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The University of Minnesota’s Elizabeth Bye and Lucy Dunne Talk About Teaching Fashion Design for the U-S, 3rd World Countries....and Outer Space

Written by FS StaffJuly 22, 2013
University of Minnesota’s College of Design

It’s not just about the runway.  The University of Minnesota’s College of Design is a comprehensive program, that not only teaches its aspiring designers to dress a model, but students learn to develop wearable products, for real bodies and real people.

Students have access to state of the art design technology right on campus.  And, the Twin Cities offer a wealth of resources to tap into for design inspiration, including the Goldstein Museum of Design and the Walker Art Museum.

An Apparel Design degree prepares students for careers as designers, patternmakers, colorists, costume designers and more.  This 2013 graduate announced her new job in her blog on the school’s website, saying, “Well, I have officially accepted a position as an assistant designer for a small local swimwear company. I am very excited about the opportunity and can't wait to start!”

Did You Know.... Academy of Art University’s School of Fashion offers BFA's in Fashion, Fashion Merchandising, Textile Design, Fashion Marketing, Fashion Styling, Costume Design, and Fashion Product Development. Learn more.

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To learn more about the program at the University of Minnesota College of Design, we talked to Dr. Elizabeth Bye, Professor and Department Head of the Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel, and Program Director and Associate professor, Dr. Lucy Dunne.

FS:  Please give us some of the highlights of your Apparel Design program?

UM: Our students develop both creative and technical skills using a research-based design process that prepares them to be leaders in the apparel and textile industry. We have a strong emphasis on functional apparel design, and students learn both traditional and high-tech methods of design and manufacturing. Students have the advantage of being in a small, highly selective program at a large research university. Individual attention, building strong relationships with faculty and peers while having access to world class faculty, undergraduate research opportunities, and interdisciplinary projects makes learning in the College of Design exceptional.

FS:  Can you highlight some of the special coursework the University of Minnesota offers to its students pursuing a degree in fashion design?

UM:  Our functional design class introduces students to designing wearable products for performance and safety, and to the emerging field of e-textiles and smart clothing. Our students have designed new wearable technology for NASA (no one ever dreamed that as a student in apparel design that you would be traveling to Houston to present your design work!), thermal wear for 3M, and active wear for Nike. Many schools offer digital patternmaking coursework, but our students develop designs in 3D, on scans of their own bodies!  Opportunities for service learning, including manufacturing products for girls’ orphanages in Uganda and India, drive home the concept that apparel is one of our basic needs-not just a frivolous pursuit. Coursework emphasizing production and technical design gives students the skills to be able to make the leap from creating one garment in a class to producing their own line commercially.

FS:  To what degree is it essential or beneficial for students to have existing knowledge of fashion or design?  And, which skills do you consider to be most critical for a career in fashion?

UM:  Students need to have strong curiosity, tenacity, good creative and spatial thinking skills, and a willingness to work hard. Many of our students come in without sewing or drawing experience or an understanding of textiles-we are prepared to support students as they develop new skills and expand their understanding of apparel design.

FS: Tell us about opportunities on campus or in professional partnerships, where your future designers can showcase their work?

UM:  Students present an annual senior fashion show that involves students from across the college and presents the work from all levels of the program. The show kicks off MNFashion week. There is a thriving design community that provides many opportunities for students that includes MNFashion, the Textile Center, Fashion Group, the Goldstein Museum of Design, the Walker Art Museum, and the American Craft Council. The Twin Cities has a rich theater community, following just behind New York in the number of theaters. Students also showcase their work through course collaborations, and through national exhibitions and design competitions.

FS:  What would the students in your program cite as the "best" parts of the fashion program?

UM:  Great studio space, access to new technology, an historic costume collection in the building and professors who challenge, listen and support. Because our program is small and selective, each class is a tightly-knit cohort of talented students who inspire and challenge each other. Faculty is able to attend to the needs and interests of each student individually.

FS:  Are internships a requirement?

UM:  Internships are a requirement. A number of students work with local designers or large local and regional companies. Many students do national or international internships with great success over the summer or during a study abroad semester.

FS:  What do you think the future of fashion holds?  And, how are you addressing these needs in your program?

UM: We will be designing innovative ways to improve the quality of life, from what we wear at work and play to how we express ourselves, while respecting our natural resources and human dignity. New technology is central to many of these developments, and that is a particular strength of our program.

FS:  What advice would you give to aspiring fashionistas?

UM:  Aspire to be a great designer-one who really understands the people you are serving, and has a strong awareness of the world. Be curious, make mistakes, and develop your own point of view. Never stop learning.

Check out more interviews at the Fashion School Interview Series.