Reaching the Runway

Fashion programs in Oklahoma explore every facet of the industry.

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Fashion is about more than showing off designs on the runway. Combined, the fashion education programs available in Oklahoma offer opportunities in everything from concept to final consumer, including textiles and their designs, forecasting for color and style, pattern making, assembling, marketing, manufacturing, distribution, sales, online visual merchandising and more.

“I truly love that everyone can find a niche in the fashion industry,” says Lynn Boorady, head of the department of design, housing and merchandising at Oklahoma State University.

Boorady says OSU’s fashion program is known for its work in functional clothing, garments that serve a purpose, and personal protective gear. The university is one of the few programs nationwide that teaches functional fashion design at the undergraduate level. Boorady says this is essential because it teaches the mechanics behind clothes.

To educate students, OSU utilizes innovative technology, such as a motion capture system and body scanning, so undergraduates can develop clothing for the moving body.

“We try to think not just, ‘What does the industry do now?’ but, ‘What is the industry going to need when our students graduate?’” says Boorady.

OSU students in either fashion-related program have regular study abroad opportunities. Currently, offerings are mostly European, but Boorady says the department is beginning to offer programs in Asia, where many fashion professionals travel.

“One of the cool things about this degree is that you can go a lot of places with it,” she says. “We have students literally around the world.”

Those studying at the University of Central Oklahoma also learn the industry through travel with practicums or internship courses. Susan Miller, a professor of fashion marketing, says she’s had students get internships everywhere from Chicago to New York, Los Angeles, London and Japan. The department also organizes regular study tours to New York City, European cities and Dallas.

But at UCO, fashion also helps students travel back in time. The university houses the Oklahoma Fashion Museum Collection, which includes over 1,000 pieces dating from the 1890s through the 1980s. Miller and professor Joanne Wong designed a class that utilizes the collection and emphasizes interpreting and analyzing current fashion trends from a historical perspective. In the program’s capstone, apparel entrepreneurship, students create a business and write a business plan, because “a designer today needs to understand both the business and design side of the industry,” says Miller.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s all numbers at UCO. Business meets design at the department’s annual fashion show. Students work with local retailers and manage show aspects ranging from merchandise and models to staging, music and photography.

Fashion shows are central to the design program at Clary Sage College in Tulsa. Annually, the college hosts Clary Runway to allow students to showcase their collections. Program department head Dyana Harrison says she has had students get hired directly from their showings. 

To get to the runway, students need to complete their coursework in either apparel design or apparel manufacturing. Harrison says the course catalog recently changed to transform a formerly 11-month combined program into two distinct eight-month tracks. Students can take either or both programs, but they’re required to take them one at a time and attend college like they would work, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday-Friday.

“What we have found teaching it this way is [students] are able to really concentrate on whatever skill we’re teaching that particular week,” says Harrison.

Clary Sage teaches students on the same equipment they would use in the industry. They learn computer-aided pattern making and design, along with how to create a technical package for a manufacturer. 

“Students come in with little or no knowledge about sewing or pattern making,” says Harrison. “When they complete the program they are amazed at the new skills they have acquired that enable them to make their designs come to life.”