The School of Fashion has introduced four new comprehensive Fashion Merchandising degree programs created to give students a competitive edge in today's dynamic and ever-changing marketplace.

Words by Namrata Loka
Images created in FSH 391 Product Styling taught by Teresa Merenda

Photography by Nicolas Gutierrez, MFA Photography. Styling by Enrique Terrones, BFA Visual Merchandising, and Tuba Syed, BFA Visual Merchandising. Shirt and jacket, Zara.

Photography by Nicolas Gutierrez, MFA Photography. Styling by Enrique Terrones, BFA Visual Merchandising, and Tuba Syed, BFA Visual Merchandising. Shirt and jacket, Zara.

Photography by Jeffry Raposas. Styling by Jisoo Hong, BFA Fashion Merchandising. Nail polish, Formula X.

Photography by Jeffry Raposas. Styling by Jisoo Hong, BFA Fashion Merchandising. Nail polish, Formula X.

We have all heard that fashion is at a crossroads. That the rules of engagement have changed, the patterns of consumption have shifted, and the industry’s structure has been deemed arcane and disrupted. Welcome to 2017 where fast fashion challenges profitability of luxury and social media redefines the ranks of fashion’s elites. Some experts point to the rapid succession of creative directorship at major creative houses as a sign of a broken system; others herald a more democratic style era, a new golden age for fashion. No matter the prognostications, how should the industry best prepare for what is around the corner?

Amidst these changes, Academy of Art University continues to uphold its long-standing commitment to nurture the next generation of visionary creative professionals. In the spring of 2016, the School of Fashion introduced new undergraduate and graduate degrees in the Fashion Merchandising program: Fashion Merchandising and Management, Visual Merchandising, Product Development, and Marketing and Brand Management. “This is an interesting and challenging time for both the industry and the students, with an emphasis on what’s next,” says Jinah Oh, Director of Fashion Merchandising, who believes these well-rounded programs and their graduates provide long-term value.

Forrester, the world’s leading business advisory company, proclaimed this time as The Age Of The Customer. Instant gratification and experiential retail are shaping the future of fashion. These new programs empower students to think like creatives and work like analysts. Comprehensive classroom instruction is supplemented with rigorous hands-on training to test-drive industry scenarios. “The expected outcome is that students can efficiently strategize based on thorough analysis of trends, figure out what is next, and stay competitive,” notes Oh.

Photography by Jeffry Raposas. Styling by Jiyue Yang, BFA Fashion Styling.

One example of an immersive learning experience created for our students is SHOP657, the Academy’s retail store near Union Square in San Francisco that retails product by alumni, students, and faculty. Fashion Merchandising and Visual Merchandising students get firsthand knowledge of retail by working with this concept store on different assignments. “In FSH 307 Visual Merchandising Window Concepts class, the final project was to design and install holiday windows at SHOP657,” explains Steve Petersen, full-time instructor in Visual Merchandising.

Intra-school collaborations provide hands-on opportunities as well. Students taking the FSH 637 Product Sourcing and Assortment course acted as buyers for the final products created by students in the FSH 350 Private Label Product Development. A practical cross-functional approach like this exposes students to the real demands and expectations of the industry. Students identified problems and created solutions increasing their ability to continuously adapt, improve, and successfully work as a team. “From inspiration to acquisition, students are encouraged to innovate as they formulate, research, and produce their ideas,” says Oh.

Photography by Jayce Park, BFA Photography. Styling by Chaw Chaw Su San, BFA Fashion Styling. Shoe, Saint & Libertine.

Photography by Danielle Rueda, MFA Photography. Styling by Nakia Pleasant, BFA Fashion Styling, and Irene Kim, BFA2 Visual Merchandising. Sunglasses by Prada and Ray Ban.

“Not too long ago, a good marketer knew how to reach consumers using magazines, TV, and direct mail. Today’s top talent must be fluent in social media, search, and email marketing, everything that drives visits to e-commerce stores and produces ever-increasing sales,” notes instructor Andrew Hagenbuch. “Students in FSH 348 Interactive Marketing build a digital marketing campaign for a fashion brand of their choice using everything they’ve learned during the term,” notes Hagenbuch.

"In FSH 638 Product Line Development, class students create a capsule collection for a brand and take it through every stage of product development including concept and line development, sourcing materials, costing, and manufacturing,” explains Andrea Skillings, Program Coordinator for Product Development. “Students work in a collaborative manner answering questions such as ‘Is this product right for the customer?’ and ‘Is it deliverable at the right cost?’ and make decisions as a team.”

Whether pursuing an Academy degree online or onsite, students benefit from interactive technology, one-on-one attention, and support from dedicated faculty of industry professionals informed and powered by the latest developments coming out of the Silicon Valley. Here, startups like Cuyana, Electroloom, Everlane, and ThredUP are proof that fashion technology is a burgeoning future-oriented industry. Smart fabrics, high performance clothing, wearable tech, and in-app purchase solutions are among the myriad of opportunities open in this segment. Technology education is a crucial aspect of every Academy course. “We are launching two classes, Computerized Product Development and Product Manufacturing and Sourcing which utilize Product Life Management, a computerized database used to manage the lifecycle of a style from concept to production quickly and efficiently,” shared Skillings. A holistic approach to Fashion Business education is what gives Academy students an indispensable competitive edge in today’s dynamic market. “I am interested to see what initiatives and concepts this generation creates with the tools we educators have taught them,” adds Oh, “and to watch them as they revolutionize our industry.” `

Photography by Jeffry Raposas, BFA Photography. Styling by Yuna Choi, BFA Fashion Merchandising. All products, stylist's own.