School is In

April has been a busy month for fashion schools. As the semester inched to a close, graduating design students spent their last weeks frantically wrapping up final collections for the runway.

Student fashion shows are a common event around Toronto thanks to a number of secondary schools with fashion design programs. Ryerson University hosts the largest and the oldest student-run show with Mass Exodus (shout out to Pay Homage by Anabel for the photo below). It blends three fashion programs in carrying off the event from front of house to back. Fun fact – it’s also one of the few (only?) fashion shows to occur in a hockey arena.

Mass Exodus

Seneca, Humber and George Brown Colleges also exhibit student work through runway shows and exhibitions. Showcasing your fledgling brand is an important step as a young designer. I worked with London, Ontario’s Fanshawe College for many years as a guest judge during their annual student show, UNBOUND.

Winning academic accolades for a collection can often kick start a career. Sebastian Guarin, who won Best Collection at Fanshawe in 2014 explained. “Winning the David Dixon Award for Best Collection helped validate my point of view as a designer,” he said. “And helped get my foot in the door…in terms of legitimate recognition.”

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Atelier Guarin

As a student designer, figuring out how to translate your design vision into great looking clothes is only part of your task. These shows often bring out high profile industry professionals who have both advice and opportunity to share. It’s on the student to take advantage of these networking opportunities. With a little perseverance they can earn a leg up to start their own label, as Sebastian found in launching Atelier Guarin  after graduation. “I was able to feel part of the industry right away,” Guarin noted.

Not all fashion industry leaders recommend starting a label fresh out of school. Steven Kolb, the CEO of Council of Fashion Designers of America, has been advising students to work for someone else for at least six or seven years before starting their own brand. Essentially, he’s suggesting they learn the business on someone else’s dime. The business of fashion.

That phrase, the business of fashion, is getting a lot of play these days. There’s good reason. Central Saint Martins captured the state of the industry well:

“With the explosion of new media over the last 10 years, the fashion industry has been democratized. Opportunities in fashion are no longer primarily focused on the role of designer.”

Things are changing, and they’re changing at warp speed. Fashion has been blown wide open with the influx of Wall Street finance and Silicon Valley technology. The conversation on global supply chain is gaining more traction that should help bring accountability to fast fashion. In a few years the entire retail sector – and perhaps even the fashion calendar – may look vastly different.

Enter Centennial College’s Fashion Business & Management program. Full disclosure: I was not paid for this article, but I am a paid employee of Centennial as program coordinator and part-time professor. This program is the reason I am.

The two-year Fashion Business & Management diploma program will teach students how to demonstrate business acumen across finance, communications, human resources and ethics. As well, students will drill down into all areas in the lifecycle of fashion – product development, sourcing and manufacturing, retail, marketing and media. Every step of the way the way they’ll experience the latest innovations in technology and sustainability. In fact, every student enrolled in the program will receive a brand new iPad.

We are committed to bringing relevance to our curriculum with program advisors and faculty who are who still embedded in the industry. These individuals have diverse experience – from Odessa Paloma Parker, fashion editor at The Globe and Mail – who also helped bring this program to life last year – to Tomas Romita, founder of MADE Custom Clothing.

Tomas Romita, founder of MADE Custom Clothing

Tomas Romita, founder of MADE Custom Clothing

Last week we enlisted the help of more advisors to be in a soon-t0-be-released video touting the program. It featured Shopgirls owner Michelle Germain, industry vet Marlene Shiff, designer Jennifer Fukushima and factory owner Kathy Cheng. (See it first! Stay tuned to the @TheFList on Twitter and Instagram.) I’ll share more about our other program advisors and faculty soon.

This is an exciting phase in fashion, and I’m quite proud to help further the education of the industry’s next generation. Check out the program detail on Centennial’s website and stay tuned to the F-List for new developments.

For more information on Centennial’s Fashion Business & Management program and admission requirements, click here. Have a specific question? Feel free to contact me directly at lbutler at centennialcollege dot ca.

Danier Does it Again with the Design Challenge

In marketing, they say it always starts with the kids. Four years ago Danier initiated a design challenge with Ryerson University’s School of Fashion that would allow third year students to demonstrate their fashion chops. In return for creating an original women’s leather garment design, a handful of students had a chance at seeing their garment put into production for Danier stores, a paid summer internship and cold hard cash.

At that time the concept of designer collaborations was still relatively new. But sure enough, a series of successful collabs with notable names from Canada’s fashion industry quickly followed – Winnipeg-born, London-based Mark Fast, Toronto’s Greta Constantine and Philip Sparks and stylist George Antonopoulos. (That’s me wearing Greta Constantine’s SKIN for Danier on the left; George Antonopoulos’ OBJECT line on the right.)

Just as school returned to session this month, I stopped by Ryerson to see this year’s design challenge winner revealed and catch up with Olga Koel, Danier’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer.

“Getting students to create something commercially viable was our initial goal, but it has evolved to focus more on the creativity and innovation,” she remarked. “We want to encourage these students creativity, help them understand leather.”

Oh, there is creativity alright. This year’s winner demonstrated some sick design skills. The fact that young Ostwald Au-Yeung was unavailable for comment or a congratulatory handshake speaks volumes: he was finishing a design internship in Hong Kong. 

I have a hunch Ostwald is not long for this land. As we see often in Canada, talent like this either gets snapped up quickly or itches for bigger experiences than they can enjoy here. And with talent like this, I would rather see him rubbing elbows with another next big thing. 

World domination, Ostwald, it’s yours for the making.