- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2007

At age 19, Ryan Wilkins of Crystal City already has his own clothing line, but he realized he needed to develop some business skills before he could open his own store.

Fortunately, the college he was attending, the Art Institute of Washington in Arlington, introduced a bachelor’s degree in fashion and retail management in January. He signed up as a second-year student to learn how to open a high-fashion clothing store in the District, which he plans to expand internationally.

“It combines the business and fashion aspects, and you learn about all the industries in fashion,” Mr. Wilkins says.

The Art Institute of Washington is a year-round college that trains its 1,400 students in the applied creative arts, allowing them to graduate in three years instead of the traditional four.

The college’s fashion and retail management program combines courses in business, fashion and design to prepare students for careers in the fashion and retail industry, such as in manufacturing, retail management, buying and merchandising, fashion publicity and business ownership.

“It’s a very career-oriented program, and it gives the students a very practical, very focused, very marketable education,” says Lisa Amans, instructor and chairwoman of the fashion and retail management program.

Thirty students signed up for the program during the winter quarter and another 30 in the spring quarter, Ms. Amans says.

“The school has been able to notice a significant market for this type of student,” she says. “It’s an untapped market. Not a lot of schools have similar degrees, though some have fashion design degrees.”

Sharnice Breeden, a second-year student at the college, switched from interior design to the fashion and retail management program as soon as she found out about it.

“This area definitely needs a program like this,” says Miss Breeden, 20. “This is a big market for retail. If people want to study it, they shouldn’t have to leave the area to do it.”

Another option for students like Miss Breeden is to travel to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology’s fashion merchandising management program. Students there learn merchandising, marketing, product development, retailing and business skills to prepare them for careers in buying, planning, merchandising and product development.

“We have everything geared toward fashion merchandising or fashion management,” says Robin Sackin, chairwoman of the fashion merchandising management department. “We train students to really understand what the business is all about. They work in it. They are taught by professionals in it. … What makes us different is everybody who teaches has been in the industry, and we have close ties to the industry.”

At the Art Institute of Washington, students take courses in business, marketing, visual merchandising and general education. In the business track, for example, they take introduction to retailing, business ownership, finance and accounting. Their marketing courses include consumer behavior, marketing research and public relations. The courses they take in visual merchandising include textiles, apparel evaluation and construction, and inventory management and control.

“The clothing and the presentation of the product is what they get in these merchandising courses,” Ms. Amans says. “Visual merchandising can best be described as what combination of aesthetics brings consumers into the store and helps them navigate through the store.”

The aesthetics of a store includes the physical layout, merchandise placement, and color and lighting scheme, all designed to create store image, Ms. Amans says.

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