Finding the Perfect College Fit in Fashion Merchandising

The fashion industry is a vibrant, lucrative, and multifaceted career path--provided you set the stage for success during your undergraduate years.

Working in the fashion industry was a dream come true for me. I was always passionate about style and clothing, had a great fashion sense, lots of creativity, and a true love of people. Being able to use this skill set on a daily basis and call it a career was a win-win!

The fashion industry is a vibrant market, employing more than four million people in the United States. It is a lucrative and multifaceted business—provided you set the stage for success during your undergraduate years.   

The key, in my opinion, is to first secure a foundation across various disciplines within a liberal arts education, which provide a broad platform from which to launch your fashion career.

My own path started with a B.A. from a well-established university, where I enrolled in a range of interdisciplinary courses that not only taught me fundamentals that have served me well throughout my career but also expanded my mind in subject areas that I found interesting and inspiring. My education ensured that I was well prepared to launch a career as a buyer and eventually as a fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, a special events director at Henri Bendel, and ultimately as an entrepreneur launching my own successful global brand and multi-million-dollar fashion company. It has been a wonderful whirlwind career, and with determination and the proper university training, you can embark on one of your own!

Mix-and-match: an integrated approach

I believe that it is very important for a student interested in a fashion merchandising career to receive a well-rounded education, with classes in related subjects such as marketing, communications, public relations, business writing, graphic design, and art history. The fashion world is highly oriented toward communications, and you need to be prepared to confidently interact with people—selling products, plans, and concepts—as well as gaining in-depth knowledge of the fundamentals such as textiles and design.

My fashion merchandising students might take business classes, where they learn how to write a business plan or other invaluable entrepreneurial skills. Or they might choose public speaking and presentation courses, which are essential in shaping a career as a buyer, fashion director, or fashion event planner.

Meanwhile, students learn the nuts and bolts of cost sheets, pricing, sourcing, design, fabric selection, production, and retailing in fashion merchandising classes. They delve into the study of fabrics—drape, fibers, yardage, color, trim, and texture—and how a product launch might start with a specific fabric as its inspiration. Students will explore the business of fashion, turning an idea into a reality, and all the steps in between. They also explore the scope of the multi-billion dollar textile industry, including design, development, production, and marketing of a range of materials from organic cotton to activewear.

Go where the action is

Proximity to the fashion industry is also a major consideration when you are selecting a school. There is simply no substitute for the experience and excitement that comes with attending college near a global center of fashion such as New York City. Being around the action will give you the chance for internships and networking opportunities that can lead to your dream job. Proximity also provides a chance to visit the world’s highest-end retailers, see premiere fashion shows and store windows, and meet influential people in the field. Or simply enjoy the buzz of all the nearby arts and culture and use it as a source of inspiration for your studies.

You should also seek out opportunities for experiential learning right on campus. At LIU, we have students working as managers, buyers, and merchandisers in The Student Body, a trendy fashion boutique right on campus that’s one of six such student-run ventures.

When shopping for a college with a fashion merchandising program, you should also do some research on the professors who will be teaching those courses. Experience in the trenches is crucial. Look for teachers who have had notable careers in the fashion world themselves. Only those who have lived and breathed fashion for many years can convey the excitement, the challenges, and the exuberance of moving ahead in this fast-paced field.

A final bit of advice: perhaps you are uncertain where you might thrive in the fashion industry, whether as a buyer, fashion director, entrepreneur, or another avenue. That is all the more reason why you should consider attending a university where you can experiment and explore, taking a diverse range of courses, along with your fashion merchandising concentration, to expand your horizons and acquire the skills you will need to take you far in fashion—in many exciting different directions.

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