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Fashion industry has designs on NMSU students

To even attempt to succeed in the fashion industry, a person needs talent, style, design skills and ? knowledge of basic chemistry?


Miss New Mexico 2012 modeling outfit designed by NMSU student
Jessica Martin, Miss New Mexico 2012, models an outfit designed by NMSU student Jamie McClure. (photo, Marcos Gurrola)

New Mexico State University's Clothing, Textiles and Fashion Merchandising program takes teaching the industry part of the fashion industry seriously in order to prepare students for the real world of clothing design.

"Students don't understand the scope of what they have to do in fashion," said Melinda Chavez, assistant professor in the Clothing, Textiles and Fashion Merchandising program. "They think it will be really fun, easy classes. Then they get into this program and say, 'Oh my gosh.'"

Oh my gosh, indeed. Incoming freshman are immediately informed that the program requires taking courses in accounting, statistics, algebra and chemistry, as well as marketing or management. That's in addition to design courses that teach apparel construction and patterning.

"Our design courses intertwine with marketing management courses because students have to learn how to run the business," said Roselyn Smitley, an associate professor with the program. "A designer without a business background will fail. We give students an option. After they learn the basics of design, they can elect to swing to apparel design or swing toward management or marketing; in such a case they will end up with their electives in the business department. But buyers today also must know how to construct garments and at some level be able to design because of the private brands stores are carrying."

The Clothing, Textiles and Fashion Merchandising program is part of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. The program currently has more than 100 students. Those students who choose to go the business route can take elective classes in retail management, human resources management and marketing. Students opting for the apparel design route are offered electives in draping, pattern making and advanced apparel techniques.

As for the chemistry requirement, a core class in the program is textile science, where students learn textiles characteristics and applications.

"We require chemistry so students can understand the class," Smitley said, adding that some of the program's students have gone on to graduate schools to learn more about textiles science.

While Chavez and Smitley called their program a "hidden gem" to the general public, the fashion industry is taking notice. Neiman Marcus in Las Vegas regularly picks an NMSU student for its management trainee program. In fact, all three management trainee slots at the high-end department store chain went to NMSU students this year.

"I think this program is one of the better ones in most universities," Chavez said. "Where can you get such a good deal? It's just wonderful. A lot of students don't realize it ? or maybe they do now because they're coming."

The students themselves also are bringing attention to the Clothing, Textiles and Fashion Merchandising program. Undergraduate student Jamie McClure has received notice this movie award season by reaching the final five in the Adrianna Papell for E! Live from the Red Carpet competition. The wining design will be revealed this Sunday at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. McClure's design was chosen as a finalist from among 700 entrants.

Smitley said McClure is dividing her studies solidly between apparel design and business. The junior has been interning at Old Navy.

"If she wants to design, my advice to her would be to stay with Old Navy until graduation and then join the management training program the company offers, because from there she can branch out, because the company has a private branding division," Smitley said. "But she'll have to compete heavily."

Competition is something the Clothing, Textiles and Fashion Merchandising program deals with constantly. The four-year degree program has to compete with four-year programs throughout the United States.

In today's competitive environment, Smitley said, having a four-year degree offers students flexibility in choosing career paths in the fashion industry. Many corporations today prefer management trainees with a four-year degree in order to help them facilitate the ever-changing requirements of the fashion industry.