Pittsburgh universities play catch-up to the emergence of fashion


Photo Credit: (RMU Sentry Media)

Kendall Valan, Assistant News Editor

Pittsburgh has shed it’s old nickname of the Steel City over the past few years and has become an emerging art culture with the door wide open for the world of fashion. However, the city’s main universities have to play catch-up. With the exception of the Art Institute, Pittsburgh colleges fail to reflect the change and now must ride on the coat-tails of the recent emergence.

The problem isn’t the lack of young adults striving for an undergraduate degree. For the 2013 fall semester, approximately 50,000 applications were sent out to Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, and Point Park alone. The city is currently home to more than one-hundred thousand college students, but there is a hole in the art and design study through every campus. The absence has forced some students to take action beyond their academic curriculum in order to strive for their dream major.

Carnegie Mellon University is the birthplace of the vintage-styled online clothing store, ModCloth. The website was first created by now married couple Susan and Eric Koger with-in dormitory walls. The two were then inspired to turn the hobby into a career after graduation. ModCloth has been on a global market since 2006 and has blossomed because of their Pittsburgh roots.

Mandy Fierens, creator of the Curvy Blogger, was inspired by ModCloth and started as an intern for the company during her college career at Robert Morris University. Although her passion was clothing design, she took the marketing root at the university.

“Everyone always told me that the fashion industry was an unrealistic goal, and it would be too hard for me to get a job. Eventually, I believed them, and decided to pursue a Marketing major, and minor in Photography,” said Fierens.

After graduating, she worked with the company for a few years and had a breakout career in plus-sized modeling before launching her own photography company and fashion blog. Her blog is an advocation for plus size style in the city. Her writing is geared towards changing the typical perspective. Her passion has gained national attention from publications like “Seventeen Magazine” and “Refinery29”.

“I must say I have been more and more impressed with the style/fashion presence in Pittsburgh. However, I am much more inspired by the people who don’t care as much. I love people watching. I could sit down with a nice warm coffee on a bench in Lawrenceville for hours and check out the street style,” said Fierens.

Fieren also encourages students who plan to follow in her footsteps, to find opportunities in new boutiques opening more frequently around the city.

“Companies like American Eagle, and ModCloth are located here. However, there are many shops and startups located in the city….Lots of small shops have popped up in the city. I think that is a way to grow the industry anywhere. I am really excited for the industry here.”

Fashion magazines are also surfacing through web and print media, such as Maniac, Pittsburgh Fashion, and WHIRL magazine. The Pittsburgh publications continue to grab the industry’s attention and many have expanded to Los Angeles and New York City.

WHIRL Magazine is a Pittsburgh based web and print publication that has encouraged the growing fashion industry, since their first issue in October of 2001.

“WHIRL’s focus on fashion has been consistent since its first issue, with a style section that begins with identifying trends in the fashions worn to events, as well as those lines represented in local independent boutiques,” said Christine Tumpson, Editor in Chief of WHIRL Publishing.

Beyond popular belief, internship opportunities are available to many Pittsburgh college students, especially with Pittsburgh magazines.

According to Tumpson, WHIRL fashion-related staff members (editorial, art, sales and administrative) are primarily comprised of those who had previously completed an internship with the company. Students were selected from various Pittsburgh area universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Chatham, Point Park, and the University of Pittsburgh.

“The job opportunities in this industry are numerous, particularly in entry level positions, such as boutique clerk, public relations assistant, editorial assistant, designer, fabric store employee, and event production assistant, to name a few,” commented Tumpson.

But many Pittsburgh universities are not ready to take the financial risk to add fashion to their repertoire of art and design studies. Administrations are worried that the area may not be ready for the flood of new designs students, because of the lack in jobs and resources.

“It is well beyond the scope of visual communication as far as the foundation at which we rest on, but i think there is also a set of resources you need. Robert Morris is pretty professional and depends heavily on the resources of the local area to help round out that degree,” said Jon Rodamacher, the Department Head of Media Arts at Robert Morris University.

Robert Morris began offering the opportunity to major in media arts over ten years ago, but the program is solely based on a virtual medium. Students only have the opportunity to expand their clothing design skills through independent projects.

“I’m not a fashion expert, but I do not think there is a huge fashion industry in Pittsburgh, so it makes it kind of hard to offer a program. The administration would want to have jobs available for students to get into upon graduation and since a lot of Western Pennsylvanians like to stay in Western Pennsylvania, it might be a hard task to accomplish,” said Rodamacher

Pittsburgh may be seen by some as off the fashion industry radar, but the city is starting to break their old exterior. In turn, more incoming students are interest in studying clothing design. Although the younger population is ready for change, the city’s colleges are not ready to make the leap, with the fear from the old stigma.