Clark County Skills Center's fashion merchandising program a good fit

Students learn ins and outs of industry

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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“It’s way more than a pair of pants.”

That’s how Julianne Cubacub, 17, summarized what she’s learned about marketing clothing as a student in the Clark County Skills Center’s new fashion merchandising program. As she talked, her hands were busily organizing a rack of clothing at Deja Vu, an upscale consignment shop in Cascade Park.

Since September, Cubacub and the program’s other 19 students have learned about how clothing is designed, constructed and marketed. They have sketched fashion designs, studied textiles, sewn garments and learned about target marketing.

“What designs will make it onto the runway? How will it be marketed? Who will buy it? This is part of what students learn,” said Pamela Archer, fashion merchandising instructor at the Clark County Skills Center.

Now nearing the end of the school year, students are completing 30-hour internships at retail and consignment shops in Clark County — from Agave Denim­smith in Ridgefield to Deja Vu Consignment. Four students are completing internships with designer clothing companies in Portland and last weekend helped behind the scenes at a runway fashion show in Portland.

Cubacub and two other classmates — Janay Cooper, 17, and Kelly Malpica, 16 — are working as interns at Deja Vu Consignment on McGillivray Boulevard. They’ve dressed mannequins, organized clothing by size and color, displayed accessories and waited on customers.

All three said they have considered pursuing a fashion career.

“I’ve been learning a lot about the retail side. Clothes in general,” said Malpica, a junior at Mountain View High School. “How to organize. Accessorize. Tagging.”

Cubacub, a Union High School junior, said she is considering a career as a stylist, which she described as “a person who is a clothing expert who puts outfits together for models for runway shows and photo shoots.”

She said she enjoys buying clothes at thrift shops.

“I try to find things my style. Vintage. Bohemian. I like wearing Dad’s old clothes too,” Cubacub said. “Everyone is kind of their own stylist.”

Cooper, also a junior at Union High School, said she plans to return for a second year of the fashion program next fall.

“I’d like to be a stylist … for a movie set,” Cooper said. “I’d like to study visual communications at a fashion school like the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (in California).”

Archer has taught an introduction to fashion class in the summer, but now the program is offered to 20 students during the school year. Students spend a half-day at the Skills Center and a half-day at their home high schools in Battle Ground, Ridgefield, Camas, Vancouver and Evergreen school districts.

A Toastmasters volunteer helps the students improve their public speaking and to learn how to think on their feet.

Technology enhances the fashion merchandising program, Archer said.

“We can go on YouTube and watch a runway show of Donna Karan’s fall line,” Archer said.

Students take a customer service test created by the National Retail Federation, Archer said. Those who pass earn a certificate that’s nationally recognized in the fashion industry.

“It gives the students that edge, that little added advantage when they’re looking for a job,” Archer said.

“They’ve been a huge help,” Amber Keech, 28, Deja Vu Consignment’s owner, said about the interns.

Keech herself is a graduate of the Clark County Skills Center’s business program. She worked part time at Deja Vu when she was in high school. At age 20, she had the opportunity to buy the store. Now she gives Skills Center students hands-on fashion experience in her shop.

“We plan to work with the Skills Center as long as they’ll have us,” Keech said.