By Danielle Reid and Jerry Zhang
The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Fashion Union and Image Arts Course Union (IMACU) united to establish the first collaborative directory created by students, for students. This directory is designed to help image arts (IMA) and fashion students easily connect, network and team up with each other for school-related and personal projects. Still in its infancy, the Google Sheets directory is a compilation of student profiles—including their names, academic year, portfolio, preferred industry roles, skills and contact information—to allow students to explore collaboration opportunities.
Spearheaded by the executive team of each union, the directory was announced in winter 2023. Created by former IMACU president, Lauren Eden, the directory was initially intended for students within IMA. It helped film students find photographers to shoot behind-the-scenes footage and photography students find film students to assist with set design, according to IMACU vice president of equity and third-year photography student, Joon-Young Lee.
Lee, who was already acquainted with Fashion Union co-president and third-year fashion studies student Kyle Shepherd, said they began inquiring about the interest in a potential collaboration to expand the directory to fashion students.
Seeing this as a huge opportunity for fashion students to share their diverse skill-set, the Fashion Union agreed.
“[Fashion students] create clothing, we do photography as well. We do graphic design, we do all these things,” said Shepherd. “I feel like it was a great opportunity for people within my program to showcase their passion and what they spend the majority of their time working on.”
Kirstine Fernandez, Fashion Union co-president and third-year fashion design student said she has felt a personal need for the directory and views it as a way to help forge relationships between IMA and fashion students.
“[As fashion design students] you want to show your work and share it in a way that aligns with how you want to share it,” she said. “We’re in constant need of photographers and people to help out [to] bring our visions of how we want our garments to look and present it in a way that speaks to what our design identity is.”
Mamoundu Mardis-Chatwin, IMACU president and fourth-year photography student said she has also seen a need in her program for a way to better connect with fashion students.
“[In photography] there’s a lot of people who are interested in the editorial fashion world but there’s a major disconnect [between] the two programs,” said Mardis-Chatwin. “I took an advanced lighting class [that focused on] editorial portraits and it was really hard to find clothes that worked for it.”
Coming out of online school during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mardis-Chatwin spoke about building professional and social networks and the struggle for students who also lived out of province during their first year.
“We were stuck in our bedrooms. We were cut off from our own classmates, so when I came for second-year, I was like, ‘I feel like a first-year because I literally don’t know anything,’” she said. “I wish I had the directory when I first started. I would be all over it for sure.”
Thomas Blanchard, studio lighting sessional lecturer said he encourages the fashion and IMA departments to do more collaborative work and use the directory as a way to make networking less intimidating for students.
“It’s a safe place for students to start reaching out, working with other people rather than going out into the real world right now. Especially if you’re a younger student in first or second year.”
He said for photography students who are trying to focus on learning the technical aspects of the program such as lighting, it’s better to start off small by networking among students.
Blanchard added that the directory seems to be very successful with students taking the initiative to create it themselves on a grassroots level.
However, members of both unions said they have encountered their share of challenges. Each agreed the biggest hurdle, despite efforts to promote it on social media, has been advertising and getting students to use the resource.
Shepherd said they believe this is because some students tend to stay with the same collaborative partners throughout their entire undergrad.
“If a fashion student has a friend in the photography program, it’s known that they might just work together exclusively,” they said. “To branch out and have people open to the opportunity of working with other people is sometimes difficult.”
Lee said at the beginning they relied heavily on word-of-mouth to spread information about the directory. “I went up to individual students who I knew worked on a lot of bigger projects, mainly fourth-years and third-years [and said] ‘I know you’re involved in a lot of production work, would a directory be of interest to you?’”
They then went on to pitch the idea to Blanchard who could then provide the resource to students in his class.
Joy Xing, a third-year film student, shared her experience after joining the directory. She said she has been contacted by students outside of the film program to help out on projects and she and other classmates plan to use the directory in their third year to recruit film crew members.
“People are starting to consider, ‘Maybe we should look at the directory, see who’s on there.’ [or] ‘We need a producer, let’s go and check who’s put their [info],’” she said. “I think it’s starting to become really useful and it’s gonna only become used more often.”
However, Xing said she hopes for an improved directory format, noting that listing entries in chronological order of when users signed up makes it challenging for late-comers to get noticed.
She also said it would be beneficial if professors from across the faculties mentioned the directory to their first and second-year students.
“[In] first-year…you only really know what your profs tell you in class. We didn’t know much until a bunch of fourth-years came over and talked to us about it,” said Xing.
Going forward, as the directory matures, Fernandez said she hopes it can be extended to more programs within The Creative School. “There are so many needs from so many different places.”
Lee said they would like to see the directory expand to include creative industries students, as well as the professional music and theatre program.
For these students, the more people who are able to connect creatively through the directory, the better.
“It really does take a village, especially with the creative projects some of us have in mind,” said Shepherd. “The sky’s the limit when it comes to your ideas and what you want to accomplish. So if there’s this vast network to [help you] accomplish it, then that’s amazing.”