designer, but I do not know exactly what it is I want to do as a designer. I know very little about the fashion industry, so I am not sure who I want to work for or what sort of job I want. I hoped this class would teach me what I needed to figure out what I want to do. It didn’t.

I wanted to learn about fashion companies and how the industry functions. The class was about how to run a company. I do not feel at all prepared to run a company. The class was taught by an instructor from the apparel design department, not one from the business department. I will be taking two business classes this summer and more in the coming semesters. Perhaps those classes will prepare me to run a company, but I do not want to be the boss. I just want to work for someone else, collect a regular paycheck, and be told what to do.

The apparel design department’s intro class is not required for transfer students, but I will be taking it next semester. The intro class covers a lot of the stuff I hoped to learn in the fashion industry class. Fashion industry was a required class, so I’ll just think of it as three credits closer to graduation.

Although I feel I did not benefit much from this class, I did have a lot of fun with the final project. It was a group project. We had to design a product and create a company to market it. I wanted to make national costume doll outfits to coincide with the World Cup, but the other members of my group did not like playing with dolls. One of the women in the group once saw an article about using fabric with piezoelectric nanowires to generate electricity, and she thought clothing that could be used to recharge cell phones would be a good idea. The technology does not work, but our instructor loved the idea.

For the project we needed in a binder describing our product and company, and we had to make a three minute presentation advertising the product. I was not happy about having to design a marketing scheme for a product that I know could not work, but I had a lot of fun with my sales pitch. Unfortunately the other members of the group edited out some of my best bits. I set a price for our product, then used the following explanation to justify that price:

The technology upon which this product is based does not in fact exist. Piezoelectric nanowires exist and can be used to generate electricity, but there is no known process for waterproofing the wires. Atmospheric humidity is enough to render the wires inoperable. Our project is a work of science fiction. There are no data to support our price estimates. With a great deal of fanfare, Daniel Cole pulled the numbers from his ass and declared them to be good.

I felt honesty is good, but I was overruled. My teacher did not see my price explanation. Perhaps that was best. My final grade for this class was an A.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Semester review, part 1: the other classes

The semester is finally over, and it is time for me to share with you what I learned. Two of the five classes I took this semester had nothing to do with apparel design, but were still required for my major. I will begin my review with my thoughts about those two classes.

SOC 110 – Introductory Sociology I expected this class to be inane and painfully dull. If it was not required I would not have even considered taking a social science class. My plan was to get it out of the way early so that as my apparel classes become more difficult over the upcoming semesters I will not have to spend time with other subjects. I was pleased to discover that my expectations were unfounded. The class was both interesting and fun, and the professor did a great job presenting the information to us. I always looked forward to the lectures. The class was not easy. I needed to spend a lot of time studying, and the paper and two essays I wrote took a lot of work. I am pleased to say the effort I devoted to this class paid off; I got an A.

None of the topics covered in the class related directly to apparel or fashion, but I was able to write my paper about the fashion industry. Early in the semester the professor gave me an article about fashion from a sociology journal. It was not for my paper; it was just something he thought I would find interesting. He was right. The article, “Fashion” by Georg Simmel, is about the driving forces in fashion. I agreed with what Simmel had to say, and what I found most fascinating about the article was when it was written. The language seemed a little archaic, but at first I thought that was just how sociologists wrote. I was more than two pages into the article before I realized how old it is. What Simmel wrote about fashion in 1904 is true today. Simmel suggested that the driving force in fashion is the desire of rich people to distinguish themselves from the rest of us. New fashion is expensive, so only rich people can afford it. Soon poor folk will be wearing cheap knock-offs, so the rich people need something new to wear.

Although I enjoyed this class a lot, I have no plans to take any more sociology or other social science classes. I will only take classes required for my major and minor.

PKG 100 – Packaging and Society I would not have taken this class had it not been required. Unlike sociology I expected this class would be both interesting and relevant to my major, but as was the case with sociology, my expectations were wrong. Part of marketing apparel is how it is packaged, and although this class is required for all apparel design students the packaging of apparel was never mentioned. The instructor spent the entire semester talking about how food and medicines are packaged. I got an A in the class, yet I feel I did not learn anything. Well, I did learn that the period following the fall of the Roman Empire was called the Dark Ages because the sky was dark for 800 years, but I suspect that may not be entirely accurate. The class is over, I got a good grade, and one more requirement has been taken care of, so I will not drone on about it any more

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Choosing my concentration and minor

Apparel design students at UW-Stout must select one of three concentrations within the program. I have not yet picked mine. I do not need to declare a concentration now, but I should decide on one as soon as possible. Most of the apparel design classes are required for all three concentrations, but there are other classes that are required by only one or two of them. Any extra information I learn will be useful, but I want to graduate as soon as possible, so I need to spend as little time as possible in non-required classes.

The three concentrations are apparel design, apparel development, and apparel product management. I am leaning toward design, but my advisor seems to think product management would be better for me. The design concentration prepares students to become designers, while product management is more about running apparel companies. All three concentrations require a few business classes, but if I pick product management I will be only two classes away from a business minor.

I am taking the introductory apparel design class next semester. As a transfer student I am not required to take it, but I think it will be quite useful to me. I will learn a lot about the industry, and I expect the class will help me decide which concentration is right for me.

