Missing major: making fashion fit

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Missing major: making fashion fit

Courtesy of Sarah Filiault

Courtesy of Sarah Filiault

Courtesy of Sarah Filiault

Courtesy of Sarah Filiault

By Emily Brindley and Andrea Spatig / For The Pitt News

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Senior geology major Tomas Monti spends his free time sketching watch designs and raising funds for his watch company.

Monti — co-founder and CEO of BJØRN Watch Company, a startup that will donate 10 percent of all sales to philanthropic organizations of the buyer’s choice — formed his startup based on instinct and his personal style rather than formal training. Since Pitt doesn’t offer a major or any coursework in fashion design, Monti taught himself how to design watches, in part based on inspiration from other people’s designs.

Although there is a costume design course through the department of theatre arts, Pitt has no fashion design or related program, prompting interested students to find other ways to express their passion for fashion. Like Monti, some use trial and error to found companies or startups that embody their goals. Other students start fashion blogs or begin designing clothing in their dorm rooms.

“I don’t know why they don’t have [a program] honestly,” Monti said. “It’s a big school, we definitely have all the resources, so we could definitely make something happen.”

As a course of study, a fashion design program teaches such skills as sketching, sewing, pattern-making and garment construction. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, fashion designers earned a median salary of more than $65,000 per year in 2016. The field employed 23,100 fashion designers in 2014, and is slowly growing at a rate of about 3 percent per year.

Courtesy of Tomas Monti

Although Monti said Pitt has what it takes to start a fashion design program, senior marketing major Tommy Yanez — who co-founded Ampersand, LLC, a consulting company for tailor-made clothes — said starting up a fashion program at Pitt wouldn’t be so easy.

“At least in my understanding, a fashion program would require a lot of resources,” Yanez said.  “I would totally support Pitt starting something like that, [but] I think it might take some time before it really becomes like a strong major within Pitt.”

Yanez said Pitt, which is known primarily for its medical programs, just isn’t focused on the arts, including fashion.

“Pitt’s arts programs aren’t very strong … and those have been around for a long time. It just doesn’t seem like Pitt’s specialty,” Yanez said. “I mean, sorry I am bashing Pitt but it’s just not one of its strong points.”

Instead of finding influences in the classroom, Yanez turned to the internet for inspiration, especially YouTube music videos from artists such as A$AP Rocky and Netflix shows such as “Mad Men” and “Better Call Saul.”

“Saul Goodman wears really bright, flamboyant suits,” Yanez said. “I really like the way they look on him, so that kind of inspires me to pursue looks like that.”

Through his company, Yanez makes recommendations for the clothing his clients should buy, based on their body type and age group.For example, he recommends longer pants to older men, but shorter and more tapered pants to younger men.

“It’s mostly letting and helping customers design things to fit their wants and needs,” Yanez said. “A lot of that is looking at trends but also just looking at what styles are in [and] what styles work for which body types and certain age groups.”

Courtesy of Tommy Yanez

Fifth-year nonfiction writing major Sarah Filiault takes advantage of the internet in a slightly different way — she used her online presence to build a fashion blog.

In her middle school years, Filiault began to “experiment” with fashion, but once she got to Pitt, she noticed her friends often asked her for fashion advice.

“Once I got to college, I guess it kind of took off,” Filiault said. “It seemed like a lot of people didn’t understand like the basics of how to even put an outfit together, and that was what I wanted to do with my blog originally.”
Although Filiault is self taught, her sister is majoring in fashion design at North Carolina State, a school of comparable size and major offerings to Pitt. Through her own and her sister’s experience in fashion, Filiault sees ways for fashion to play into everyone’s lives, even people who don’t consider themselves fashionistas.

“Fashion is important in any career because people judge you based off the first impression of you and a lot of that is just based off looks,” Filiault said. “So it’s important in everyday life.”

Although she said she would have considered a fashion major if Pitt had offered one, for now,  Filiault is concentrating on nonfiction writing. In the future, she would like to combine her two passions.

“If I got the opportunity to, say, write for a fashion magazine or something like that, I would definitely enjoy it,” Filiault said.

Just as Filiault sees the potential to combine writing and fashion, Yanez said even those not directly involved in design can make fashion into a career. Because of this, Yanez sees a variety of entry points in the fashion world, not just through design.

“If you look at the fashion industry there are so many professions and backgrounds that you can come from,” Yanez said. “You’re going to need business students, you’re going to need marketing students, you’re going to need students who can promote this product, someone in the background, supply chain management.”

These sides of fashion would be easier for Pitt to tap into, according to Yanez, since Pitt already has entry points established, such as through the business school.

“I would support programs that help people at Pitt get into fashion — the many roles within the fashion industry,” Yanez said. “But a straight-up design school for fashion I think would be difficult.”

The reporter’s notebook for this story can be found here.

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