Fashion by Degrees : Interaction With the Local Trade Is Key to Orange Coast College's Apparel Program

F rom head to toe, Southern California is wrapped in fashion education. Eleven community colleges, four Cal State campuses and five private institutions provide training for those drawn to the apparel industry.

Chris Amaral, program coordinator for the fashion department at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, says she's lucky to be in a hotbed of clothing designers and manufacturers. Southern California's garment trade is second only to aerospace in the number of manufacturing employees.

"At any school, if you have education, industry and the community all working together, the program is a success," she says.

Amaral graduated from Orange Coast College in 1976. In the decade she's been working there, the department has doubled its programs to include courses in design, image consulting and costume and dressmaking.

As the only full-time instructor, she coordinates 10 to 13 part-time teachers--all industry pros. Courses range from clothing construction and pattern making to production and illustration. Each semester, Amaral notes, all 350 seats for the 24 classes are taken, and even standing-room-only space is at a premium.


The purpose of a community college is to train students for jobs in their community.

In Orange County, we have so many clothing manufacturers that our students are able to find work in design, production or merchandising.

We're lucky because there are 70 companies within a 10-mile radius of the college. That's great for our design program.

For our costume program, we're lucky again with the Performing Arts Center, Disneyland, Knott's and small theaters in the county. They provide internships and employment.

For our image consulting program, our students go into marketing and journalism, or they might be personal shoppers, stylists or figure analysts. For this, we're lucky that we have South Coast Plaza and other retail outlets.

We also have a program in dressmaking. Students take pattern work, design classes and construction courses for tailoring and couture. That's the smallest enrollment group, but their services are needed for alterations and construction work. Students know that after a year and a half, they can do alterations, tailoring, dressmaking or costume-making, working at their home if they wish.


I feel so fortunate to be teaching where I have industry and community support. If you have good instructors but no employment, you wouldn't have validity. We have an advisory board made up of industry people who evaluate our program and keep us up to date. They tell us what they are doing and what we need to do.

We also hope we're serving the industry. We have a computer system that makes patterns, markers, grading--the design part of it. That computer system helps employers who send their employees here to be trained. That's the high-tech part of what we're doing right now.

The great thing is that we have instructors co-teaching our classes who work for competing companies. When I first approached them, they said, "I don't know if we can do that," but now they feed off each other and our students are benefiting. We're all working together.

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