I have already fulfilled most of my general education requirements, so I may have time for two concentrations. Or I may choose a minor. I am considering Spanish, technical writing, and business administration. Learning another language can be quite useful. I will take a Spanish class next semester, and even if I choose to not minor in it I will take a few more. Quiero aprendar a hablar español. I would rather learn a Chinese dialect, but Stout does not offer any Chinese classes. The other two minors would be nice resume builders too. I will choose a concentration and possibly a minor before registering for spring, 2011 classes. The apparel design and business classes I chose for summer and fall are required for all three concentrations.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

One more shirt and my first portfolio page

The third garment I made for my apparel construction class this semester was a shirt. My instructor felt that the shirt was the most difficult project of the semester. I had a little experience making shirts and none making pants, so I had more difficulty with the pants. I think the hardest part of making a shirt isn’t the actual sewing, it is understanding what to do. I already knew how to make a shirt, so as my classmates struggled to figure out how to make plackets, collars, cuffs, and all the other odd bits I was able to concentrate on getting everything made well.

I think I did a very good job with this shirt. It is far from perfect, but I see consistent improvement with every shirt I make. I had a lot of trouble with sleeve plackets and cuffs on previous shirts, but now those two seem easy. My collar stands are getting better, but they still need a lot of work.

Unlike the previous two projects for my class, this one did not require a fit muslin. We did a tissue fit instead.The torso fit well, and my pattern had neck sizes marked in inches, so those two areas presented no problems. I thought I would have to lengthen the sleeves, but after pinning my pattern to me my instructor said the sleeve length was good. I should have lengthened them. The sleeves on my first shirt were too short and I did not have enough fabric to make new ones. I was ahead of schedule, so instead of making giant cuffs I made a new shirt.

I need an unbleached muslin shirt for my fashion industry class. My plan was to make that shirt after I finished the broadcloth one for apparel construction, but after I gave up on the broadcloth shirt I decided to use the same shirt for both classes. I used a heavyweight muslin that looks quite nice for apparel.

I am not sure where the idea came from, but at some point I found myself thinking that as much as I liked my natural color shirt I would like it even more tie-dyed. Once an idea gets lodged in my head I cannot shake it. The local stores did not have a great selection of dyes, but I think the colors I chose work well together. I am almost done with an undyed shirt for fashion industry.

Every year the apparel design instructors at my school meet with industry representatives to evaluate the program. The most recent feedback they received was that Stout graduates are skilled in the technical areas of apparel design but have difficulty with presentation, communication, and technical writing. The department will try to work on those areas. Most classes will now require students to make some form of presentation. Instead of a final exam for apparel construction, we had to make portfolio pages and present them to the class.

I never made a portfolio page before, I do not know how to use the software usually used for portfolio pages, and there was only one brief lesson in class about how to make a portfolio. My pages for this class did not have to be up to professional standards; the purpose of this assignment was to introduce us to portfolios and presentations. I included photos of the shirt, samples of fabric and notions, and flat drawings of the shirt and some of its more difficult parts. I think my instructor was pleased with my portfolio. Tomorrow I get it back and find out what I did wrong.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sewing with the wrong plumbing

I finished my sociology paper about gender disparity is fashion design schools a few weeks ago. I would have written about it here sooner, but I wanted to wait to until I got it back with a grade and comments from my professor. I got 44 out of 50 points. It is not a very good grade, but I do not think it was a good paper so I can’t complain. I knew what points I wanted to make, and I had a lot of good data, but I had a lot of trouble using sociological concepts to support my arguments. My professor thought I had some good ideas, but he felt I failed to draw strong links between cause and effect.

I can sew a shirt, but I cannot form a proper sociological argument. That’s OK. I want to be a designer, not a sociologist. I enjoyed the class, but if it was not required I would not have taken it. I will not bore you with the full text of my paper; I will just sum up the main points.

Only a small percentage of fashion design students are men. Fewer than 4% of bachelor’s degrees awarded to apparel design students at UW-Stout go to men, and other schools have similar percentages. The fashion industry is generally perceived to be one for women and gay men. Most straight men wish to avoid the stigma of working in such an industry.

While the majority of fashion design students are female, the majority of big name fashion designers are gay men. The fashion industry is one in which success is determined by customer perception. So long as customers believe that gay men are better designers they will have a far greater chance of success than do women and straight men.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Inaccurately labeled fabrics

I had two projects to do for my textiles class this semester. The first project was about labeling laws. I got an A, and I learned a lot about labeling, but I would not say that I had a lot of fun writing about labels. The second project was a lot more enjoyable, but as I applied what I learned from the first project to the second one I became quite angry. Everyone in class was assigned four fabrics for the second project. I got plissé, serge, georgette, and bengaline. I knew nothing about my four fabrics, so I had a lot of work to do.

I had to provide a detailed description and a photo of each fabric. I also needed ads for a products made with each fabric. Fabric swatches were not required, but I thought it would be nice to add them. I could only find plissé and georgette, but that was two more than most people in class included in their projects, so I thought it would be good. It wasn’t.

I had no problems with the photos and descriptions or with ads for serge, georgette, and bengaline products. Most of the “plissé” items I found online did not actually contain plissé. Plissé is made by treating cotton with caustic soda. Most of the “plissé” items I found were actually seersucker or embossed fabric.

My two swatches were from Hancock Fabrics. The fabric sold as plissé was actually embossed. Georgette is a lightweight sheer balanced plain weave with filament crepe yarns. My swatch is a lightweight sheer balanced plain weave with low twist filament yarns. I did not lose any points, but it was still damn embarrassing.

My mistake was thinking that fabrics would be labeled correctly. The labels I wrote about for my first project listed fiber content and care requirements. The FTC has extensive regulations for content and care labels, but there seems to be nothing regulating fabric names. The only thing preventing you from calling seersucker plissé is the potential negative reaction of your customers, and I do not think there are too many people who know the difference.