Expert Q&A: Fashion sense with Eve Nichols

With Austin Fashion Week right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to polish up your knowledge of the fashion industry. Senior lecturer Eve Nicols, of the department of textiles and apparel in the school of human ecology, is here to help. She has some experience in the business, having taken her designs to Milan, Italy, London and Hong Kong. As a Fellow of the Charted Society of Designers, Nicols gives an academic perspective on the role and study of fashion, as well as what the future holds for the industry and up-and-coming designers.

Longhorn Life: From an academic perspective, what is the role of fashion in society?

Eve Nicols: Fashion is a reflection of social attitudes. It shows what we believe to be important. People incorporate new technology into making clothes, which is good because we need to make clothes for practical purposes. But it’s also important that we make new styles because people feel good when they wear something that they like. There’s a psychological aspect to it as well. Design is always exciting and never boring. It brings joy in times of darkness and people need that.

LL: What is the main focus of the study of textiles and apparel?

EN: We have the textiles and apparel department within the school of human ecology. Students focus on retail merchandising, conservation — which deals with the chemistry behind textiles, for example, if one were to preserve garments in a museum — and design. Design can include technical and functional design. Functional design concentrates on garments for special purposes. These designs take into account ways to protect you from the external world. For instance, there are antimicrobial garments and special fabrics for first responders.

LL: What is the process by which a designer can take his or her product to customers?

EN: A designer begins with an inspiration for a particular garment or product. They must know whom they are designing for, what the end use will be and where it will be worn. They must consider the design carefully to make sure it is in the appropriate form for the customer. Once they do that, depending on their end goals, designers choose to produce their garments. The final creation may be made in special boutiques or mass-produced in large numbers. One of our previous graduates has a license to make her products in China, while another one chooses to create them on demand for individual customers. It really depends on which way the designer wants to go. Once they have a pattern and develop their skills, they can really go start a business just about anywhere. With creativity, they have a chance to make it big.

LL: What are exciting trends in the fashion industry today?

EN: People are starting to incorporate new technology into fabric. There are performance fabrics that change color and light up; some have computer chips embedded in them. Many fabrics have all kinds of functions, from monitoring heart rate to charging an iPod. I can see that in the near future there will be the development of several garments with clever technologies that can really enhance the lives of their users. 

LL: How will your students be involved with Austin Fashion Week?

EN: Austin Fashion Week focuses on the fashion industry within Austin and highlights entrepreneurs with their own businesses. Our students will be involved with the production, either backstage or front-of-house, volunteering to help make the event run smoothly.

LL: What professional advice can you give to aspiring designers?

EN: We tell our students to work for a while after graduation, for about three years. Students are required to do internships, and several work here in Austin or go to New York. It’s all about gaining experience and building contacts. Once they get the experience of applying their knowledge from class to a practical, professional environment, they can branch out to start their own business.

When they decide to take their own initiative, I say embrace it, go for it. There are so many areas that our graduates can get jobs in and there are so many opportunities out there. It’s about finding the direction that you’re interested in. Sometimes people say that they feel like they are having fun rather than working hard, and that is so true. People have made their millions in this industry. Be tenacious. Follow your dream and put in 150 percent effort into your work.