Walking a semester in students’ shoes, vice-provost finds her inner fashionista

If you’re a fashion student sitting in class right now, there’s a chance that the classmate sitting next to you isn’t a student at all. Instead, it might be Heather Lane-Vetere, Ryerson’s vice-provost for students, a top administrator who oversees many of the policies and procedures affecting students at the university.

Since September, Lane-Vetere has been taking a capstone class alongside fourth-year fashion students. Along with her day-to-day work responsibilities, she’s been designing and sewing a five-piece wardrobe collection. It’s a major project that students in the fashion program take on in their final year of study.

The vice-provost for students started the project with the goal to better understand what it’s like to be a Ryerson student. Next year, she plans on tackling a project within the athletics department.

“As I moved up in my career, I’ve had less and less contact with students,” said Lane-Vetere.

The regular contact she does have is often limited to students in leadership roles, award winners, or students dealing with mental, financial or academic problems. She wanted to figure out a way to interact with “just regular students.”

That’s when the In Their Shoes Project unfolded.

Heather Lane-Vetere has business student Nella Brodett model her work. (Courtesy of Danni Gresko / Ryersonian Staff)

Heather Lane-Vetere has business student Nella Brodett model her work. (Courtesy of Danni Gresko / Ryersonian Staff)

“I have decided that along with my day-to-day work responsibilities, I will always have an activity on the books that puts me side by side with students, experiencing what they are experiencing on campus, learning about who they are, what they do and what they think about their experiences,” she writes in a blog that’s chronicling her project.

Lane-Vetere chose the fashion capstone course as her first project because she thought it would spark an interest and was very different from her day job. She also had sewing experience – having learned the craft from her mother at an early age and working as a theatre costume maker before her career in higher education.

Fourth-year fashion design student Stephanie Varey says the vice-provost’s presence in the classroom has been encouraging for other fashion students, who sometimes feel misunderstood.

“My first thought was, ‘Finally. Someone from Ryerson actually cares about what we go through.’ As a fashion student you often hear that the school cares about the fashion design and communication programs, however we often feel left out. Many students hardly even feel involved or accepted by the school. It was a joy to have Heather with us because we felt as if our issues mattered,” said Varey.

The fourth-year student says there’s a myth and stigma that comes with studying fashion.

“When we take business classes or anything in the Ted Rogers School of Management, we are often singled out and made fun of. We have a stigma that is focused around our program and it is often acknowledged with, ‘You’re in fashion? What do you even do? Sit around and read magazines?,’” said Varey.

Since taking on the project, one of the biggest lessons for Lane-Vetere has been understanding the effort that goes into studying a creative field.

“I was surprised at how much additional money students have to spend on supplies for their work. I spent thousands of dollars already on fabric. Every student has to buy all the muslin, all the paper for their patterns, all the stuff to use, all the art material for their sketches, all the fabric for the first garments and all the good fabric for the final garments. Some of them hire models and makeup artists. One model took pictures of all his shoes and I didn’t like any of them so I bought shoes to match the outfit,” she said.

“I can afford to do that, but for students, it’s a really expensive program to be in. It’s not just the tuition.”

Varey agrees, and said it often comes down to skipping meals to pay for projects.

“Other students complain about essays, some about case studies; but for fashion students, it’s money. My collection thus far has surpassed $1,000. Some students have gone beyond two (thousand),” said Varey.

She said the vice-provost brings positivity to the classroom and hopes she gains perspective on how hard-working most fashion students are.

“Every fashion student I know is an incredible individual that will push him or herself to be the best that they can be. I think anyone in (Lane-Vetere’s) position can see that,” she said.

This April, Lane-Vetere’s collection will be modelled on the runway alongside other students’ work at Mass Exodus, the school’s year-end fashion show.

All students are responsible for finding their models, and Lane-Vetere has sought out five Ryerson staff members and students to wear her collection at the show.

Hamza Khan, co-ordinator for student affairs at Ryerson, will be modelling the menswear piece. He said he’s nervous but reminding himself to have fun. He also said he commends Lane-Vetere for committing to the project.

“It’s far too easy for administrators, especially executives, to grow so far removed from the day-to-day realities of student life. When you aren’t connected to your end users’ perspectives, it can impair your judgment,” said Khan.

To follow along with the In Their Shoes Project, you can visit www.intheirshoesproject.ca.

Ryerson’s Mass Exodus fashion show is on April 1.

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