The remodeled visual merchandising lab’s windows push out into the hallway, looking just like a storefront, out-of-place in an otherwise traditional hallway. It is a quick transition from storefront to hallway. Just past the lab is a section of walls with double rows of red lockers stacked on top of each other. Offices and traditional classrooms speckled the other spaces along the hallway.
Bulletin boards and posters line the hallway in Wightman Hall at Central Michigan University. Among them are two large posters directly next to the lab with maroon borders and several photos of store fronts. They both stress the importance of visual merchandising in the fashion industry.
Professor Michael Mamp exits his office wearing black leather shoes, matching slacks and a gray pullover hoody. His red glasses with a touch of black reside against his black hair, which has just the slightest touch of gray.
He carries a step-ladder in each arm across the hall to the newly remodeled lab to be used on that day’s project. He returns to his office and comes back once more with his hands full. This time, it is with his laptop and coffee. It is noon, and the visual merchandising class is ready to begin.
Mamp had more than a decade of management experience in the fashion industry, before entering into the academics side of fashion.
When he was being interviewed for the open professor position, he explained that he would be more inclined to work at CMU if the lab space was better used.
While it is not uncommon for professors to make requests to better suit their teaching styles, Mamp said, it is the first time this has happened in CMU’s fashion and merchandising program.
Mamp said it had been the intention of the university to remodel the lab for some time, but his hiring provided the perfect opportunity to put the plans in action.
The remodeled lab was first used by classes in the 2015 fall semester. The lab is a work in progress, as indicated by a sign on a wooden stand in the hallway where it resides, but it has made an impression already.
Professor Ian Mull, who worked in retail as a manager, said, “The lab will make students more desirable to hire because the students will come to the work force with a deeper understanding and have developed skill sets to work with visual dimensions and space, lighting, mannequins, fixtures, signage, and merchandising presentation prior to their job experience.”
Mull said the lab provides students with a place they can try, fail and succeed in a controlled environment. The lab is an “amazing experience for students,” he said.
Before the lab was remodeled, the windows served merely as a showcase for artwork. Now the windows are designed specifically for merchandising. To get hands on experience in merchandising, students would have to take field trips to stores, including Somerset mall, about two hours from CMU.
Mamp and his students sit in tall lime green chairs around a square table. In a soft voice, Mamp asks how everyone is doing. After a positive response, he offers the opportunity to re-do a previous assignment after having received feedback on it.
Detail is then given to an upcoming assignment, with examples being displayed on a television duplicating Mamp’s laptop screen.
Groups are to use objects to fill a space for an effective presentation of merchandise. The goal is to make a display that looks simple, but isn’t. Mamp instructs the groups to place clothes onto sections of the pin-up walls around the lab.
Mamp said the visual merchandising class can be more challenging than other fashion and merchandising courses because it is about creative problem solving. There isn’t one correct answer like a history of fashion class would have. It can be uncomfortable to students not familiar with this type of class, he said, but they do actively learn in the lab.
The lab is set up to do tasks the students would have to do in the workplace, Mamp said, and working in groups is a crucial part of that because it is what the students would encounter in the fashion industry.
Mamp said the class is split half between group projects and personal work. This allows for accountability for each student in their projects.
Going over the expectations of an assignment will be when he talks the most in a class, Mamp said. The students are set to work at 12:30 p.m. and have until 3 p.m. to work on their group projects.
Mamp has students watch his recorded lectures online, outside of class. This allows for more time in the lab to work together on projects. He said the idea was to have the traditional classroom experience flipped. Lectures are outside of class, and what would typically be homework is done in class.
The visual merchandising lab includes a line of more contemporary, adjustable mannequins standing in a row behind the wall of merchandising windows standing under adjustable lighting. A projector hangs from the ceiling pointing toward the full panes of glass.
It’s capable of displaying websites onto a specialized surface on the glass that can be used as a touchscreen device from the hallway.
Inside the classroom, a white, unblemished table stands on the side of the classroom, lined with silver Mac laptops. A paper and vinyl cutter used for graphics sets on a white cabinet against a blank whiteboard, and a 3-D printer stand next to the cabinet for use in advanced classes.
Mull said the lab being remodeled brings CMU to the next level, and allows for the university to be more competitive among other fashion schools.
Christopher Stevens wrote this piece.