Kwantlen Polytechnic University: Hands-on learning

Mannequins are used in a production class.

Mannequins are used in a production class.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Fashion Program is seen as one of B.C.’s most reputable, hands-on fashion programs, running since the 1970s.

“You can’t just talk about it. You have to do it, experience it, live it,” said Andhra Goundrey, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Fashion Program coordinator.

Goundrey, a graduate of the program herself in 1996, is head of the Fashion Program and teaches fourth-year courses. “The things we used to do were all by hand. You look now and everything is so professional and constantly changing to stay with the times.”

The fashion program welcomes all who are looking to learn and be hands -on with both the design process and working with fashion retailers in Vancouver. In order to be accepted into this program, students must meet entrance requirements of Kwantlen, as well as provide a portfolio. After the process of applying and showing a portfolio, on average 60-70 students are accepted per year. “We’re looking for potential in the portfolio, not perfect sketches in a sketch book,” said Goundrey.

Karen Faint, a third-year student, enjoys her experiences at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. “I don’t want to be a designer, I am much more interested in drafting and production,” Faint said, while designing and grading a coat made for snowshoeing, digitally on the computer.

Before applying to Kwantlen, Faint had previous post-secondary experience. “I went to a school in Victoria and one of my teachers graduated from here. She told me the program is much more technical and aimed towards getting you a job after, rather than just making pretty things for fun,” said Faint.

Before choosing Kwantlen, Faint looked at other fashion programs in B.C. “I looked at Blanche McDonald before Kwantlen. I weighed the pros and cons between Kwantlen and there. That program was only a year and this is four. Kwantlen will help me get a career. This is a much well-rounded program, it will teach me a bunch of things,” said Faint.

Other students have similar experiences.

“Fashion isn’t actually what I want to do. I am planning on going to Home Ec. After talking to the Dean of Education at UBC, I was advised to have a background in fashion, to have a basic knowledge of sewing and design, and was recommended to go to Kwantlen. It is a very good program. It is very intensive with a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Emily Barber, a third-year fashion student.

Equipped with its own fashion store, Kwantlen houses a room full of fabrics for students to work with. “We receive different types of fabric runs from different companies when they are done with them. This gives us a variety of fabrics for our students to choose from,” said Goundrey.

With the run of the store, students are able to chose fabrics they’d like to use in each class that involves product production. Unique to Kwantlen, this hands-on program allows students to learn by doing, rather than only being told how it should be done.

After learning about theory in first-year classes, students go into second year able to work on products. In this semester’s style production class, students are working on dresses for their final.

“There are two sections of this class. Each section works with a Vancouver-based company. One section is working with Misch. They go in and get a design briefing from the company about what actually sells and get a better sense of what their customer is. For their final, they have to come up with a product that will fit the needs of the Misch customer. They prepare a specification package, along with the product and get feedback from the company. The other section is working with Plum, and they are doing the same and getting feedback from that company,” said Goundrey.

Kwantlen is the biggest school in B.C. to offer company links to its students.

“That’s one thing that is unique to us, these company links. In the third year, students work with Lululemon and the production lab. They do the same things they did in their second year, but more intense and with different companies within Vancouver. They get direct feedback from the fashion labs as to what the customer is looking for.”

After receiving a $12-million donation from the founder of Lululemon, Chip Wilson, Kwantlen’s Design School is getting a revamp. The construction of a new home for Student Fashion aims to set an example across Canada.

“We’ve been working with Lululemon for quite a while now. We probably have over 40 grads working there. It’s really exiting to build this new school. It is going to be a world-class hub that will bring in new speakers and ideas. It will also be really great for all seven design programs to work together and co-mingle. It will be great to share ideas,” Goundrey said.

It seems that that this program has the most successful graduates, with many getting a job right away. This comes from the links and networking with local Vancouver companies which the students take part in. “We are really lucky the industry wants to be involved with our university.”

Students of the fashion program can interact with these companies outside of classes too, as many are eligible for internships. “They do research for job opportunities to find where they most fit. They do a 240-hour internship with a company in their third year. This is where I find the light bulb turns on. In the first and second year it’s a lot of theory. In upper years they find out how it really works out in the industry. They enhance all their learning with out of class experience,”

As well as business links locally, students also have the opportunity to study abroad. “When students come into third year, they have the opportunity to apply for an international exchange. We have some students going to London, Helsinki, Taiwan, and RMIT in Australia. We have many opportunities with other Universities,” Goundrey said.

The four-year program puts students through an intensive course of sewing, marketing, history and design. In the fourth year, students put together a collection of three outfits and put on a fashion show, showcasing their designs at the end of the year. “Throughout the year students come up with ideas for their designs, then create them. In the spring they showcase three outfits in the fashion show,” said Goundrey.

The student fashion show takes place on April 24, 2014.

Megan Renaud

Journalism student trying to make it as a fashion journalist.


  • Marissa Mallari
    Reply December 9, 2013

    Marissa Mallari

    I found this article extremely informative. I didn’t know that the fashion program was as big as it is. It is obvious that you put a lot of research into it, and all for a good reason as it made the piece really informative. Great job!

  • Jaclyn Sinclair
    Reply December 9, 2013

    Jaclyn Sinclair

    Interesting. I think a lot more programs should be based on hands-on learning and real experiences with links to real companies, it sounds like it would really benefit a lot of students.

  • Avatar
    Reply December 9, 2013

    Ashley Ezart

    I had heard about the expansion of the fashion program with the contribution from Chip Wilson and his wife. I didn’t know the program was that big either. It is really interesting to see how hands-on it actually is and that they really do help students find work for afterwards by being so technical.

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