Amy Williams on Fashion Education & Sustainability at the CCA
Amy what is your role at California College of the Arts (CCA)?
First and foremost I am a teacher. I have taught all levels of fashion illustration and I teach entry and thesis level fashion design. I assist students in the development of their thesis collections.
As the Fashion Program Chair; I oversee our curriculum as well as the integration of college wide initiatives. My job is to help each student find their voice in the context of fashion design.
With my peer chairs, I also work to ensure that education, industry and community are in concert.
Tell about your professional experience before joining the CCA.
My fashion training is from Parsons and for many years I have run my own line of women’s designer sweaters and sportswear. I successfully sold to the best of stores, both specialty and department stores, predominately in the USA. I have had my magazine covers and movie star sightings!
I enjoy high end fashion: the art and craft of beautiful fashion. However my practice of fashion design integrates product function, production and style; it questions the usefulness and the impact of the product designed. I design on paper in croquis form and I enjoy pulling colors, textures and patterns together with yarn mixes/stitch/gauge blending to create something new; I enjoy reshaping the body with textiles. The quest for a new line, silhouette keeps me moving forward.
How do feel this experience helps you in your current position?
In fashion education it is imperative to be able to “do” what you teach.
Creating a thesis collection is a very personal journey that often meets with difficulties. Having dealt with such difficulties time and time again I feel students trust my voice. Not that they blindly follow, mind you, but it allows for a very lively & collaborative studio. My professional experience: designing, producing and delivering six to eight collections a year gives me a great foundation to assist our students.
Our students are educated to design and build using traditional skills and methods but also to think about the design process as a whole, including fabrication and final use.
What do you enjoy most as chair of the CCA?
Working with the students! There is nothing more satisfying than to witness the proverbial light bulb beginning to glow, but to help it shine brighter. There has been great growth within our Fashion program in the last five years. I believe this success can be attributed to the very collegial approach taken by our lead faculty members. It is a great team.
Tell us about the CCA commitment to sustainable fashion.
CCA’s motto is ART That Matters. The question is how does Fashion matter? We have been lucky to have Lynda Grose Silva on our faculty. Lynda’s position was strongly established as the co-founder – with Doug Tompkins of Esprit – of E-Collection in 1990. With E-collection, Esprit showed the way in term of sustainable fashion.
Lynda integrated Sustainability into her Ethnic Design Courses and encouraged the faculty to consider how each practice could be changed. Our junior level design and construction courses have added Sustainability research and discovery into a greater number of projects over the last decade. There is much innovation in term of Sustainability to be uncovered in fashion practices.
How this focus on sustainability translates practically?
Today Sustainability is part of all three of our Undergrad years. We run projects in Zero Waste, Recycled Materials and Recycled Garments to REUSE pieces in sophomore and junior levels. Our students have won international recognition for their work. London College of Fashion’s Fashioning the Future competition has featured a CCA student amongst its finalists in four of the last five years. Last year (’11) Ashley Brock was chosen as the ONE TO WATCH by The Body Shop’s Anita Roddick.
What is your advice to someone who considers studying fashion?
Fashion is a demanding industry set on a fast pace. While touch/hand is imperative, seeing is key. I encourage potential students to draw, watch, the people and the shapes around them. Your eye must be curious. Ask questions, take notes and reflect on the information you gather.
In your view what does the environment of the CCA: the San Francisco Bay area has to offer fashion students?
San Francisco is a beautiful city. The ocean, the bay and the natural beauty around us affect our attitude to life, to the environment and I believe our concern with sustainability.
An underlying pulse of innovation also runs through the bay area. Entrepreneurship is alive and kicking; here rules can be broken, new methods can be discovered and implemented. This pertains to all sectors of the economy and the arts. Even changes in in the ways traditional techniques are used is celebrated. We value risk taking above acceptance & approval.
You are also on the board of the Fashion Incubator SF. What would you say are the strengths / competitive advantages of the SF Bay Area in term of Fashion Industry?
The FISF is setting out to support new designers with the business footing/foundation that is not typically a part of the designer education.
The FISF not only supports young fashion voices as they begin to establish their visions/lines in the marketplace but also encourages established retail venues to look at smaller players. It supports local and national job growth, an issue we need to address within our industry as a whole.
The bay is home to many a start-up including some giants: Levi Strauss and Co, The GAP, The North Face to name a few. All these firms started with a small product offering for a niche market. This sounds like a perfect place to set up Fashion’s Future to me!