Santa Rosa Junior College student Shae Bent comes from a long line of seamstresses and is in her second semester of clothing construction. While she has multiple majors, her eyes light up the most when she talks about what she’s learning in fashion studies.
Modern beauty and fashion can change at the literal drop of a hat. Students enrolled in SRJC fashion studies program aim to be the next generation of creative influencers. Bent passionately explains her dreams to get her hands dirty with designers and create beautiful, life-changing clothes.
“I want to be the one that’s doing the actual work, putting in the real work,” Bent said.
She specifically chose SRJC over one of the more famous local or national fashion schools.
“I noticed how the JC is so helpful. The people there really do care about where I’m going, they care about what I’m striving to do,” she said.
The fashion studies program teaches all the skills required in the industry, from basic sewing to design and marketing and even puts on a fashion show every year to showcase the students’ hard work. Two different certificates are available: Retail Merchandising and Fashion Designer Assistant.
The retail merchandising requirements focus on product development, marketing and styling, while the fashion designer assistant requirements focus on the actual design and construction of garments. However, the annual fashion show is part of both courses.
Robyn Spencer-Crompton is an adjunct faculty member who’s been teaching the skills necessary to put on this exhibition since 2000. “When you get a certificate out of our program, you’re ready for a job,” she said.
“The passion that [Spencer-Crompton] brings out to us, just makes me feel like I’m at home. She’s just as creative, she’s just as passionate about this as I am. I want to be like that, I want to be as happy as she is, doing exactly what she loves,” Bent said.
The theme of the show changes every year and is largely influenced by the materials available to work with.
This year’s theme is “Metamorphosis” — a fitting subject due to how the community has changed in the wake of recent local natural disasters.
While the fashion show acts as a showcase for students to display their hard work and talent, it is also a contest with prizes attractive to those hoping to break into the fashion industry. New and expensive sewing machines and a custom dress form will go to the students who win the best in show and viewers choice awards as well as the classic first, second and third places.
While Bent is not in it for the competition, having her unfinished project and her sewing machine stolen out of her car in San Francisco during spring break, weeks before the show, was still heart-breaking. The thieves missed the wallets under the seats but Bent didn’t realize until she had gotten home what they had taken.
“My car gets broken into and my sewing machine that I bought to learn to sew and develop my skills as a kid, through my teen years and now as a young adult… it was devastating. My machine had sentimental value that can’t be replaced,” Bent said.
Despite this setback, Bent put together a new dress and overcoat, which she wore on the runway at the fashion show, during SRJC’s Day Under the Oaks event on April 28 in the Bertolini Student Center.
“I did four months of work in one. I said I would give it my all even after what happened to me, so I did just that,” Bent said.
Students and teachers both agree that passion is the crucial factor required for success in this program.
“They aren’t going to choose you to make them a beautiful gown, if all you have is an A,” Bent said. “You gotta want it.” Spencer-Crompton agrees.
“[The students] come in with a deep interest, or a deep love for it and then they find the tools that lead them down a pathway where they can actually make a good living out in the real world, using their skills,” Spencer-Cromptom said.
Students in this program come from far and wide, from a retired teacher who figured it was time to learn how to sew, to an experienced designer with a bachelor’s degree and even someone whose grandmother made hippie skirts in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
Passion is an important component of success in any SRJC major, but the fashion studies program is one of the few majors that channels a student’s passion into artistic expression that comes to life before our very eyes.