- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - After a week of handling merchandise worth millions at the 2012 PGA Championship, Stephens College graduate Caroline Sheridan decided that fashion goes beyond designer clothes or labels.

“From a sporting side,” Sheridan told the Columbia Missourian (https://bit.ly/1F3XjEV ), “I mean, it’s huge.”

During a seven-week internship with the PGA, Sheridan worked with 34 vendors, meshing her studies in fashion marketing and management with her passion for golf.

“It was just like a dream come true,” she said. “To be able to blend the two together and find something that really was a great fit.”

After graduating two years ago, Sheridan continued to work in the sports fashion industry. She’s now full time with the PGA in its merchandising and membership offices, dealing with big-name wholesalers such as Nike and Under Armour on a regular basis.

“I felt very prepared from what I learned at Stephens,” Sheridan said. “It really teaches and leads us to a path of what we will be doing for the next four years.”

Sheridan and others in the School of Design at Stephens say the collaborative, trade-based courses led by a staff of industry professionals prepare them well for the rapidly changing fashion business.

In December, the program was ranked among some of the top 50 fashion schools in the world.

Students can choose to specialize in fashion communication, marketing and management, or design and product development. In each, students learn a variety of skills, from writing business plans to making shoes.

These skills prepare students for jobs as technical or associate designers with brands such as Rebecca Taylor, or to develop their own companies and labels. Some venture into media or public relations professions as event planners, staff writers and graphic designers. Others serve the business side of fashion as brand and customer service analysts or merchandisers.

As a member merchandising account executive for PGA, Sheridan said one of her most useful classes was a retail math course that taught her how to negotiate and talk business with clients.

“I am constantly speaking with wholesalers on a national and global level,” Sheridan said. “It has given me the foundation for everything that I do from a day-to-day basis.”

Beyond the core classes, students can refine a career path with electives such as “Crafting Sustainable Community.” Each year, students in this course use materials, from plastic bags to takeout boxes, to create dresses that promote breast cancer awareness.

Caroline Bartek, a product development instructor at Stephens, said the dedication to providing students a range of real-world experiences in the classroom is what sets Stephens apart.

“These students are able to leave school and be fully prepared to cover any area of their interest,” Bartek said. “It’s much more an industry, hands-on experience that really gives them the creativity and flexibility to explore what they’re interested in.”

Students must complete an internship before they graduate. In the past eight years, they have landed positions around the country and as far afield as Nairobi and London.

No matter the location, Bartek said, the internships keep students conversant with fashion.

“It’s always about staying on top of the industry,” she said. “It changes so fast. For us, it’s an expectation and a part of what we teach to stay in the know.”

For fashion communication senior Hailey Johnson, an internship experience with the Co Report, an online fashion and beauty publication based in New York, solidified her interest in menswear.

So when Johnson started her senior capstone project, she funneled that interest into writing and designing MANIMALISTIC, her self-produced men’s culture magazine.

“It’s not your typical menswear magazine,” Johnson said. “It talks about fashion, film, literature, music, art and photography, as opposed to hot girls and cars and technology.”

Although creating the magazine was an intensive process, Johnson said the experience was eye-opening.

“As much as it stressed me out,” she said, “it really showed me how important it is to have a lot of different skills and to be able to do these things.”

The coursework culminates in Stephens College’s annual student designer fashion show with full collections from graduating seniors and individual pieces from juniors. This year’s show was held in multiple time slots on April 25.

Each year, student models display everything from formal gowns to hand-crafted shoes that have been carefully selected for the show by a jury of fashion professionals.

Fashion communication students such as Johnson work on sponsorships and publicity, while students in the other two majors at Stephens design the garments, organize the collections and style the models for the show.

Sheryl Farnan, an instructor who joined the college in January and was one of this year’s show coordinators, said the event is a reflection of the teamwork required in the fashion world.

“For every named designer that’s out there, there are thousands of people working behind them,” Farnan said. “Just because you don’t see their name on the label doesn’t mean they aren’t successful.”

She also said the event speaks to the complexity of fashion as an industry. For the students, it is an opportunity to tap into the full creative process that goes into taking an idea and turning it into a marketable product.

“Fashion is a really narrow category of the clothing world,” Farnan said. “If you think broader, everything has a certain clothing component to it. Clothing really touches every part of our lives.”

For Bartek, the fashion show offers the chance to experience all of the concepts the students studied for four years. As a result, she said, the students are more prepared for the fast pace of the industry.

“Knowing the program and the students that come out of the program,” Bartek said, “they do feel like they can kind of conquer anything.”

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Information from: Columbia Missourian, https://www.columbiamissourian.com

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