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Dress designs on mannequins

Fashion Design Teacher Laura Dunham Has a Heart for Service

Fashion Design teacher Laura Dunham is known to her students as “Mama D,” as her heart for service is embedded into the classroom, embraced by her students, and reflected by their actions in the community.

Product Development for Special Needs
When Dunham and her students learned the infant son of their campus police officer was diagnosed with leukemia they harnessed their love of fashion design and knowledge of clothing construction to help.

Officer Nicholas Carrillo had shown Dunham, both at Clear Lake High School in Houston, Texas, a costly specialty clothing garment worn by his son Luke to accommodate the medical tubes and ports required for his treatment.

Design Thinking
Dunham presented the bodysuit to her fashion design students who came up with a solution—they could retro-fit store-bought onesies by studying where to place special openings and flaps on the garment, and add personality with brightly colored kid-themed fabric and trim.

Using skills FIDM College Representative Beth Newman shared within the field of merchandise product development, students identified a need, considered a variety of solutions and costs, added design elements, and produced a finished product.

In the News
When they gifted the officer and his wife over a dozen pieces of the essential clothing item, the service project was featured in local news, inspiring Dunham’s students and members of their FIDM Fashion Club to consider a larger scale idea to benefit local hospitals.

“I wanted my students to see how service to others is a skill they can do and feel, and we filled a need,” Dunham said.

Luke is progressing nicely in treatment, his parents report.

FIDM Classroom Presentation
We learned of Dunham’s many efforts from FIDM College Representative Beth Newman who more recently presented Designing “Inside” the Box: Exploring the Innovative Field of Visual Communications, another of FIDM’s curriculum supporting lecture topics, where students saw visual window displays and marketing ideas used by innovative companies worldwide to generate consumer interest.

Visual Merchandising
Inspired by those concepts and knowing how creative her students are, Dunham arranged a field trip to view examples of visual merchandising at a local mall. When they returned to their classroom, students recreated their favorite inspiration source using non-traditional materials, another of Dunham’s go-to teaching methods.

In the “Paper Dress Challenge,” “Trash to Fashion,” and “Holidays Deconstructed,” Dunham encouraged students to upcycle old cotton shirts into tote bags; recycle crumpled gift wrap, ribbons and bows into festive party-wear; smash old CDs into shiny bits to create a mosaic mirror effect along the hemline of a garbage bag cape; or use strips of paper to recreate the silhouette of a haute couture garment.

Event Planning
Dunham’s students also practiced event planning and collaborated on “Fashion Fest,” a pop-up event they held on campus to showcase their creations down the runway. Local boutiques were given the opportunity to strut the stage, too, with students as models. Entertainment was provided by a singer and a DJ, and vendors were invited to sell holiday items.

Laura Dunham is Mama D.
It’s no wonder her students call her “Mama D.” Dunham goes beyond the classroom and exposes her students to hands-on projects where they experience teamwork, idea sharing, critical thinking and execution.

“I spent ten years in the interior design industry before becoming a teacher,” she said. “I want my students to see career opportunities and make connections between what we do in class and real jobs.”

A finalist for the 2020 H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards, she hopes to inspire artistry in her students and finds herself coming up with ideas in her sleep.

Her most important goal? “I want to create a space where my students can feel like family and build relationships, and see how much I care about them and their education.”