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Fashion in Chicago: Checking In With Julie Hillery

When Julie Hillery was in college, many of her instructors had no real-world experience in the fashion industry, but as an instructor with one foot in the professional world and the other in teaching, Hillery does her best to help her own fashion students get ready for life after college.

Julie Hillery
Julie Hillery

The opportunity to share her real-world experience is one of the reasons Hillery says she wanted to teach fashion.

“Everyday I learn something new, and that’s one thing I love about teaching,” she says.

Hillery has been teaching at Columbia College Chicago for two and a half years, teaching courses like Clothing and Society, Introduction to Fashion Studies, Merchandise Management and Fashion Product Evaluation in Columbia’s fashion studies department. She also taught at Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northern Illinois University, but says she loves teaching at Columbia.

“The students are so creative, and the liberal arts education model is a great fit for me,” says Hillery.

Hillery has managed and worked for many retail companies, including as a wholesaler for Revlon cosmetics and as a buyer for several independently owned boutiques. She worked in the fashion industry for 20 years before going back to school.

First, Hillery earned her associates degree in marketing and retail management at a two-year technical college, then in 1995, she received her Ph.D. in Environment, Textiles and Design at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and in 1998 she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees of Science in Textiles and Clothing at Ohio State University.

“Because I had so much experience, I knew that fashion was something I wanted to study further,” Hillery said.

One of the reasons Hillery wanted to study was that she saw a lack of understanding of the fashion industry among her college professors. She felt she could do a better job of telling people what the industry is like.

“Since I had worked for a while in the industry and I loved it, I thought I could bring something to the classroom that wasn’t being offered at the time,” Hillery says.

Alyse Patrick, a fashion management student at Columbia, is one of Hillery’s students.

“She’s really good, and she knows the subject well. I’m learning each and everyday,” Patrick said.

Hillery loves to teach, and lists Columbia’s creative environment and a chance to help her students as her favorite things about the job.

“Seeing my students become more successful is so gratifying to me,” she says.

Joselyn Briggs, a fashion design major at Columbia, is another of Hillery’s students, and says Hillery’s experience in the industry makes her an ideal teacher.

“I think it’s good that fashion is her field. She really lets us know what we’re getting into. Fashion is a big industry, and its no joke,” Briggs said. “She’s trying to prepare us for that.”

Columbia College Chicago’s Fashion Studies Department was founded more than 20 years ago. It is one of the few departments at the college that is building enrollment.

“I think we are all on the same page as far as loving what we do and wanting to help the next generation succeed with their dreams,” Hillery says.

Hillery says what’s most important to her is that at Columbia, she looks forward to coming to work everyday.

“A lot of people can’t say that,” she adds.

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