Memphis College of Art offers new certificate program in fashion design

Memphis College of Art and the Memphis Fashion Design Network have launched a fashion design certificate program starting this fall.

The MCA Fashion Design Certificate program is an intensive nine-month program to learn how to create fashion designs or work in the fashion industry. It will run from September through May with a tuition of $2,650.

There are seven courses in the certificate program. Each class gives a different take on the fashion design world. They range from technical skills like draping and pattern techniques to the business of fashion. The history of fashion is covered in a course called "Fashion Through the Ages". 

There's also a course called "Concept to Collection" that walks students through the process of how to take ideas from concept through the creative process to produce a collection.

“The certificate program would benefit anyone who wants to do a design-oriented job or a hands-on job in the fashion design world; it marries the technical and conceptual sides of the industry,” said Cece Palazola, Director of Community Education for Memphis College of Art.

For several years, Memphis College of Art has worked with the Memphis Fashion Design Network. Non-credit courses like sewing, fashion illustration and draping haven been offered through their community education department.

Related: "Memphis fashion design scene encourages collaboration, youth participation"

In addition to launching the Fashion Design Network last year, Abby Phillips founded Memphis Fashion Week seven years ago. With the new non-profit, she hopes to support fashion designers with resources, studio space and showrooms.

She was also the driver the fashion courses at MCA, including the new certificate program.

“The partnership with Abby Phillips and the Fashion Design Network has been vital to the development of this certification curriculum,” said Palazola.

Two classes were offered a semester. They were specific to a skill and would rotate out. Draping, basic sewing and fashion illustration are a few examples.

“And this is the process of how it’s done in real life. This takes if from the sketchbook to the pattern to the dress,” said Palazola.

The classes were popular. Many were full. An advisor from the Fashion Institute of Technology out of New York was brought in.

“We sat down with them and started working on ideas of what we should be doing next step. That’s when we came up with the certificate program,” said Phillips.

Students have up to two years to complete the nine-month program. Enrollment is done by availability.

“If someone wanted to enroll in the spring and we have availability in the classes they want to take then they can jump right in,” said Palazola.

High School students ages 16 and up can also enroll.

“It’s a great opportunity for high school students who are interested in studying fashion but don’t know where to start in building a portfolio. They have to have a portfolio to even apply for a fashion design school. This is a great place for them to come and give them a base so they can move onto a design school,” said Phillips.

Related: "The Lab offers support for local fashion designers"

The program has drawn interest from people already working in fashion.

“We’ve had people already working in the fashion industry who want to hone a particular skill. I talked to a lady last week who has a job in alterations but wants to learn fashion illustration. This is one of our continuing education courses and just an example of where the interests lie,” said Palazola.

Additional funding for the program has been received through a grant from the American Association of University Women. The money will pay for equipment. It will also fund five scholarships for under resourced women. The awards will cover 50 percent of their tuition.

“We are excited to bring a program like this to Memphis. There is a huge demand for it. We are almost full. And we've had close to 20 applications for the scholarship,” said Palazola.

Going forward, the college hopes to receive additional funding from the community to offset tuition costs for worthy, cash-strapped students.

“There is so much creativity in Memphis and so many deserving people who are doing that side hustle thing right now who want to build it into something else and take that next step,” said Palazola.

A few newly hired instructors are MCA alums. One worked for Polo Ralph Lauren. Another creates costumes for Ballet Memphis.

“She has amazing technical skills to make anything and has a real understanding of the work,” said Palazola.

They all hold at least a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, as well as experience working in the fashion industry.

“If someone takes the program and earns the certificate then they will be ready to move to that next level in the fashion industry,” said  Palazola.

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