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Marianne Egan Designs a Fashion Career

The career path for fashion design grads never looks like a meandering road, but rather a patchwork quilt of experience. Oregon State University apparel design instructor Marianne Egan uses her professional fashion experiences to help her students navigate the post-college world. At this point in her career, Egan manages to pursue her passions in style, as she educates the next generation of students while running her own business, Marianne Egan Custom Bridal.

A fashion enthusiast from a young age, Egan decided to go all-in to the industry at the age of 14 after signing up for her first subscription to Harper's Bazaar magazine. Her passion persisted through high school and into higher education, with Egan graduating from the International Academy of Design and Technology with a degree in fashion design. She went on to earn a master's degree in apparel design from Oregon State University. Between those two accomplishments, Egan worked as an intern at Schuessler Knitting Mills, Inc., which is where her future in the field began to firm up.

"I left Chicago to get my master's in fashion and couture construction at Oregon State. I was done with living and working in Chicago and I needed another way to be creative. During my graduate work I was lucky enough to work as a teaching assistant and I quickly fell in love with the energy of creative students!" said Egan, "It's pretty personal, but finishing my graduate degree, discovering the outdoors of the Pacific Northwest and learning I was going to be a mother all created the perfect storm. I realized I could be creative, love my job, have a family, and still stay up-to-date in the fast world of fashion if I made a career out of teaching."

 

Hands-On with Tech

Since she transitioned from a teaching assistant to an instructor, Egan has taught more than a dozen different courses at her alma mater including computer design for apparel, apparel construction, fashion trend analysis and more. She's hard-pressed to pick a favorite class, but definitely has a preferred teaching style.

"My favorite classes are always my hands-on studios. I am an interactive teacher, not a lecturer. I prefer to share ideas with students and see where they take them," said Egan.

Egan, who works on a Cintiq 21UX and owns a Bamboo tablet, also makes technology a priority in her classroom to ensure her students are competitive upon graduation.

"Being familiar with products, how they are used, how to use them, and their capabilities keeps [students] on the front edge of technology. Many of them are hired out of college for their technology knowledge," said Egan.

An expert in everything from footwear to couture, Egan could have chosen to craft any number of garments for a living. In 2005 Egan crafted a wedding dress for a friend and, after extensive work, discovered that particular piece of clothing presented her most worthy -- and rewarding -- challenge.

"My favorite part of designing is the process, not necessarily the finished product; however the finished product pays your bills," said Egan, "Everyone wears clothes without putting much thought into it, of course there are some that put in more thought than others, maybe even a lot more. Few pieces of clothing compare to the epic thought put into a custom-made wedding dress."

 

Balancing Art and Commerce

Egan finds her roles as an educator and a businesswoman mutually beneficial, providing her with an outlook that balances art and commerce, which is consistent with Oregon State's philosophy.

"Running my own business keeps me current in the industry and allows me to offer first-hand knowledge to my students. I can give them case studies of design challenges and how I worked through them, which gives me another perspective when teaching them how to work through their design problems. The program in which I teach is located in a school of design that is part of the college of business. My custom wedding dress business shows first-hand how to marry design with business, which is part of our philosophy in the school. It is one thing to teach creativity in design and another to teach about entrepreneurship or the simple bottom line of making a profit. I feel I can speak to them about staying true to their creative selves while demonstrating to them how to earn money doing it."

The symbiosis of Egan's pursuits presents her with unique challenges, but also opportunities to grow in both areas of her professional life.

"Sometimes [the challenges] overlap, other times one is very specific," said Egan, "For example one day I can be working for a client and another day I am working on a new lesson plan, but they are never far from each other. As I develop myself as a designer I am constantly thinking, right away, about how I can take what I learned and teach it."

As the art of clothing construction and custom fitting continues to become a specialized discipline rather than a domestic necessity, the average person depends on designers even if they might take the craft behind their clothes for granted.

"I'll tell you what I say to people who love to go on and on to me about how they don't care about fashion, 'You are wearing clothes, you put them on and had to make that decision. There is a reason and I'm sure somewhere in there fashion influenced it.' I usually refer back to the incredible scene in The Devil Wears Prada where she talks about the cerulean belt," said Egan.

For Egan, her love of fashion and education remains focused on the people it outfits. Clothing doesn't shape her worldview, other human beings do.

"I don't know if I can say that [fashion] has changed the way I see the world but I can say that it has opened many opportunities to meet incredible people who have influenced how I see the world," said Egan.