Eric Hamber Secondary recognizes the gifts that their students possess. Each year, the school offers one of the most complete and rigorous secondary fashion programs available in the province. The program has enabled students to participate at internationally recognized competitions well before graduating from secondary school. The discipline and knowledge that this program provides has equipped many students with the necessary level of skill required for meeting application prequisites at internationally-renowned design schools where competition for admission is fierce.
"People think that textiles construction is easy, but it's hard," says Nina Ho, instructor of the Fashion Design and Technology Program at Hamber. "The technical skill level at Eric Hamber is incredibly good. Some of our student's skills are stronger than the skill level you'd see at some post-secondary institutions."
Fashion courses are available from Grades 8 to 12. During their time in the program, students learn about sewing techniques, textile manipulation, merchandising and electronic desktop publishing graphics- all important skills to acquire in order to "make it" in the highly competitive fashion industry.
Each year, Ho assigns challenging projects such as the re-constructing a full-bias dress by the late haute-couture designer Madeleine Vionnet, re-creating an entire Chanel suit, and pressing for student participation in an environmentally-focused project which entails creating garments from SFU banners to help with zero wastage.
"I tend to get kids involved with a lot of stuff," she says. "Oh, they hate me at times, but it helps."
During her last year at Hamber in 2012, Donna Lu came first place in the Fashion Technology trade of Skills Canada National Competition- an NGO that actively promotes careers in skilled trades amongst Canadian youth.
"I became involved in fashion in Grade 9," says Lu. "Seeing the different things that other students were making really inspired me to try it myself."
Lu is in the Arts Program at Simon Fraser University but plans to enroll in the Business Program later this year. In the meantime, she is back at Hamber because her first place position at Skills Canada allowed her to enter the World Skills Competition in Germany taking place in July 2013. She credits Ho with the majority of her success.
"She is a great teacher. She encourages us to try everything, because it's a good learning process as well," says Lu. "Being part of such competitions have strict time constraints and that gives us a good understanding of how the industry works."
While she juggles SFU part-time Lu also works on her chic military inspired outfit for World Skills Canada. Even after graduating she says she still feels the strong support that Hamber has given her since day one.
"Nina and principal Dianne Good arranged a convenient schedule for me to come to Hamber and work on this project, because right now I'm going to university, so they let me use the classroom when it would otherwise be closed. They have been very accommodating," says Lu.
In the future, she plans to use her fashion and business skills to form her own business.
Another success story from the program is Ting Hu. Hu is currently working towards her Bachelors in Fashion Design at the well accredited Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
"I considered myself the least fashionable in the family. I just wasn't interested, I didn't even know what it was," says Hu. "I took my first fashion course because my sister took it, but afterwards I actually liked it. I decided to make fashion my career in grade 10."
She says Hamber was critical in developing her sewing skills.
These days, Hu is back in Vancouver, but only for the holidays until she returns to FIT at the end of January. She's back in town to visit family and to work on FUSE, a competition between FIT and Parsons- another well-known design school in New York. She says that even after graduating, Hamber is still accommodating her by letting her use their space.
"Hamber's fashion program made me feel like fashion could be a great future for me," says Hu. "I felt like I wasn't that good at other things, but the program here gave me the confidence that I can be great at this. I can't be in a lecture for 3 hours, but I can sew for three hours, no problem!"