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New program tailor-made for future leaders in fashion business

University of Alberta bachelor degree acknowledges industry growth and the increasing complexity of bringing clothes to market

Lori Moran, amid the University of Alberta’s Anne Lambert Clothing and Textiles Collection, says a new undergraduate course in the business of fashion is needed. ‘We felt it has become increasingly relevant with changes in the global fashion industry.’

If you sign up for Lori Moran's new course at the University of Alberta, don't try to show up fashionably late.

Being fashionable may be acceptable, even encouraged, but Prof. Moran's program is all about business, so get there on time. It's the university's new program in fashion business management.

"This is a first for Western Canada," says Prof. Moran, a lecturer in the bachelor of science program, which is starting this September.

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While there are four fashion business college programs in Ontario alone, she says it's an idea whose time has come for the West, given the major fashion brands that have originated there, such as Canada Goose, Lululemon and Mountain Equipment Co-op.

"We felt it has become increasingly relevant with changes in the global fashion industry," Prof. Moran says.

Students who enroll in the new program should not expect lectures about hemlines, French cuffs or puffed sleeves, says Kathryn Chandler, practicum co-ordinator for the program.

"We'll talk about some of those things. But the focus is on combining knowledge of fashion with understanding of the business," she says, explaining that it will still be important to be interested in fashion and trends, just that it not be the only focus.

Both professors say the combination of fashion and business is increasingly imperative in a market that is worlds away from the days when newcomers to Canada built the rag trade.

According to the online data portal Statistica, the market value of the fashion retail industry alone in Canada in 2017 was $31.4-billion, and it's expected to climb to $33.2-billion a year by 2019.

Today, fashion trends are global and often instant, supply chains are international, and shopping is done by mobile phones as well as browsing in malls. New products, such as high-tech textiles and wearable technology with sensors that can monitor your heart rate or even your mood, are emerging.

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"There's a need to focus more on logistics and what it means to do business offshore. On the retail side it's important to understand analytics and data collection, because consumers today are much more demanding," Prof. Moran says.

The program should attract students who aspire to be business leaders in fashion, whether they stay in Western Canada or move elsewhere, Prof. Chandler says.

In the past, such students would have little choice in Canada other than programs in Toronto – sometimes a barrier to distant students who couldn't afford or manage a move.

The University of Alberta’s Anne Lambert Clothing and Textiles Collection includes 23,000 clothing and textile-related artifacts spanning 350 years of human history. The school’s connection to fashion makes it a natural choice for a new undergraduate course in the business of fashion.

The University of Alberta’s Anne Lambert Clothing and Textiles Collection includes 23,000 clothing and textile-related artifacts spanning 350 years of human history. The school’s connection to fashion makes it a natural choice for a new undergraduate course in the business of fashion.

First-year students can partly expect a typical program for an undergraduate university science degree.

"They'll also start classes in textile science and dress and culture," Prof. Chandler adds. There is no use going into fashion if you're oblivious to how people choose their clothes.

"They'll learn more about research methods as they progress," Prof. Chandler says. "In the third and fourth years, they'll get more into accounting and management, as well as international trade and product development, marketing and leadership."

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University of Alberta fashion business students will also partake in capstone projects – working with a business, where they will participate in key projects and decisions.

The program is offered jointly by the university's department of human ecology in its agricultural faculty and by its school of business, so sustainability and environmental issues will be important themes.

"We'll have courses in changes in consumption patterns and consumer behaviour and the whole global sourcing issue. We need to have awareness of the larger global system the fashion industry is in," Prof. Chandler says.

The University of Alberta's program will differ slightly from the well-established college courses that are offered in Ontario at the Greater Toronto Area's Centennial, George Brown, Humber and Seneca colleges.

"Our students take a sewing course at the beginning of their program, so they understand what it means to manufacture a garment," says Rosa Fracassa, chair of George Brown's school of fashion studies.

"It helps them understand manufacturing, quality and cost."

The Ontario programs often attract students who combine college fashion business programs with university degrees, adds Anna Cappuccitti, co-ordinator and professor of fashion business at Toronto's Seneca College.

"We have students who complete university and find us because they want something more specialized, and students who start with us and go on to university. We also have students who only study with us and are quite successful," Prof. Cappuccitti says.

The professors all agree that students will need to know more about the emerging role that artificial intelligence will play in fashion, in everything from the way clothes are designed and manufactured to the way they may be delivered soon – in driverless vehicles and dropped off by drones.

They're all aware, too, that even the most businesslike fashion students may show up for class dressed like, well, students, in sweatpants and old hoodies.

"There will be no dress code," Prof. Moran at Alberta says.

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