New Course Explores World of Fashion & Textiles

Thirty years ago, when Greenfield Community College Professor of Economics & Business Thom Simmons walked through New York City’s garment district every day on his way to and from work, he had no idea he would someday work in and teach about the fashion industry. Then, Simmons moved to New Hampshire and started raising sheep for fiber. As the exclusive provider of hand spinning fleece for Harrisville Design, he was in the primary phase of the textile industry, the fiber production phase. More recently, Simmons has worked in another phase of the industry, organizing fashion shows at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City and at the Grinspoon, Garvey & Young Entrepreneurship Conference in Springfield. This spring, Simmons will share his years of experience and inside connections with the fashion industry in a new GCC course titled “Fundamentals of Fashion and Textiles.”

Along with learning about the history and characteristics of the fashion, apparel, and textile industries, students will explore the textile production process from design concept through retail sales for apparel, home furnishings, industrial fabric, and geotextiles. They’ll learn about synthetic and natural fiber production, historic fashion influences, garment manufacturing options, design costing and pricing, and how fashion products are conceived, produced, and offered to the consumer through industry-specific supply chains.

Taking advantage of Simmons’ connections in the fashion and textile industry in New England and New York, the course will include visits to weaving studios, New York City fashion designers, and the Lawrence mills. Students will produce a fashion show of recycled garments and create a portfolio similar to that required for admission to the Fashion Institute of Technology. Simmons expects students in the course to have a wide range of interests, including design, marketing, media, and retail business. The new course is required in GCC’s new Retail Management Certificate.

In his role as advisor to the GCC Business Club, Simmons takes GCC students to New York City every spring for a 4-day trip to look at businesses. One of the businesses they visit is clothing designer Nanette Lepore, who is known not just for the clothing she designs and produces but also for being in the vanguard of the movement trying to revitalize the US clothing industry.

Simmons said, “In 1960, 95% of clothing sold in the United States was made in the United States. Today, that figure is 2%. The textile and apparel industries in America have been decimated by outsourcing and the consumer’s embrace of cheaply-made, mass-produced clothing imported from abroad. Between 1994 and 2005, the United States lost more than 900,000 textile and apparel jobs to overseas operations. There is a movement to reestablish a viable garment industry in the US. Massachusetts was the birthplace of the textile industry in the US and we still have the capacity to make textiles. This course is an immersion in every aspect of the industry.”

“Meeting Nanette Lepore was absolutely phenomenal,” said, Noreen Woodruff, who went with Simmons on the GCC Business Club trip to New York while she was studying toward a Entrepreneurship Certificate at GCC. She said, “Nanette took us through each level of the business, we met with people on the design floor, in patterning, bundling and sewing operations, in marketing. She talked about the structure of the business, explaining how she keeps her staff engaged and keeps all of her business in the United States for operations where there is still capacity to do so in this country. We got to have that incredible experience with Nanette because of Thom’s connections with her. Thom packed a huge amount of information and experiences into those four days. I took away so much from that trip. Thom’s knowledge of the fashion industry is huge and his passion for U.S.-made and fair trade business is contagious.”

For information about the new Fundamentals of Fashion and Textiles course, contact Thom Simmons at simmonst@gcc.mass.edu. For registration information please contact the Admission Office at 413-775-1801 or to learn more at gcc.mass.edu

By Mary McClintock, ’82

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