Nancy Spaulding-Pima Community College Fashion Instructor

June 11, 2016


Nancy Spaulding is the full-time faculty instructor in the Fashion Design Department at Pima Community College’s West Campus in Tucson, Arizona. The Fashion Design and Clothing Department has been at PCC for 40 years, which according to Spaulding, makes PCC the first college in Tucson to offer fashion design courses to students at a higher education level.  Urbanite Runway spoke with Spaulding about Pima’s fashion program, the current state of fashion design education in Arizona, and where the future of the fashion industry and fashion education is headed in Arizona. The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

UR: What can you tell our readers about the Pima Community College fashion program and what certificates and degrees students can receive?

NS: The program has been at Pima for about 40 years. It was born out of the home economic model from the University of Arizona, but changed in that our program is now more about developing solid foundational skills if you want to go into the apparel industry. Some people who come into our program want to open up their own business by creating their own fashion line, transfer to a four-year program or work for someone else (assistant designer, technical designer, etc.). We offer a lot of the foundational classes that were started at Pima but we’ve revised all of those so each class you take builds on the next. {…} When many people think about fashion—especially younger people today—they think about Project Runway. You know, it looks so easy! But fashion is pretty technical and it really is a science. Science can be the textile sciences and anatomy as it relates to the body for fitting clothing. Technology: we have Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I teach digital fashion design. In that class, students learn how to draw what are known as ‘flats’ for the apparel industry and then they learn how to design their own textile prints. And then we actually send off the files to be printed on fabric so students can design their own fabrics. We recently got Gerber’s Accumark 10.0 software, which is pattern making software which is used in the apparel industry. It’s one of the top applications in the industry, so we have a lot of technology in our lab. We have the resources for students to learn these skills which are necessary to go into the apparel industry. Engineering relates to ‘how do you fit a garment to a body?’ and so we teach students how to fit garments and learn how to ‘read the wrinkles.’ It is essential to understand why certain garments don’t fit correctly as it relates to the human body because everybody’s got a different body. How many times you’ve purchased things off the rack that didn’t fit? There’s the art aspect of fashion, which is fashion drawing and learning how to design garments that are pleasing and learning how to design garments that will actually be saleable if you want to sell them.{…} So then the art part of it is important: understanding color,  how do you create a design that is going to look good on the human form? Then the math, the math is pretty basic. It’s just fractions, learning how to read a ruler, but again, when you’re designing patterns you have to know how the math relates to the human body. It all comes full circle, so it really is science, technology, engineering, art and math (S.T.E.A.M.). You use it all.

We have a Certificate in Fashion Design and that’s a lot of our basic classes. {…} The certificate is 27 credits and then if the student wants to go on and get an Associate of Applied Arts degree, they can actually get the certificate before they get the Associate of Applied Arts degree. We are now working with ASU. ASU has put in a Bachelor’s degree program in fashion design. We have students that have already transferred up to ASU for this program, but we also have students that have gone on to FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising), FIT in New York (The Fashion Institute of Technology), Columbus College of Art and Design and others. So if you get your Associate’s degree at Pima then we can talk about transfer options to other schools.

UR: Pima Community College also works with Flowing Wells High School students for the college’s annual fashion show. What role do the Flowing Wells High School students play in the PCC fashion show?

NS: The Flowing Wells High School students bring their recycled garments to our show and it’s always a great hit to see them on the runway with their garments made out of toothpicks or straws or dryer sheets. It’s this really fun creativity that they bring to the show with their recycled garments. It’s always a great ending to our show!

UR: Why is it important to PCC to help younger students who may be looking to pursue fashion design at a collegiate level?

NS: Well, I  think that students need to understand how the industry works first and foremost. It’s really not like Project Runway in many ways and yes, Project Runway has its role, but you know, the apparel industry is a business. If you think about the apparel industry, it is a trillion dollar global business. So how do students fit into that model of working in fashion? There are so many different jobs in fashion, or apparel, as I like to call it. There are so many different levels that you can work in. It’s really good for students to have that formal grounding in the foundational skills that they need so that by the time they start thinking about a bachelor’s degree, they can say, ‘okay, I  really want to study textiles or I really want to study design or I really want to study some other aspect to work in this area of the apparel industry.’

UR: What do you hope or see these high school students take away from getting professional experience with the college?

