After years of cuts and financial turmoil, L.A.’s famed Fashion Institute finds a lifeline

Fashion students Alejandro Ortega, left, and Jessica Dunn next to a sewing mannequin
Alejandro Ortega, left, talks with Jessica Dunn, both Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising students, in 2011.
(Katie Falkenberg / For The Times)

After years of downsizing and under an imminent threat of losing accreditation, Los Angeles’ Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising found a lifeline in Arizona State University, forming a new partnership that is likely to forever change the longtime fashion school — and save it from financial ruin.

The merger has created ASU FIDM, which will offer classes in Los Angeles and Phoenix through ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts — mixing ASU’s relatively new fashion program with FIDM’s 50-year legacy, which includes its renowned museum and library.

The partnership “will offer students pursuing degrees in creative industries enhanced educational opportunities by embedding world-class fashion education within a public research university with global reach,” according to the news release from ASU this week.


While many at FIDM seemed hopeful the new deal would bring stability and more opportunities, students and staff remained concerned what was lost in the deal: More than 100 FIDM employees were laid off, and at least a handful of the school’s flagship fashion and design programs appear to have been permanently cut.

“I know that we had been having financial and organizational struggles in the past,” said Hannah Pabalan, a 19-year-old FIDM student. “Part of me is hopeful that this will help improve our school in the long run … but it’s been tough.”

If you take a stroll through the latest “Art of Television Costume Design” exhibition, which is open to the public through early October at the FIDM Museum in downtown Los Angeles, you’ll likely notice two things: One, it continues to be a major time for women in Hollywood; and two, the 12th annual exhibition is dominated by costumes from shows from streaming services and cable channels.

Sept. 7, 2018

All of FIDM’s fashion-focused programs will move completely under ASU, but the two educational entities will remain separate, officials said, with FIDM continuing to offer business-focused degrees.

“ASU is not taking over FIDM,” said ASU spokesperson Katie Paquet. “FIDM is continuing to operate as a separate educational institution from ASU with a more intentional focus on academic programs related to business in the creative industries.”

Paquet and FIDM officials did not respond to requests to disclose the financial details of the deal. FIDM officials also did not respond to questions about the layoffs or the future of FIDM.

In a statement, FIDM Vice President of Education Barbara Bundy said that “our tradition of excellence and inspiration will continue to thrive as a part of Arizona State University, with students having expanded access to world-class facilities, faculty and programs to ensure they are prepared for a highly demanding, increasingly competitive and ever-evolving industry.”


FIDM, a private institution that offers a variety of associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees, had been on accreditation probation since July 2021, but in March it was alerted by the WASC Senior College and University Commission that it was months away from losing accreditation as it had still “not provided evidence of long-term financial viability.”

Students who attend schools that lose accreditation can no longer access federal financial aid.

The students were detained at LAX in the days prior to the start of classes on Aug. 22 and were on their way to the university’s Phoenix-area campuses, school officials said.

Sept. 5, 2019

FIDM staff told The Times that the institution had undergone multiple rounds of layoffs in recent years and continued to shrink amid financial struggles, closing its San Diego and San Francisco campuses.

“We were going downhill since 2008,” said one FIDM staff member, who was laid off last week as the ASU deal was announced and requested anonymity to not ruin chances of a new job with ASU FIDM. “Management received numerous warnings from WASC and they didn’t listen.

“I think it was really the best decision that someone is taking over,” the staff member said. “It can’t get worse.”

According to state filings, 107 FIDM employees were recently laid off, all effective May 31.


Concerns and questions about ASU’s expansion have swirled over the last week among FIDM students, chiefly about the future of certain degrees and faculty members.

“A lot of programs are up in the air,” said Sophie Gow, a 19-year-old FIDM student who came to L.A. from Houston for school. She was planning to complete her advanced associate degree in international merchandise product development — one of the programs she expects to be cut under ASU FIDM — but she thinks it still will be available next year.

“We’re all definitely worried,” Gow said. “We really don’t know how this will change or affect us.... We’re hoping, they keep the FIDM staff and teachers because that’s what makes our school so special.”

Pabalan, who got her associate degree in merchandise product development, said a lot of the programs that draw students to FIDM appear to be on the cutting block under the ASU FIDM merger, including costume design and merchandise product development.

Paquet, though, said ASU officials “intend to help all students complete programs that are consistent with the academic goals they have had at FIDM.”

“At the end of the day, this is very stressful, but I wanted to continue with FIDM, I wanted to stay in L.A. and this is the way they’re making it happen,” Pabalan said. She said she just wished her school had provided more information and communication about the merger.


“It’s kind of like they just told us, but no one had any answers,” Pabalan said.

Current FIDM students have the option to transfer to ASU and are recommended to do so by spring 2024 for an easier transition, according to the new website.

The merger is ASU’s latest expansion into California and Los Angeles. The university has a campus in downtown L.A. that houses a semester-long journalism program and opportunities to attend its film school. The university also has a master’s program partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Miranda Rico, who graduated from FIDM with a bachelor’s degree in 2018, said she had been recently considering returning for a master’s, but was surprised to hear about the ASU news — and confused what it would mean.

But after more consideration, she said ASU’s credentials would probably only improve an MBA program at FIDM.

“I think it gives students a lot more opportunity than I had back in 2015,” Rico said. “I’m optimistic.”