Business with style: Enter the fashion industry with Centennial College
It’s always a challenge when someone in a creative field like fashion wants to market their ideas, or be involved at the industry level. You may have ideas, but to make them succeed, you need to know about the business you plan to enter. This very real skills gap is why Centennial College created the Fashion Business and Management program. It’s brand-new, with the first classes having started in September. The program takes a look at the fashion world as a business, and shows you the details of design, manufacturing, marketing and everything else that goes on behind the scenes.
Marlene Shiff helped create the program along with a group of industry professionals, and now teaches as a part of it. She explains why the program is necessary for anyone seriously considering getting into the fashion industry.
Skills to succeed
“It’s important that students learn about the business itself,” Marlene explains. “The other colleges teach students how to make a perfect garment, but the second they step out of that class, they’re lost. They don’t know how to speak to a buyer, they don’t know what markup means, they don’t know how to really apply retail math. Centennial was the first one to jump on a business class in fashion.”
It’s these business skills that make the program unique. “It’s taught at the business campus, it’s taught under the entrepreneurial umbrella when all other fashion courses are taught under the creative umbrella,” Marlene continues. “It teaches students creativity in the form of how to recognize a brand, how to recognize a trend, how to conduct business and whatever you would need for a business in fashion or even just to understand the dialogue around it. That’s why it’s different than other programs. They touch on business, but don’t teach from the position of inside the industry.” This education is enhanced by field trips to production houses and important fashion shows, as well as a work placement for students in the fourth semester.
Marlene’s contribution to the program is to teach students about everyday life while inside the industry. “I teach fashion theory and culture,” she explains, “so it’s really quite interesting, because they need to learn the culture of the industry they’re entering. Just like in music and entertainment, there’s a fashion culture.” And given her background, fashion culture is something she’s uniquely qualified to teach.
“I bring thirty years of experience in every aspect of the fashion business,” Marlene says. “I had success as a designer, success as a retailer, success as an instructor and as a merchandise consultant, so I bring a well-rounded experience of the fashion industry.” This background includes running Toronto’s Boutique le Trou. Called the best store in Toronto by Vogue, it even wound up discovering candidates for Project Runway Canada.
“Centennial is where my heart lies, and where I want to finish my career,” she says. “I’m older than most of the people teaching classes, and that’s one of the reasons they had asked me to come participate in the development of the course, because I had seen all the changes in the industry firsthand.” She’ll be passing on these experiences to the next generation of fashion entrepreneurs, as they prepare to enter the industry armed with the business knowledge to bring their ideas to fruition.
By Anthony Geremia