Are there challenges? Yes, but by setting high standards, pushing the envelope for quality and creativity, providing flexibility and listening, students can produce great work that goes beyond their perceived limits. Stephanie Dickstein , Faculty , Miami International University of Art & Design
In what program do you teach?
Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising
What would you say is the defining moment in your life when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?
I have always felt that I was predestined to be a creative professional. I grew up in the retail fashion business learning from my mother who was a buyer for the Stagg Shop—our family’s fashion boutique on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida. That said, the defining moment for my career path occurred when I was 13 years old and traveled to New York City with my mother on her buying trip. We visited multiple showrooms, selections were made and later I observed the sales function. From then on, knowing the customer and fulfilling their needs through the buying process was my ultimate goal. The final turning point that solidified my career in buying occurred when I started working as an assistant buyer at Burdines (now Macy’s) after college graduation. I was hooked. The excitement and drama of the industry provided me with endless energy and passion for the fashion industry.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?
The buying classes I teach are project based. I draw from my experience as a multiple department buyer to create simulated, real-world projects that provide the students with the tools to develop their own merchandise mix based on individualized interests. Truly understanding your customer and being able to spot the next “it” item is paramount. It comes from experience with designers, fashion shows, and years of buying. Customer focus is a key concept that I try to ensure my students understand. It is important to predict trends, plan, purchase, promote, and present in the courses I teach. My teaching style is to provide not just the basic buying skill set, but to provide students with the key to successful buying.
Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?
While I provide individualized attention to each student in all my classes, the process of building a resume and portfolio exemplifies my approach to teaching and mentoring. A portfolio represents the students’ innate sense of self and accomplishment. The process of building a portfolio is very similar to the development of fashion catalogues, which I did for quite some time in my career. It is a multi-step process, which starts with a general theme. It is followed by directing the source and selecting merchandise for the theme. Then, it’s important to prepare the pagination, direct shoots, select final images and check all text. I see my role very similarly from when I worked on the catalogues in that I assist students with the organization, design concepts, text, layout design and motivation. The other item I feel is key is resume writing. After so many years of critiquing, interviewing, writing job descriptions and evaluations, I am able to impart the knowledge that only comes with the employer’s point of view. I believe each student has their own dreams and their own path to excellence. Are there challenges? Yes, but by setting high standards, pushing the envelope for quality and creativity, providing flexibility and listening, students can produce great work that goes beyond their perceived limits.
What role does collaboration contribute to students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project?
My fashion buying and merchandising experience provided me a few key words that have stayed with me throughout my professional and educational career—to accomplish goals, it’s important to communicate, delegate where needed, negotiate, interrelate, and coordinate. Collaboration is extremely important, as it is almost impossible to be successful without the ability to do so. Students in class collaborate on multiple activities. They provide and receive peer critiques, meet with fashion faculty, industry professionals and career services that provide feedback on projects, interview techniques and portfolio assessments. The general education courses also provide the writing and critical thinking skills required to complete business plans and trend reports. Because we often have classes that include both fashion merchandising and design students, it provides students with a complete view of the fashion process. Overall, students learn the value of teamwork and accomplishing goals through others.