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For six Penn students, what started out as a class project is turning into a movement on campus.

A group of Wharton juniors is circulating a petition to develop a program focused on the business of fashion and design. They initially drafted the document for a project that required them to galvanize support for a cause on campus for their “Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management” class.

Wharton junior and group member Daniel Ortiz said they all believe Penn could benefit from a fashion program, which inspired them to expand the petition beyond their coursework.

As a member of the Wharton Retail Club, Ortiz said he knows “there are people in Wharton Retail Club, DZine2Show or The WALK, and it’s great we have those programs, but there is still a lack of learning in terms of the technical and practical knowledge of the fashion industry.”

As the petition states, looking into a fashion-oriented program would “cater to a more diverse array of interests … not only to benefit current and future students and faculty, but also Penn’s reputation as a diverse and progressive institution.”

Ideally, Ortiz and his fellow team members would like to see a new minor focused on fashion with some courses in Wharton’s Marketing Department, the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center and perhaps others in the School of Design on the technical aspects of fashion. However, for now they just plan to explore some possibilities surrounding a fashion-related program with University officials in the coming weeks. They plan to reach out to Wharton Vice Dean of Innovation Karl Ulrich and other officials at PennDesign to potentially gain their support, Ortiz said.

While he had not previously heard about the petition, PennDesign professor and Director of the Undergraduate Fine Arts Program Kenneth Lum agreed that a fashion-related program could enrich Penn’s curriculum.

However, he stressed that such a program may not necessarily fall within the scope of PennDesign.

“Questions about how fashion insinuates itself into consciousness could be in visual studies or a number of other departments within SAS,” Lum said.

While it might be interesting to examine the constructions of fashion at Penn, he believes that the program’s focus must be different from the technical design skills taught at other schools.

At Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, for example, undergraduates can pursue concentrations in apparel design and fiber science.

Students in Drexel University’s nationally recognized fashion design program can also study the more mechanical aspects of the industry — including manufacturing methods — and submit their original designs to large-scale competitions every year.

For any potential program at Penn, however, Lum said “you’d need to have a practical knowledge of clothing — but that’s different from having big, padded boards with pieces of chalk and students working out next season’s potential catwalk show.”

For now, Ortiz and his teammates’ petition will remain active on its online platform,, as long as people continue to sign it. Ortiz has also published a blog entry on this topic on The Huffington Post, including a link to the petition.

The document has received 238 signatures in 27 days.

Wharton and College senior Emily Sherbany, editor in chief of The WALK fashion magazine, signed the petition because she thinks that Penn should explore the prospect of a fashion program — whether or not it would ultimately be worthwhile to create one.

“There is definitely an interest in fashion on Penn’s campus. The culture here is pretty pre-professional, though,” she said, adding that “if we were to have [a fashion program], I think a good place to start would be on the business side of fashion, since that would draw on Penn’s core competency in business.”

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