‘Promising New Teacher’ Award Recipient Makes a Fashion Statement at Carrboro High

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Emily Giardina brings her expertise to Carrboro High School, kindling a passion for fashion in her students

Jocelyn Rodriguez Gonzalez, 17, and Esteri Kalimbano, 17, drape fabric on a dress form with Emily.
Jocelyn Rodriguez Gonzalez, 17, and Esteri Kalimbano, 17, drape fabric on a dress form with Emily.

By Megan Tillotson | Photography by John Michael Simpson

If you had asked 7-year-old Emily Giardina what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have told you that fashion was her calling. “I was really little, and I loved drawing and I loved making fashion illustrations,” Emily says.

The Illinois native wasted no time working toward her goal, attending Purdue University and earning her bachelor’s in apparel design and technology in 2005. Her career took her to New York City where she worked as a senior designer specializing in outerwear and designing swimwear collections for Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY.

After more than a decade in the business, she realized that mentoring and helping others was what gave her the most fulfillment. Amid the pandemic in 2020, she moved south to slow down and feel more connected to a community. In August 2021, she began as the career and technical education fashion design teacher at Carrboro High School.

Steeno Htee, 16, and Emily Giardina cut thread for a project.
Steeno Htee, 16, and Emily Giardina cut thread for a project.

“Honestly, I think [working in New York] prepared me [for teaching] because New York and fashion both force you to think really quickly, always be on your toes and improvise,” Emily says. “What I’ve learned with teaching is that you really need those improvisational skills because things don’t always go the way you planned. In that sense, living in New York forced me to plan my day with more thought and structure, and I bring that into the classroom,” Emily adds.

In her four sections of Fashion I, Emily teaches students of all grades a basic overview of fashion design including vocabulary and the different moving parts of the design process. “Right now, I’m having them primarily work in their sketchbooks and create moodboards,” Emily says. “Then we’ll move into sketching and sewing.” It’s the luck of the draw for students who want to join her one second-level course, where Emily says they can easily jump into the design process with a more sophisticated idea of fashion and do project-based work.

“With Ms. G, we always have a project going [on] that you’re always super excited about because she tweaks the prompts based on your interests,” Carrboro High School junior Lois Stevens says. “I have been sewing since I was 10 and am trying to go to college for fashion design. Having a teacher like Ms. G has made me even more excited to pursue my dreams, and Ms. G has made me more confident that I can actually achieve them.”

Emily teaches several students from her Fashion I class how to start a fashion project.
Emily teaches several students from her Fashion I class how to start a fashion project.

Emily also serves as an advisor for a social-emotional learning class Real Talk and mentors third-year advanced studies fashion design students. And she is working toward her master’s degree in teaching at Meredith College in Raleigh. Balancing lesson planning and graduate school can be exhausting at times, but she says her experience as a designer has prepared her for a fast-paced lifestyle.

“I’m usually the first person in the [school] parking lot,” Emily says. “I just have to get here really early to prep all the materials, especially when we’re sewing and doing anything more hands-on.” The dedication earned her Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ Promising New Teacher Award in 2022. Emily says she’s thankful former Carrboro High School assistant principal Lucas Paulsen took a chance on her without having a teaching-specific background upon hire.

“I want all of my students to feel seen in my class,” she says. “I think high school students especially can hide and be really quiet and go unnoticed, so I think my class gives them an opportunity to express themselves creatively and become more confident.”

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