Mary Opalk

Fashion Design

The Illinois Institute of Art — Chicago

Mary Opalk (AiChicago)

Students are surprised that they are able to create and present a professional, industry-quality product. Mary Opalk , Instructor , The Illinois Institute of Art — Chicago
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

I create real-world assignments around activities I had to do myself when I worked as a Creative Director and Apparel and Textile Designer for large corporations in Southern California and New York. All my lectures are also based on current methods for trend research, design, construction and manufacturing, interwoven with my own experience doing the tasks in a corporate setting for national and international distribution. 

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? How do you inspire students to push themselves beyond their perceived limits?

In my freshman Survey of the Fashion Industry class, I have created a product development and marketing assignment called “From Concept to Catwalk.” Using WGSN.COM (a worldwide trend research portal that is the industry standard) students research product design, fabrics and trims, color trends, store windows and layouts, catwalk design, and marketing methods. Then, as a class, we critically think through each student’s assignment in terms of feasibility, salability to a target market, and the effective reach of the marketing tactics. This assignment covers each chapter of the book using applied research. In the end, students are surprised that they are able to create and present a professional, industry-quality product development story and are pleased to have created a cohesive look and story within their final product.

How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

In my Textiles class, collaboration is key in determining a labeling system for the end product uses for the class’s swatch book. They must work together and crowdsource ideas from within their groups, which are made up of six students from both Marketing and Fashion Design. 

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

Presentation is everything. A professional and respectful attitude is essential. Being on time and meeting deadlines is crucial. More specifically, but just as important, not losing a company’s work is one of the most important things to watch out for. Keeping it on thumb drives is risky. Storing all work, including personal work, in the cloud is safer and more efficient.