NS: I think they can gain a better sense of confidence in their skills. I started sewing when I was eight. And so if they haven’t sewn before—they didn’t grow up sewing in their family—then they can hone their skills, they can learn how to be a good student.  Because when they go on to the four year schools it’s going to be a lot more pressure and especially when you go on to the bigger design schools. Students have a lot more competition. So you want to be the very best student that you can and Pima is the place to really refine your study skills, refine your foundational skills, to develop a plan of where do you want to be in the industry and map out a plan for what you want to do within the industry.

UR: PCC has a transfer admissions guarantee (TAG) with Arizona State University, which currently offers a B.A. in the Arts degree program with fashion design. How and when did that partnership come about?

NS: The partnership came about a year and a half ago. I had heard that ASU was considering putting in a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Design and I contacted them. ASU came down to see us in Tucson so they could see our fashion design lab and they could also see the fashion resources that we have at Pima and they were really impressed with what we have. So we started working on a TAG, which is a transfer admissions guarantee. They still hadn’t hired the new director for their new B.A. program at that point—they were still searching for that person. So they’ve now identified that person (Dennita Sewell), and they’re going to fully launch by the fall of 2017. But students can start and finish up with us and start taking some classes at ASU toward their B.A. And I have three students that are heading there this fall.

UR: Why is the transfer partnership with ASU significant for Pima fashion design students?

NS: I think it’s significant in that it gives students an in-state opportunity and option for transferring to a fashion school and the in-state tuition won’t be as expensive as going out of state. Phoenix is not that far away, so students can actually move to Phoenix or Mesa or Tempe or any of those surrounding communities and still be close to Tucson if they want to do that. But the fashion industry in Arizona is changing. I mean, we’ve kind of been fashion entertainment, but fashion manufacturing, apparel manufacturing, and the apparel industry in Arizona is changing significantly for the positive. So we want to be ready to take advantage of that with our students so that they can get jobs here in Arizona when they graduate. But the significance of partnering with ASU is, the new director of the program at ASU (Dennita Sewell) is from the Phoenix Art Museum, and she was the head of the fashion gallery at the Phoenix Art Museum. And she has tremendous contacts and will be taking the program to the next level. So I have no doubt that students will have a first class education at ASU in the B.A. program. But our school is geared toward developing your skills and getting the foundational skills solid before you move onto the next level.

UR: As an instructor, what do you see or hear from your students about their concerns regarding pursuing fashion design at a higher level due to the limited state of fashion design education in Arizona?

NS: I think there may be that perception, but things are changing. Fashion is such a global industry now that it’s not just one area. Students can start out here but then they can move to Los Angeles or they could move to New York, I mean, it just depends on where they want to be and what kind of career they want to pursue. I think it’s changing in Arizona, and there’s a group in the Phoenix area  working to change that. And we’re going to see more manufacturing returning to this country. {…} Reshoring is happening and people are wanting to buy more locally produced garments, people are wanting to support more sustainability in fashion and I think that we’re seeing more and more designers coming in to the Phoenix and Tucson areas and people are really interested in it now. So what we’re hoping to do is to augment the fashion entertainment aspect into a real fashion industry here in Arizona. And with the advent of minimum wage going up in California, we’ve been hearing reports about companies that want to move out of California, and Arizona is right next door. {…} I have been working with the Arizona Sewn Products Alliance, and there’s a space here in Tucson all set up for apparel production and there’s also Arizona Apparel Manufacturing down in Green Valley and she’s really busy. We’re seeing more and more people wanting to produce more locally. So that’s what we’re trying to do is to get more industry here so students can actually see what the industry looks like up close and personal.

UR: What do you wish to see in the future regarding Arizona fashion design education?

NS: What I would really like to see is more support from state and local officials realizing that the apparel industry is a viable industry.  And we need more awareness about what the possibilities are with apparel manufacturing in Arizona and we need to start attracting other manufacturers from California and other areas who wish to relocate to our state. And then we need to provide students with the technological skills but also the foundational skills that they need in order to thrive in the industry and be successful. So it’s a combination of education but also industry. Some companies are predicting wearable technology is going to be big, so how do we adapt to a changing demographic of consumers? I’m in the Baby Boomer generation; the tail end of the Baby Boomers, so my generational cohort consumes differently than Millennials and Gen X’ers and the Homelands (Gen Z’ers). So, how do we serve the needs of the varying generations that are coming up into the fashion arena and how do we meet the needs of the industry? So, it’s a combination of foundational skills but also technology. Students have to be aware of technology because there’s just no way around it anymore. So that’s why we have technology in our lab. We have the technology that is used in the industry.

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