One semester in…

I am very pleased to announce the start of both our revised website design (www.fashionschool.kent.edu) AND this “Director’s Blog” space for The Fashion School at Kent State University!!

I have had an incredible time settling in and wrapping my brain around all aspects of The Fashion School during my first semester here.  It has certainly been a big transition, coming back to the U.S. from Scotland, reflecting on what I value and have learned from spending four years working in the British academic system as a researcher in digital textile technologies, and how I can use those experiences to inform and understand the goals and objectives for The Fashion School at Kent State.

What an amazing school this is!  Let me tell you about what experiences I have had in this first semester and some of the changes that have already occurred:

Travel/Partnerships/Development: Since I started in July, I have had the opportunity to travel to NYC, Beijing, Hong Kong, Florence, Paris, Seattle, and to spend a bit of time in Cleveland all as a means to explore and enhance partnerships with The Fashion School.

The main building at BIFT

After my initial short trip to visit with Emily Aldredge, the NYC Studio Director, we started the semester by taking all of The Fashion School full-time faculty to our NYC Studio for a two-day faculty ‘retreat’ meeting.  I chose to do this as a way to help us all to better understand the connections and the unique aspects between our Kent Campus and the NYC Studio, using it as an opportunity for all of the Kent faculty to properly meet and get to know the group of industry professionals who have been teaching for The Fashion School at the NYC Studio.  Each of us from Kent stayed in the Chelsmore student apartments, so that we could have a better understanding of what our students are experiencing when they move to NYC to attend the program.  Our first faculty meeting was a pretty strong success, although we had SO much to try and cover that our two-days was not nearly enough.

The formal ceremony for the BIFT 50th Anniversary in Beijing, China

Early in the semester I was invited by the Beijing Institute of Fashion and Technology (BIFT) to give a lecture as part of their 50th Anniversary celebration. This was the second time I had visited BIFT (previously as a visiting scholar) and the event was incredible.  When you consider that the cultural revolution in China was really only just over 60 years ago, it is amazing to think that BIFT has been around for 50 years.  It is a four-year university with undergraduate and graduate degree programs, as well as research projects all focused around fashion disciplines.  The university currently has approximately 8000 students!  Since KSU has a Beijing office, we are now in the process of creating an agreement with BIFT for exchange programs with The Fashion School at Kent State – more on this will come at a later date.

BIFT example of student work

Director of Chinese Academy of Fine Art (CAFA) giving a presentation

The event consisted of a day of presentations from leaders from around the world, then a formal presentation ceremony, followed by an exceptionally produced fashion show presentation of designs inspired by the Chinese Military Tunic; and also had a number of exhibitions of BIFT student and faculty work.

Design studios in HKPolyU - notice the absence of chairs!

While I was in China, I was able to take a short trip down to Hong Kong to visit colleagues at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  Since The Fashion School already sends two student to HKPolyU annually (and accepts two students from HKPolyU to come to the Kent Campus at the same time), I really wanted to see their facilities, meet their faculty and begin conversations on increasing the number of students that we include in our

exchange agreement.  My hope for the near future is to increase the number to five.  HKPolyU has a vast array of industrial design and production technology, including whole garment knitting machines,

HKPolyU sewing/construction studio

looms, yarn development and processing, dyeing, printing and finishing.  Here are some photos of their design studios, their resource library and exhibition space, and some of their digital technologies:

Returning from China and Hong Kong, I briefly landed in Kent before traveling with many of our faculty to the International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) conference, which was held in Seattle this year.  Each year the ITAA holds a juried exhibition of design work submitted by fashion students and faculty from around the world, as well as holds presentations on a full array of research topics in textiles and fashion.  I co-presented some of my research with Andy McDonald (Phd student at the Glasgow School of Art) on ‘generating kinetic experiences in collaborative textile design’ as well as spoke as part of a panel (along with Dr. Sherry

HKPolyU resource library and exhibition space

Schofield-Tomschin from The Fashion School) on research methods and structures for the design-based disciplines in fashion.  This gave me a chance to publicly talk about our ambitions to propose and create a graduate level Doctor of Design program in Fashion at Kent State, which spurred some very interesting debate!

Following ITAA, I was off to our NYC studio to hold our Advisory Group Forum, which had excellent attendance, including participants like Fern Mallis, the Vice President of IMG that produces the NYC Fashion Week presentations; CEO and President Bob Glick of Dots Stores; Love Goel, Venture Capitalist in fashion and

Plaza in Florence - notice the "No Fakes" product sign

technology businesses; Linda Allard, long term designer for Ellen Tracy; and many of our supporters and alumni who are making an impact in the industry.

