I had an opportunity to chat with Liz Truong – Studio Manager and Creative Director at Change Boutique here in Madison about the Intern Program offered by the local fair trade shop. Currently there are 4 student interns with concentrations in Textile Design, Fashion Design and Retail/Merchandising, the internship lasts one semester with an option to extend to a second if needed. The dedicated interns log 12-15 hours per week in the studio on top of any course load and other jobs they may hold.
What is the core concept of the internship?
The internship program is geared toward design students who are passionate about great style, as well as a great cause. We are looking to develop a custom Made in Madison concept line and to have styles developed with our overseas producer group, Fair Fashion Vietnam. This is a great opportunity for a student who wants a broad range of educational and real life experiences in preparation for the fashion industry.
What was the driving force behind the internship program?
In May 2013 Change hosted a Design Showcase Competition; teaming up with the Textile & Apparel Design Studies Department at UW-Madison and a fair trade company in Uganda. The students were supplied with handmade fabrics from artisans in East Africa to design a clothing line, with the intent for the winning designs to be produced in Uganda and sold exclusively at Change Boutique. I started consulting with Change in July 2013 and it was clear that the product development process following the competition was missing some vital elements in order to execute the pieces. Nikki and I discussed the process of design and overseas product development and decided it would be an invaluable lesson for any apparel design student to be a part of.
Gandhi’s famous quote: “You must be the change you wish to see in this world” inspired Nikki to open Change and it inspired us to establish an internship to help students learn and change the future.
How does the internship program benefit the students and what’s the impact for the store?
Change Boutique is very unique in that we are small and can provide a hands on experience similar to what you would get in an industry job. They are responsible for all aspects of garment creation: design, pattern, sewing muslin & fitting, grading, final production sewing and costing. Emphasis is placed on target customer analysis, and the functionality of clothes and sewing quality to be factory finished and store ready.
The impact for the store is that we have small run, custom designed pieces that are special for our customers. The students experience firsthand feedback from customers on something they have worked so hard on. It is a lovely self contained continuous “feed back” loop of local producers, local outlet and retail consumers.
What is the main focus for the interns and how is that applied to the projects the students work on?
The main focus for the students is to creatively problem solve and envision new designs from upcycled materials (taking old sheets, block printing on them or over dyeing) or reworking any back stock that we have available and is not moving on the sales floor.
With every round of interns, the first project I have them work on is cutting and sewing a pre-existing design (from the previous team of interns). This is important for a few reasons:
First, I want to see how detail oriented they are and the quality of their sewing.
Second, it’s important to have follow through and enthusiasm for your work, especially when it’s not your own. In the industry, you may be working on a project that absolutely drives you nuts, but you have to maintain the drive to finish high quality work on deadlines.
During the second half of the semester, I have the current team of interns collaborate on their own design. For this they will do initial sketch & fabric research to review with Nikki and myself. After approval they will create the initial pattern, and cut a muslin for fitting. They will execute corrections to the pattern and re-sew muslin’s until final approval of construction and fit. The next step is grading the pattern, where the pattern is systematically increased or decreased to create the size range of XS-XL. Then they lay the final graded patterns out on fabric and try to maximize usage of fabric, depending on grain lines and cutting direction. Once we’ve reviewed the cutting layout, the pieces are cut and bundled according to size. These bundles await the following semesters’ newest interns and the cycle continues.
How do you see the program evolving in the future?
Ideally we will always want to keep the internship available as an outlet to prepare students for what to expect in the “real world” of fashion. We are unique in that our focus is also on upcycling goods to create new items and that often requires more problem solving and man power. We want to continue to offer an internship where they can create anything from new textile prints to embroidery, knitting and fabric manipulation details.
What do the interns have to say about the program?
“This internship gave me an excellent understanding of what it would be like to work for a very small design company, as well as insight into the Fair Trade industry. The highlights of the internship were when we had room to assert our own design preferences, such as altering the Oaxaca skirt pattern and upcycling the design of the black lace shirts. I also benefited from learning professional skills like making tech packs, doing pattern rubs of pre-existing garments, and grading patterns. My favorite aspect of the internship was the store atmosphere and the employee dynamic, because Liz and Nikki were so welcoming and made the job extremely enjoyable and comfortable.”
-Kirstin, Intern Summer ’14
“I thought this internship was a great experience. I think because I was part of the first groups of interns, there was a lot of learning and trial and error for both ends. However, I think we worked through any issues that came up well. This program provided a nice range of learning opportunities for the interns and provided training in subjects I knew nothing about coming in, such as grading. Gaining these skills will be beneficial when entering the industry, so I think, if possible, every intern should have a project in which grading is involved.”
-Sophie, Intern Summer and Fall ’14
“First of all, I just want to say that interning at Change Boutique was a very valuable experience for me. I want to thank Liz for being such a great internship supervisor!
I think the best part of interning at Change Boutique is to be able to learn beyond school curriculum. For example, I was never aware of pattern-grading because we mostly do personal projects, making only 1 garment in one size. I wouldn’t have had a chance to learn and practice pattern-grading if I didn’t intern at Change Boutique. I feel that this is something many students might want to experience.
Also, I think that making garments for sale is a very good experience for interns. Although students do consider commercial aspects for school projects, I find a lot of my classmates and myself focusing rather on artistic or creative aspects. Considering ‘what will sell’ over ‘what will look creative’ was definitely a new and fun approach for me when it comes to designing. Throughout the whole process of making “kirstin.ricki.sophie (K.R.S.) dress” I could have better idea on what I would do if I were to work as a designer.”
-Ricki, Intern Fall ’14
Are there pre-requisites the interns must meet to be eligible?
Prospective interns must be currently enrolled in an apparel program. They should have experience in pattern making, machine sewing, hand sewing, cutting paper and fabric. Knowledge of illustration and CAD (Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator) is preferred.
How can those interested in being interns apply for the program?
Every semester, when we have openings for internships we post on the UW BuckyNet, or in the weekly Careers Digest email.
Change Boutique is located at 1252 Williamson St. Madison WI 53703