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Apparel Design and Merchandising Students Prepare for Fashion Careers

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By Kelsey Chase | Photo by Luke Rutan

Apparel Design and Merchandising Students Prepare for Fashion CareersJennifer Ciriaco practices draping. Every year students put together a fashion show and portfolio exhibition to showcase their work for potential employers.
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Whether it’s working behind the scenes on a New York City runway, conducting one of the University’s first-ever fashion research projects, or designing the plunging back of an elegant 1920s-style gown, students in Seattle Pacific University’s Apparel Design and Merchandising program are redefining what it means to be a fashion major.

“The fashion industry is very competitive,” says Raedene Copeland, assistant professor of fashion merchandising. “But I tell my students: You can achieve anything you want. It’s 75 percent attitude, 25 percent skill.”

Originally an offshoot of Home Economics, the Apparel Design and Merchandising program in SPU’s Family and Consumer Sciences Department offers specialized tracks in fashion merchandising and apparel design. When people hear fashion, they think designing clothes and being a model, says fashion merchandising major Jordan Juliussen ’14. But SPU requires its clothing and textiles students to take business classes as well. “We become retail experts, understanding all aspects of the fashion business,” she says.

Juliussen spent her senior year studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City through a liaison program with SPU. In addition to completing an associate’s degree in merchandising management, she worked as a wholesale intern for Halston, sitting in on sales meetings with department stores and picking looks for magazines such as Marie Claire and Vogue.

She’s learned it’s not just hard work that pays off, but that spontaneity can, too. Recognizing America’s Next Top Model judge Kelly Cutrone in a restaurant just days after her arrival in New York City, Juliussen introduced herself and landed a spot doing runthroughs with models and testing runway lighting for New York Fashion Week. “I sat with her in the director’s booth during the show,” Juliussen adds. “It was an unreal experience.”

Copeland admits that current trends don’t always align with Christian values but believes equipping her students with business skills and ethics allows them to offer an alternative perspective. “You need Christians in this industry,” she says, “to run good businesses and to combat issues like child labor.”

“We become retail experts, understanding all aspects of the fashion business.”

Junior Brooke Holt agrees. The apparel design major is conducting a qualitative research study on the effects of fitted athletic apparel on body image and hopes her research will be published next year. A residence hall ministry coordinator, Holt is excited about the opportunity to combine her love for people and for clothes.

Her designs, often in grey and black, favor simple geometric detail and flattering, angular cuts. “As a Christian I have a responsibility to respect and praise God’s creation,” she says. “I can be a witness in the fashion industry and still supply you with clothing you love.”

With students placed at Butch Blum, Luly Yang, J. Crew, and GQ magazine, SPU’s Apparel Design and Merchandising program turns out professionals confident in their skills and their faith. And Juliussen, who’s long dreamed of being a buyer for Nordstrom, accepted a corporate internship with the company this spring and plans to sign on as an assistant buyer next year.