There’s a new back to school fashion trend in Mercer County this fall — a school for fashion.

Launched by Mercer County Community College, a new Fashion/Apparel Design and Fashion Merchandising program will find a home in a new facility on the college’s James Kerney Campus in Trenton. Students can begin taking classes in October.

The program’s home is a building purchased and renovated by the college dubbed “Trenton Hall” — the former home of Home Furniture Inc. — located across the street from the Kerney Campus on North Broad Street.

The building is also expected to provide space for the future expansion of health, science, and business programs in Trenton.

The college’s new Fashion/Apparel Design program was initiated last autumn. Its new Fashion Merchandising program begins in October, as will all fashion related classes at Trenton Hall.

The programs will help students meet the requirements for an Associate in Applied Science degree, preparing those with dreams of working in the fashion world for entry into the industry or to transfer to a four-year college for further study. The programs generally address the same requirements offered during the first two years at a majority of undergraduate universities and art colleges that emphasize fashion career training.

Tina LaPlaca — coordinator of MCCC’s advertising and graphic design and illustration programs — is the college’s fashion coordinator.

“Our tri-state region is one of the nation’s largest for this industry, where skilled students can find employment as assistant fashion designers, stylists, visual display artists, product and merchandise managers, and fashion illustrators,” says LaPlaca.

With career options including fashion and apparel sales, marketing, buying, and merchandising, the Trenton location’s proximity to the Philadelphia and New York City market populations shaped the college’s decision to establish the program and the center in the city.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) current information on the fashion industry, education is a good bet for those on the fashion career path. The bureau’s occupational outlook for the next decade claims “strong competition for jobs is expected because of the large number of people who seek employment as fashion designers and the relatively few positions available.

“Those with formal education in fashion design, with excellent portfolios, and with industry experience will have the best job prospects. In addition, it may be necessary for some fashion designers to relocate. Employment opportunities for fashion designers are highly concentrated in New York and California. In May, 2010, almost 75 percent of all salaried fashion designers worked in these two states.”

Additionally the BLS reports that while employment of fashion designers is expected to experience little to no change between 2012 and 2020, “some growth is projected for this occupation in specialized design firms and for self-employed fashion designers. Clothing and accessories designers will be needed to design comfortable and more affordable items for the mass market and everyday wear.

“In addition, as new clothing technology is developed, fashion designers will be needed to create garments using new fabrics, such as moisture-wicking fabrics.” The latter is related to exercise and recreational clothing.

To help students be competitive, the MCCC fashion curriculum will include art, design, computer application, technical skills, and business awareness. Participating students will need to develop a portfolio and complete a final project in both digital and print format before receiving a degree.

Courses set for the program include: Fashion — the Global Marketplace; Introduction to Fashion Drawing; Introduction to Textiles for Fashion; Fashion Design I; Computer-aided Fashion Drawing; Technical Skills for Apparel Production; Introduction to Fashion Merchandising; History of Costume Design; Technical Skills for Apparel Production II; and Fashion Design II — Portfolio. At this time classes are scheduled for daytime only.

MCCC representatives note that the fashion presence in Trenton Hall is the first phase of expansion. While fine arts faculty members are making plans to expand art programs and gallery needs in the capital city, longer-term plans will expand classroom space to the third and fourth floors for programs for health professionals, small business development, and a lab for modeling and simulation technologies.

The placement of the fashion program in the heart of Trenton is part of Mercer County’s $134 million general improvement plan. The county plan includes the $1.2 million spent on building renovations and a total of $8.5 million to fund various MCCC projects on both the Trenton and West Windsor campuses.

Projects this summer at the West Windsor campus include the renovation of three science labs and two prep rooms, replacing tennis courts, a synthetic turf field, and HVAC equipment in the Physical Education building. The Conference Center’s atrium floor is being updated, as is the entryway.

To make more efficient use of existing space at the Trenton campus, buildings are being renovated to provide a one-stop information center with computers where students can register and work online; a new science lab and a renovated science lab; a new classroom with state-of-the-art technology; a career center; and new rooms for student activities, independent study, and group work.

Says MCCC President Patricia Donohue, “After listening to student concerns, we are revving up what they will experience. They will have a more open, more user-friendly learning environment at the Trenton campus. Our vision is to grow in ways that meet the needs of Trenton and Mercer County.”

While all this seems new, it is in fact back to the future. MCCC has its roots in downtown Trenton and in design.

The community college is linked to a number of downtown Trenton education institutions, starting with the Evening Drawing School established in 1890 at 120 North Broad Street. That school evolved into the Trenton School of Technical Science and Art (1898), which in turn led to the founding of the School of Industrial Arts in 1901.

The School of Industrial Arts offered certificate of proficiency courses that included dressmaking, millinery, drawing, painting, modeling, and designing. The school was eventually housed on West State Street in the Kelsey Building, designed by famed American architect Cass Gilbert and based on the Strozzi Palace in Florence, Italy. The building is now the headquarters of Thomas Edison College.

At the end of World II and the start of the GI Bill that guaranteed college education for servicemen and women, returning veterans flocked to colleges and caused demand for education. As a response, the School of Industrial Arts trustees established an accredited two-year college program at the school and named it Trenton Junior College and School of Industrial Arts.

When the 1960s ushered in the community college movement across the nation and the New Jersey State Legislature passed a community college bill, the Mercer County Freeholders established Mercer County Community College. On July 1, 1967, Trenton Junior College merged with Mercer County Community College.

The community college held classes in the Kelsey Building and used various downtown spaces for classrooms and facilities until 1972, when the West Windsor campus opened. That same year the James Kerney Foundation of Trenton donated the property on North Broad and Academy streets to maintain the presence of a community college in downtown Trenton.

While MCCC has continued to provide academic classes on the Trenton campus, the establishment of the new programs facilities is a major development for the college and Trenton.

If MCCC’s plan is to make going back to school in downtown Trenton more fashionable, then the new programs at the new center may be setting the trend.

To learn more about the downtown fashion classes or visit Trenton Hall, MCCC will host an open house on Thursday, September 27, from 4 to 6 p.m. The event will convene first in Kerney Hall at 102 North Broad, where guests will have the opportunity to talk with faculty, staff, and students about academic programs offered in Trenton and enjoy refreshments prepared by MCCC’s Career Training Institute culinary students. Tours of Trenton Hall and other newly renovated areas led by representatives of the college will follow.

Potential attendees can RSVP at The registration deadline is Thursday, September 20. For additional information, community members can contact the Trenton Campus Provost’s Office at 609-570-3160 or the President’s Office at 609-570-3613.

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