Straight from NYC, I continued on to Europe to visit our campus (KSUF) in Florence at the Palazzo de Cerchi.  What an amazing place!  Not only was I able to tour the facility, but also spent a good amount of time talking to the KSUF Director (Marcello Fantoni), the KSUF staff, and our group of Fashion School students to gain a better understanding of what is working and what isn’t in our Florence Program.  My goal is to allow our study away locations to have their own identities

Shoes on display at the Prada store in Florence

in terms of the courses we offer at these locations, so that our students who study away can take best advantage of what each location has to offer.  Here are a few photos of the KSUF facility and surrounding locations:

After Florence came Paris to meet with Peter Carman, the President of our partnering organization, the Paris American Academy (PAA – http://parisamericanacademy.fr/).  We have already been working with PAA to conduct summer study tour experiences, and starting summer

KSUF Palazzo de Cerchi view from the mezzanine into a studio

2011 will be able to have our Fashion School students (or anyone else who wants to enroll at KSU) go to the PAA to take officially approved KSU courses.  The beauty of PAA is that they have a direct connection to Paris couture design and marketing channels, especially through their work with Madame Piccoult, who often conducts demonstrations on couture fabric manipulation techniques in their courses.  Examples of some previous student work

are shown below, as well as some great views of their facility and surroundings.

Paris American Academy building

Examples of student work done in workshops at PAA

In between these bigger trips, I got a chance to go to Columbus and meet with the CEOs and Presidents of Pink (a Victoria Secret company as part of the Limited) and Justice (Tween Brands).  They have since become active members of our Fashion School Advisory Board.  I also met with long term supporters of The Fashion School from Cleveland, who helped connect me to having a conversation with Ohio’s Lt. Governor, Lee Fisher, regarding our initiatives/goals with technology, namely the “TechStyleLAB” concept I have been working on.

TechStyleLAB: We are making some progress with the technology lab use in The Fashion School.  Although I haven’t yet been able to start constructing a space to bring all of our larger-scale digital output devices into one space, we have started using some of the equipment more actively, by connecting to both students and business customers.  Two senior design students will be using some of their own digitally printed designs in their senior collections this year.  In addition, we have been doing quite a bit of printing for a Chagrin-based company called Rebecca Ray Designs.  They are a lifestyle business, focused mostly on equestrians,

TechStyleLAB - Rebecca Ray scarf design, digitally printing on silk satin

producing bags, scarves and accessories that include digitally printed vintage images on fabrics.  The great thing about this partnership, is that we are able to keep our digital textile printing machinery active, covering costs of running the equipment as well as gaining insights into how external designers are making use of the technology.  Rebecca Ray Designs is an ideal example of what I want to create the TechStyleLAB for.  They are using the technology to be able to produce a wide range of products on-demand, without holding a large inventory.  On a weekly basis, they send us the images that they need to have printed based on their product orders; we print them with a 1 – 2 week turnaround, sending the digitally printed fabric to them in Chagrin where they are able to have their products sewn/assembled by women who are part of the Amish community in their area.  The Amish women are sewing these digitally printed fabrics into bags and accessories by using non-electric treadle sewing machines!  They can deal with larger orders by asking more women from the community to participate in the sewing.  In this way, Rebecca Ray Designs are able to design and produce all of their products locally in Ohio!  We hope to be able to continue building these types of customer relationships, with a broader range of the technologies, where students from The Fashion School can sometimes participate in the design and construction processes.  Additionally, students and faculty can conduct their own research explorations with the tools and support that will continue to grow in the TechStyleLAB environment.

NYC Studio: Starting Spring 2010, the faculty approved some special topic courses to allow the Design studio courses at the NYC Program to be more customized to their location.  We are working on the process of setting the core objectives that need to be covered in courses at the NYC studio for junior-level students, but the goal will be to allow the professional instructors at the NYC Studio to modify the approaches to the core objectives as a way to better meet the needs/skills and environment of the NYC Studio.

