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ASU and FIDM unite to elevate the fashion profile of the Southwestern US

By Jackie Mallon


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Arizona State University. Image: ASU

Arizona State University (ASU) has announced that the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles will be part of the expansion of ASU’s fashion education program. ASU’s fashion program will now be named ASU FIDM, incorporating both the FIDM community and campus, and will operate in both Los Angeles and Phoenix. FashionUnited speaks to Dennita Sewell who leads ASU’s fashion program about the motivations behind the merger and what it means for students of ASU’s 6-year-old fashion program.

“Since ASU purchased the California Center we have been excited about the potential with Los Angeles,” says Sewell. “A 45 minute flight from Phoenix, or you can drive it in 5 1/2 hours, it’s the closest major center of industry, and second after NYC as a fashion capital for the US.” ASU estimates that 13 percent of its fashion graduates make their way to NYC to begin their careers, but LA is a viable local hub for internships, industry collaborations, access to guest lecturers, as well as jobs and career potential. The California Center in downtown LA occupies a historic architectural landmark, the Herald Examiner building, that was renovated to suit ASU’s needs when it moved in a decade ago. While the ASU FIDM merger enhances brand recognition for ASU’s fashion program the collaboration works both ways as FIDM students can enjoy ASU’s extensive course offerings to personalize their fashion studies; For example, a fashion student who wants to minor in French.

As a city, Los Angeles has a global cultural presence and a reputation for the couture glamor associated with Hollywood and the Academy Awards, but it is also regarded as a lifestyle leader and sets trends in casual off-duty style. The school’s LA network has already been forged in other fields of study. For journalism students, its Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication offers experience in partnership with the *LA Times* while those studying film at the The Sidney Poitier New American Film School are poised to seize any opportunity to get their foot in the door of the US film and television industry that surrounds the campus.

Purpose-built airy fashion studios at ASU. Image: ASU

The demand for fashion studies at Arizona State University

Launched in 2017, Arizona State University’s fashion program is less well-known than many of the country’s fashion schools. Its progress was disrupted by Covid yet Sewell says enrollment continued to grow and there were no faculty layoffs. Pre-pandemic the fashion education market had already become oversaturated and student enrollment across the board was down. But says Sewell, “The program’s existence really came out of the demand and desire from the part of the students on campus who were petitioning the dean to include fashion in the school’s offerings.”

The program enrolled 90 students in the first year, 250 in the second, and continues to grow. “Being the only significant program in the state and even in the region we decided that it was very important to include both design and business from the beginning,” says Sewell who noted that students were not just coming from creative foundations, but also from engineering, supply chain, and computer science.

She puts this down to the fact that many parents weren’t ready to sign off on their children majoring in fashion. Among the regional demographic it wasn’t considered a serious field with legitimate career possibilities compared to other established professional routes. Much of Sewell’s work during the past 6 years has been disabusing parents and students of this viewpoint, expanding their understanding to see across this multi-trillion dollar global industry with all its different opportunities.

Fashion student at work in sewing lab at ASU. Image: ASU

Diversity and inclusivity fuel ASU’s fashion program

“From the beginning we’ve had a very diverse group of students especially because of our region,” says Sewell. “ASU is a Hispanic Serving Institution which allows for a lot of new perspectives and fresh ideas to come out of here.” She says that the program’s forward-thinking messaging and philosophy was baked in from the word go, which affords them agility in responding to students’ needs. Because their closet is so new, there are no skeletons in it. “There’s been a lot of criticism of some of the more established and legacy programs across the country and how difficult it is for them to change course and curriculum,” says Sewell. “But the timing of when we started combined with the industry being so disrupted has all worked as a positive for us. We were able to start fresh and our whole attitude is about being flexible, being responsive.”

Since the program’s launch the importance of being located in a fashion capital has also diminished, and technology’s advances post-Covid mean that it is perhaps becoming just as valid to be a Phoenix-based fashion student as relocating to an expensive city like NYC. “We are lucky to have the studios we moved into last year in a purpose-built space,” says Sewell. “Our facilities rival any in the country, light-filled, with ample space, and all new industry grade equipment. Our professors all have industry connections and experience because that’s another pillar of what we’re trying to do: create a program that’s in step with the industry.”

A public university ASU receives funding through the New Economy Initiative, a partnership between state and local government and the state’s three universities designed to fuel growth in technology, manufacture and education and propel Arizona onto an international stage.

Scottsdale Fashion Square, the thriving luxury mall containing international luxury brands such as Hermès and Balenciaga, hosts the ASU graduate fashion show. If its airy atrium and oval runway offer the ASU graduating class a launchpad to shoot for the stars, the marriage of ASU FIDM aims to bring about more such prospects. “We’re really excited to be positioning ourselves as two very powerful institutions working together,” says Sewell. “And to see what heights we can reach in the leadership space with creativity, business and international influence.”

Arizona State University
Fashion Education
Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising