Sandra Henderson-Williams

Fashion Marketing & Management

The Illinois Institute of Art — Chicago

S. Henderson-Williams

It's important for students to realize that every job requires collaboration in the workplace. No one person can make something happen alone. Sandra Henderson-Williams , Instructor , The Illinois Institute of Art — Chicago
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

My first memory of being creative was when I was in kindergarten, sitting quietly at a table, creating a necklace for my mother. I remember being fascinated by the entire process—the occasion, the raw materials, the color pattern, the design elements, the packaging. I still think about that day in my kindergarten class and the logic behind my decisions. It’s ironic that, many years later, I would be promoted to National Buyer for Fashion Jewelry and Sterling Silver for a major retailer. Not surprisingly, the creative process that went into my necklace would be the foundation for my decisions about what jewelry should be carried in hundreds of retail stores. Today, I still sit quietly at a table where I design, make, and sometimes sell my jewelry.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

I am very fortunate to have experience in advertising, graphic design, marketing, and the merchandise buying areas of the fashion industry. I stress to my students that life is a series of temporary events. It’s not the events that impact us, but how we handle them. I create real-world projects for students and role play as an upper-level manager. This demonstrates the importance of building skills such as time management, analytical research and planning, and quick response with assignments. I also have story time with my students to stress the importance of knowing as much as possible about your industry and the company you'd like to work for. I'm always very candid about personal missteps and how I used that experience to improve my situation.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

The Retail Buying class has the "Buyer's Journal," which requires the student to research and analyze a particular retailer. The advanced course—Merchandise Management—is a team-driven computer simulation where students develop the financial plans, products, marketing, and more for a fictitious department store. This particular project demonstrates a student’s understanding of the business side of the fashion industry when he or she interviews for jobs after graduation.

How do you inspire students to push themselves beyond their perceived limits?

I provide workshops for each of my classes. These workshops include merchandising math, resume and cover letter writing, interpretation of industry related job postings, and interview role playing. I was a mentor in the corporate environment. Today, my desire to share best practices and encourage students continues at [The Illinois Institute of Art—Chicago].

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

It's important for students to realize that every job requires collaboration in the workplace. No one person can make something happen alone.

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

Prepare for success, don't just wish and hope that it comes your way. It's not enough to want success—you have got to work hard for it!

What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?

The world is not waiting for you. Remember that you are not bringing civilization to the masses. You must be willing to learn from those that have come before you. Always be humble.

Anything else?

My road to success in the corporate world was extremely tough. I feel very fortunate to have developed a skill set which includes design, marketing, product development, and merchandising. I believe it is very important to give back and share the details of my journey with others. That means helping my students develop realistic expectations for future success. I nudge them to dig in and do what's needed to make their wishes, hopes, and dreams come true.