High price tag on fashion program holds students back

Ella Abbott

Fashion students pursuing a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in fashion design may often find themselves breaking the bank just to afford necessary materials for their classes. 

The College Board estimates that the average student will spend about $1,200 on books and supplies in one year, but fashion design students may find themselves spending well above that. 

Tahany Huerta, a senior fashion design major, is set to graduate in May. Huerta is pursuing a bachelor of arts in fashion design to focus on her research into sustainable fabrics, but hasn’t been immune to the high costs of the major. 

“In general, I think I definitely spend less than most other design students partly because money is a constraint, so I try to find cheaper alternatives,” Huerta said. “I would definitely say on average (I spend) probably around $500 to $700 a semester, and that’s being somewhat stingy.”

Huerta said she knows other design students spend more than her. With a sustainability minor, she’s always trying to find ways to repurpose materials or use as much of them as possible. 

Students need to have the right materials to succeed in their classes. Over time, the costs of these materials begin to add up. 

The markers required for drawing classes are usually the brand Prismacolor. Huerta said the price for one marker can range from $5 to $12, and students are expected to have an array of them. 

For some students, not being able to afford the materials required for these classes can be the difference between passing and failing a class. 

This semester, Huerta offered to lend the Prismacolor markers she doesn’t use anymore to a friend who was struggling with a class because he couldn’t afford the materials. 

“Vinnie (Tharnish) and I were hanging out, and he was telling me about his drawing class,” Huerta said. “And he was like ‘yeah, I can’t go buy all the markers that I need, and so I can’t do the drawings correctly, and I’m close to failing.’”

For many students, the fear of being unable to participate fully in a class because they can’t afford the necessary materials can be a very real concern.

Cassandra Casas Rojas, a senior fashion design major, suggested buying in bulk to cut costs in the long run.

“One marker can cost $7,” Rojas said. “I think I ordered 80, and my dad paid $200. But in the long run, if you think about it, he paid about $3.50 a marker versus $7.” 

Rojas is a first-generation student who said her family helps out. Even so, she works 30 to 40 hours a week, making it a “team effort.” Despite her efforts, money sometimes still isn’t there for large purchases.

“Sometimes you just don’t have the money to buy those markers,” she said. “So you just kind of have to work with what you’ve got.” 

Other materials students are expected to have include marker paper, sketch paper, bobbin cases, pins and fabrics.

As freshmen, students are required to buy a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, which starts at $20 a month, but goes up to $30 a month after the first year. They’re expected to have this subscription their entire time at Kent. 

In their junior year, students are required to buy a mini dress form to create samples, which is currently listed on Amazon at $82.99.

By their senior year, fashion students are required to have a professional portfolio, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Rojas said, early on in a student’s career, they’re asked to choose between the bachelor of arts and the bachelor of fine arts degrees. She said students are typically warned about how expensive the bachelor of fine arts can get.

For students who choose to pursue the bachelor of fine arts, they are expected to create a thesis fashion line to present in the spring of their senior year.

Rojas began the process of creating her thesis line in the spring of her junior year. So far, she estimates she’s spent over $2,000 on fabrics alone. 

“Between all the muslin fabric, I would say (I’ve spent) around $700,” she said. “That’s something that’s never gonna matter, and that’s buying the cheapest possible (option) at all times.”

Muslin is a plain weave cotton fabric that designers use to create a prototype of their designs before they begin using the final fabric. Students are expected to purchase and use different types of muslin fabric throughout their time at Kent. 

The muslin itself isn’t an expensive fabric, typically running at a few dollars per yard, but when students are creating lines made up of five to 10 designs, the costs of the fabric begins to add up.

Once a student has created their prototypes, they present it to their professor for critique where they run the risk of having the whole line scrapped and needing to start all over again, which means all that muslin fabric goes to waste.

Delaney Sullivan graduated from Kent State University with her bachelor of fine arts in fashion design in May 2017. Sullivan estimated that at the end of her thesis, she had spent more than $2,000 on the designs, including a few hundred going to the muslin fabrics alone.

Sullivan used all sustainable materials, which helped make her fabrics more cost efficient. She said her roommate at the time spent about $3,000 on final fabrics alone. Students who decide to do bridal or lines that require more expensive fabric may have costs around $5,000.

Sullivan said she wishes the school had provided the muslin fabrics for students to use throughout their time in the program, a sentiment that both Huerta and Rojas echoed. 

“If they have just a simple, medium-weight muslin that they buy in bulk and just have available for students,” Sullivan said. “I think in terms of supplies that could be something that could help reduce the cost for the students.” 

Both Sullivan and Rojas said their senior year was easily the most expensive year of the program, with costs rising to an “exorbitant amount,” Sullivan said.

“In terms of just school supplies, I would say (I’ve spent) a good $3,000 to $3,500,” Sullivan said. “It gets to be a lot.” 

In the last few years, Kent State has changed its requirement for students pursuing a fashion degree to participate in a study abroad program on top of requiring students to do a semester-long internship.

Studying abroad offers students an opportunity to get hands-on experience in the fashion field and experience life within a culture beside their own, but it also means higher costs and, for many students, the need for more loans.

Sullivan, who did her internship in New York during the summer before her junior year, said she understands why the university would require students to study abroad, but the costs are hard for an average college student to fulfill. 

“The summer I spent interning in New York ended up being about $12,000,” Sullivan said. “A lot of students already are going to struggle to try to have enough money in the first place just to go to Kent.” 

Within Rockwell Hall, students also have access to the TechStyleLAB which can help with the more technical aspects of creating a line, such as pattern making and embroidery. Instructors encourage students to utilize this service when making their garments, but the cost is one more to add to the growing list. 

Sullivan used the TechStyleLAB for embroidery in her final designs. After samples and using it on her line, she said it contributed about $500 to her final costs. 

Rojas said a 12-by-12 inch sample of embroidery could cost around $60, which would multiply by each garment a designer had embroidered and by the space the embroidery would cover.

“They want us to use (the TechStyleLAB) so bad, but the prices are just insane,” Rojas said, “especially for the B.F.A. … If you really want us to use your stuff, then I think you should discount us something.”

Most students struggle with finances each semester, having to pay for tuition, room and board, food and the supplies needed for classes like books, materials and computer programs.

For students in the fashion design major, expenses like these can be much higher and mean deciding between the pursuing the degree you want and the degree you can afford.

Huerta worries that the stress of all of these costs after tuition and fees is lost on the administration.

“There are so many factors,” Huerta said. “I think financial stressors are affecting students a lot more than administrators realize.” 

Ella Abbott is the fashion reporter. Contact her at [email protected].