“My tape measures showed me the world:” A glimpse into global fashion with Virginia Noon

On a sunny March afternoon, Virginia Noon sat in her Hemenway Hall office surrounded by hundreds of sketches.

“It’s funny, I always kind of dreamed, hoped, and thought about teaching here some day,” said Noon, professor of fashion design and retail at Framingham State.

Noon’s love for fashion blossomed as a home sewer in her youth while growing up in Amesbury. Upon graduating high school, her passion led her to our very own campus on State Street. 

Noon earned her bachelor’s in the former Home Economics department with a concentration in Clothing and Textiles. 

After completing her undergraduate degree, Noon took her talents to Manhattan, Kansas and pursued a graduate degree at Kansas State University.

“I studied in this field because I just loved to sew from a very young age. I started fashion merchandising because I didn’t feel I was creative in the aspect of drawing and illustration,” she said. 

Although Noon felt she wasn’t as strong in the design sector of fashion, she was able to tighten her skills and gain more knowledge of the industry at KSU by taking more fashion design courses. Her concentration focused primarily on the pattern and fit of garments.

After earning her master’s, Noon’s global fashion career took flight when she began working in the technical design field in 1984.

“It was right when a lot of manufacturing was shifting to being offshore, so there weren’t as many factories or sample rooms,” she said. These companies were based in the U.S., but the samples and manufacturing were produced overseas.

Her first job after graduate school was working as an assistant designer for a traditional children’s wear company called Mayfair Children’s Wear.

Noon’s responsibilities included drawing technical flat sketches of apparel, and rendering the actual fabric and coloration being used to bring the garment to life. 

She said this job was “not high-paid at all.”

Noon then took a job with the same title at the American Merchandising Corporation, a sourcing company for popular brands based in the Midwest. 

“In that role, you fit garments. A customer chooses the garment, you fit it on a dress form, you create size specifications to the right measurements up and down. Then, you prepare all the technical information about the garment, such as the buttons and elastics.

“You have to have a design eye and a sense of proportion and fit by looking at a person in a garment, comparing it to the sketch the designer makes, and knowing how to adjust the measurements of a garment. You are taking the flat [sketch], and making the 3D interpretation,” she said. 

Noon then took her talents to Bennett and Company, a ladies’ lingerie company that worked with brands such as Victoria’s Secret and Frederick’s of Hollywood.

“We worked with Victoria’s Secret when they were really beginning to take off,” she said.

Noon thinks this is the job that was a pinnacle point in her career since she was able to take all the knowledge she learned and apply it to the real world.

During her time at Bennett and Company, Noon started her journey travelling the world to learn more about the global fashion industry.

“I started working just as the industry was shifting, so a lot of manufacturing was being done in Asia,” Noon explained.  

She was exposed to a diverse world of fashion and travelled to China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates.

Noon worked in South Korea for a German company for a few years as a quality control manager in the manufacturing sector. 

“My tape measures showed me the world,” she said.

After years of globetrotting while working for large corporations, Noon was presented with an opportunity to teach at a local university.

In 2008, former FSU professor Judy Flynn retired and left an open spot in the Fashion Design and Retailing Department. 

Noon accepted this position and brought her talents back to FSU in 2009.

“At first they wanted me to concentrate on one particular course we have called World Market: Textiles to Retailing because of my experience working and understanding the global market.

“What’s nice about our program is that the design students learn about the business side, and the merchandising students learn some of the applied arts side. All the merchandising students need to know how to sew and put a garment together,” she said.

Noon described the curriculum as “all interrelated,” because “it all comes back to the textiles, fibers, yarns, and finishes.

“I have quite a depth of knowledge in that area and the manufacturing process,” Noon said.

She added teaching in the same classroom she once sat in as a student is very rewarding.

“I can’t even begin to tell you about the success of our students,” Noon added.

Noon said one of her proudest accomplishments as a professor at FSU has been exposing students to a broader understanding of the fashion industry through study abroad trips.

She has participated in five faculty-led trips to multiple destinations in Asia with the department. 

Noon is confident the department prepares their students well for their careers in the fashion industry. 

“I think the biggest thing I’m most proud about is … helping to prepare them and launch them into the industry,” she added.

“We’re a big, good group of people bringing our individual expertise,” Noon said.

The department prepares their students for the workplace through internships around the globe, as well as research conferences. Noon said one of her students even had an internship in China at a company she once worked for.

Noon said there are currently 17 fashion merchandising students who have internships at companies such as Puma, TJX, Marshall’s, DXL, and an upscale baby carriage manufacturer. 

“We collaborate a lot with our industry partners. We have a strong advisory board,” she said. The advisory board meets with faculty and students each spring.

The fashion merchandising concentration curriculum was updated three years ago to adhere to new trends and technological developments within the fashion industry. These classes focused on buying and development, as well as omni-channel retailing. 

“Retailing is no longer brick and mortar –  it’s not even just online – it’s every way you can imagine,” Noon said. 

She added the fashion department has a very strong collaboration with the Career Services Office to help craft student resumes and mock interviews to prepare for the workforce.

Noon said there is a high level of integration between design and merchandising students.

“They’re not just design students or merchandising students – they are fashion students.”

Noon describes the FSU Fashion Club, advised by Laura Kane, as a dynamic and collaborative club.

The Fashion Club holds several events during the year, including the Trashion Show, Make It Work, Annual Fashion Show, as well as the breast cancer awareness walk.

Noon completed her Doctor of Science degree from University of Massachusetts Lowell in December 2018 with a dissertation titled, “Mauritania’s Home-Based Textile and Apparel Dyeing Industry: Work, Culture, Health and the Question of Sustainability in the 21st Century.” Noon travelled to Mauritania to study the traditional dress and dyeing of textiles in the region.

“When I was out working in the industry, I’ve been just as competitive coming from a school such as FSU. I believe it’s all what you do with what you have. I worked with people from design schools such as Parsons, FIT, and some of the other bigger schools with bigger programs.

“People hear fashion, and they think fluff. We tell people, ‘It’s not fluff. Just ask a fashion student,’” Noon said.