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Fashion Teacher Patricia Sutton Addresses Global Issues

Meet Patricia Sutton, Culinary Arts and Fashion Design Teacher at Los Gatos High School, in California, who is redefining what it means to be a fashion design teacher in the twenty-first century. With core curriculum stemming from sustainability and fair trade, Sutton is focused on how to address global issues through fashion design.

Sutton’s initial interest in fashion design was influenced by her mother, who was a fashion designer outside of Sacramento, California. Sutton often traveled with her mother to San Francisco to attend fashion shows and partner with production factories. She remembers acting as her mother’s fitting model in her teenage years, as well as completing her first garment at the young age of five. Although Sutton was always interested in fashion design, it wasn’t until high school that she discovered her love of teaching.

Now, as the Head of the Home Economics Department at Los Gatos High School, her curriculum blends her passion for fashion design, child development, and the culinary arts. She has taught fashion design and the culinary arts at Los Gatos for the past twenty years, and is learning “new technology and new ways of teaching, collaboration abroad being one of these efforts.” Sutton took two of her students to Taiwan in 2019, where they won national recognition for designing a jacket tailored to the needs of the Taiwanese homeless population.

Fashion Design on Mannequin

Sutton was initially invited to Taiwan to present at an international conference focused on solving global issues through sustainable design. In collaboration with Jhangshu International Creative Technical High School, a vocational technical school in Taiwan, Sutton and two students were offered a fully-sponsored opportunity to visit Taiwan and collaborate on the design of a jacket prototype for the conference.

Over the course of several months, Sutton and her students researched and designed solar-powered insulation for the jacket. This included comparing synthetic versus cotton batting, and working with the science team at Los Gatos to incorporate solar panels into the design. They also were responsible for creating the jacket’s hood, which was designed with safety lights to keep the homeless population safe at night.

Sutton and her team presented alongside students from over sixteen countries internationally, including Australia, Germany, and France. They obtained national recognition in the Taiwan news, as well as from the Mayor of the City of Taipei. “They had 10 different patterns and prototypes before the final one, so I think that it showed in the final,” said Sutton. “The fact that we were the ones chosen for the national news in Taiwan, and that my students were the ones that were interviewed, demonstrates that it was an outstanding project. They did a great job of representing our country and our talent.”

Sutton commented that the conference allowed her students to realize that issues of homelessness transcend borders and exist in both the United States and Taiwan. “I don’t think anybody ever thinks of other people’s homelessness,” remarked Sutton, “so they were enlightened by the fact that there are a lot more similarities in the world than there are differences.”

Sutton intends to continue their partnership with Jhangshu International Creative Technical High School, to foster viewpoints from around the world in her classroom. When they return to campus, Sutton plans on launching a fast fashion research project to deepen students’ awareness of the global issues in the fashion industry. By dissecting fast fashion, Sutton hopes to teach her students about fashion ethics, such as the impact of fast fashion production on an environmental and socioeconomic level. “If they [students] can connect to a real person from a different country, who knows somebody who is in the industry, who is maybe only making a few cents from that garment that is then shipped our way, maybe it will open their eyes to it.”

As a teacher, she is dedicated to creating collaborative opportunities for her students, while emphasizing the importance of making a difference in the lives of others. Each year, she organizes Souper Bowl, a fundraiser that unifies the ceramics, fashion, and culinary classes at Los Gatos. Sutton arranges with the ceramics teacher for students to make bowls for the fundraiser, which are then decorated with cozies made in Sutton’s fashion class and filled with soup made by her culinary arts class. The school fundraiser coincides with the opening of the spring musical, and allows for the community and students to come together, as well as leave with a beautiful handmade bowl and soup cozy. “It is a beautiful mesh of our disciplines,” explained Sutton.

Understanding the importance of partnerships, FIDM students collaborate with top brands, as well as other majors, putting what they’re learning in the classroom to work. Just as FIDM’s partner-led curriculum includes behind-the-scenes industry field trips, Sutton wants to provide those opportunities as well. Sutton has taken her students to FIDM’s DEBUT Runway Show for many years, often flying them there for the day and exploring greater Los Angeles. “When I take them down to Los Angeles, it really opens their eyes to the possibilities of the industry through the school [FIDM].”

Interested in learning more about wearable technology that can change the planet? Take a look at FIDM’s Innovative Materials Collection and Sustainability.