A second big change, which we are just now announcing, is that beginning Summer 2010, The Fashion School’s NYC Studio is transitioning out of KSU-arranged housing with the Chelsmore apartments. In place of KSU-arranged housing, students will have the option of individually reserving student housing through Educational Housing Services (EHS) at http://www.studenthousing.org. The Fashion School believes that EHS is a favorable choice for New York City student housing while completing studies at the NYC Studio or participating in summer internships. EHS has opened new facilities in NYC recently and offers a broader range of costing and living options, as well as support features such as gyms and lounges, which make the overall value for their housing options more versatile.  Here is the quote from EHS:

“From its inception in 1987, Educational Housing Services, Inc. (EHS) http://www.studenthousing.org/ has committed itself to providing safe, affordable and innovative off-campus housing solutions for students, many of whom have traveled across America and from over 50 countries worldwide to study here. Each residence features 24-hour security and on-site staff support, fully furnished rooms, and the amenities that students expect and parents appreciate. In the process, we have become the foremost resource for quality privatized student housing in New York City, serving more than 5,000 students and summer interns each year. Residential activities, as well as many special events in and around the city, inspire students to discover their vital new living community and the wonders of New York City safely and affordably.”

KSU Florence: I have also implemented some changes to the KSUF experience that we believe will be more efficient and will allow the Florence Program for The Fashion School to be unique, rather than having students travel

Palazzo de Cerchi lecture hall

to Florence to take the same courses from KSU faculty that they would be taking at the Kent Campus. Starting in November, I asked Emily Aldredge of the NYC Studio to

15th Century frescoes in Palazzo de Cerchi

also become the coordinator for our other international study away programs, so Emily will be coordinating and supporting the KSUF program in the future.  Beginning Fall of 2010, we will be hiring a number of Florence-based instructors to teach courses for the fashion program, as well as hiring a local (on-site) advisor to support our students who travel to KSUF and participate in the program.  We will still be requiring students to take our Florence preparatory course prior to going to KSUF, and will be sending full time faculty from KSU to visit Florence at least twice during the semester to provide insight and support to students, faculty and staff at the Palazzo de Cerchi.

Construction: In Rockwell Hall, we are in dire need of more (and more effective) classroom space.  As such, I commissioned two small construction projects that took place over the Christmas Holiday Break.  First we converted room 328 back into a classroom (which is already being used this semester for our Sustainability course).  All of the digital embroidery equipment, including our two 15-head embroidery machines, were removed from 328 and placed in a newly created room inside of 324 (the design/illustration studio).  The front section of room 324 was walled off to create a usable space for storing and employing the use of the larger and the personal embroidery machines.

Next, we redesigned the layout of the computer lab on the third floor and added ten more computers into the space.  This is both to allow for a few more students in class and/or to allow open space for a few students to use computers in the back of the classroom when other classes are in session.

New room added in 324 Rockwell Hall

On the first floor, we removed the digital textile printer temporarily into the computer lab as a means to expand room 122 into a much larger space.  To do this, we pulled the front section of the wall out to be parallel to the hallway, and removed an internal closet that was part of the footprint for the room.  For the rest of this academic year, room 122 will be used as a space for the TechStyleLAB technologies, but beginning Fall 2010, it will likely become a scheduled classroom.

Construction in room 122 Rockwell

We are continuing to grow at alarming rates in The Fashion School, which makes it a bit hard to fit everything in at times; but this is a good problem to have!

Graduate Program: All of these other activities have made it a bit hard to progress too far on the graduate program proposal, but it is in process.  We hope to have the first round proposal submitted for approval before the end of this semester.  Stay tuned.

Curriculum: I have already started calling this the ‘semester of curriculum revision’ as we have been meeting to think both radically and sequentially about what changes and improvements we would like to make to the design and merchandising curricula.  Nothing in academia can move too quickly with curriculum changes, but I think we are on a good path towards creating a curriculum that works to inspire future activities in the fashion industry.

So… one semester in: We have accomplished quite a bit!  It has been an exciting time, and I am sure that there is much more to come!  I am really looking forward to seeing how the changes in the fashion show production will play out this year.  As an entirely student run production, the student-producers have a very big task at hand, but also have the opportunity to make it a fabulous new departure for The Fashion School as a whole.  The learning experiences embedded in pursuing and making all of the decisions for producing the show will result in key skills that can be applied in anyone’s career.  I encourage all students to get involved!

That was a super long post… six months in the waiting… but now that we have a new starting point for our Fashion School website, and this blog is live, I can start posting things more often and in smaller chunks.  Please, check back often.

Best Regards,

J.R.

Full gallery of images for “One semester in…”:

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