Joanne Dice: A Future In Haute Couture
Over 20 years ago HC Academy started out as essentially a sewing school in Joanne Dice’s basement. Today, HC Academy is an all-encompassing design school. HC boasts a 97% success rate at getting their students into their chosen universities.
In 1998, Joanne Dice founded the HC Academy of Fashion, Fine Arts & Design, located in Woodbridge, Ont. Dice remembers the beginning of the journey teaching classes for her new school out of her basement. “Since 1998, the school has really evolved. In the beginning, we were only teaching a few sewing classes a week. Since then, we [now] teach more types of sewing classes than universities.” Today, the school offers graphic design, visual arts, makeup and cosmetics and all types of pattern making. The school has moved into a fabulous new location, which is esthetically pleasing and spacious. “We boast a higher standard of learning for design than any other school in York Region. Our students move on to the university programs of their choice anywhere in the world and have become successful in their fields of study.”
All of the instructors are pros who have been meticulously selected by Dice. Perhaps the most significant change HC Academy has to offer is, “We have a program that we do in Italy for our students in the summer. They work backstage during Rome Fashion Week.” For students wanting to break into the fashion industry, participating in this program is a great launching opportunity for a potential career. Dice proudly states, “We went from a little sewing school to an all-encompassing design academy.”
Dice only enrolls five to 10 students per class. “Our program is very one-on-one. We care about how they learn.” She says her students are like family and she still keeps in touch with them decades later and follows their careers.
Most of the people who join the school are either in elementary school or high school. The majority have a keen interest in learning about the fashion industry and attending universities like Ryerson and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York to be become fashion designers. Dice emphasizes that her students apply to the top design and fashion schools in the world. These schools usually see between 3,000 and 4,000 applications a year, then only select maybe 250 students. Confidently, Dice states, “Our students get in.”
She is crystal clear about the differences between her design school and universities that offer design programs. “We care about every student. When they attend post-secondary, they are just a number. At our school, they’re a face. They’re a person who has goals and dreams, and we try to help bring those dreams to fruition.”
One of the perks of running the school is that she has the opportunity to work with her daughter Nicole. Dice taught all of her children sewing and drawing from day one. She views these attributes as survival skills. All of her kids have done well, but Nicole really loved and excelled at fashion and design. Equipped with a bachelor of design, Nicole is following in her mother’s footsteps and is currently a passionate instructor at the school, acting as a mentor for the students.
Dice is not pleased with how sewing and design are taught in high school. “In Grade 10 and [Grade] 11, they’re teaching material we teach to nine-year-olds.” In many instances, high-school students determine their desire to pursue a career in fashion and enrol at HC Academy of Fashion, Fine Arts & Design in Grade 9 or Grade 10. Dice and the other instructors work with the students to develop a portfolio, which aids many of them in being accepted into fashion and design programs at university. However, Dice explains, once they begin university, it’s important the student can work independently; otherwise, she believes, they won’t last. The attrition rates in the university programs can be as high as 75 per cent. It’s Dice’s well-thought-out opinion that if a child is interested in design at an early age, parents should enrol them in a fashion design program.
When I asked Dice how she defines success, her answer couldn’t have been more clear or generous. “Successful is me getting the kids into university. When my students achieve their goals, we achieve our goals.”
8099 Weston Rd., Unit 10, Woodbridge, Ont.