Faculty Stories: Nelson Cantada

Nelson Cantada

Program: Paralegal Studies


While growing up, Nelson Cantada enjoyed drawing and learning about fashion.

“I was a teenager in the 1980s, the decade that for me was the most exciting in fashion,” he said. “Some of the most influential fashion designers and fashion movements emerged during this time. I remember watching MTV music videos, back when it was 24-hour music videos, and CNN Style that covered fashion runway shows and being excited by all the images of fashion that, prior to the ’80s, was mostly seen in fashion magazines. I also grew up in mall culture in New Jersey and spent a great deal of time shopping and browsing through clothing.”

Cantada did not see fashion design as a potential career option. Instead, he started his fashion career on the business side, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from New York University Stern School of Business. He then worked in the New York corporate offices of Ann Taylor, Inc., as a merchandise distributor and Barneys New York as a merchandise planner. 

Deciding to change careers, Cantada completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University, which built on his interest in consumer behavior. He then worked for a mental health agency in San Jose, California, conducting program outcome research.

Although he planned to continue his education at the graduate level and eventually work for a consumer research firm or teach, Cantada missed the fashion industry. He instead applied to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and completed a BFA in fashion design. This was followed by a move to Paris to study at Studio Bercot. While there, he interned for two Paris-based fashion designers—Sharon Wauchob and Tom Van Lingen.

I hope my students gain an awareness of what inspires them and what makes their design work unique.

Nelson Cantada

Returning to the U.S., he worked for a year in New York City designing for an evening wear company but eventually moved back west to Los Angeles to work as a designer for Laundry by Shelli Segal and BCBG Max Azria collection.

“At Max Azria, I designed for the runway division, working with the team that produced the seasonal collections presented at New York Fashion Week,” he said.

After several years, Cantada decided to make another career change to teaching, a direction he considered while in the psychology field. He spent six years at Academy of Art University, his alma mater, as a full-time instructor teaching fashion design. In 2016, he enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to study with the artist Nick Cave and acquire his master’s in design, having decided that teaching was the career he wanted to pursue.

“I consider myself a lifelong learner and value both the education and opportunities it can bring,” he said. “Through teaching, I hope to encourage students to explore their interests and recognize their strengths to allow them to reach their full potential in whatever discipline they choose to pursue.”

Beginning as an adjunct faculty member at College of DuPage, Cantada is now full-time faculty and program chair.

“I hope my students gain an awareness of what inspires them and what makes their design work unique,” he said. “The fashion industry is a competitive one and I think it’s important for students entering the industry to find their unique voice. Doing so will allow their work to stand out while also fostering a personal connection to their design work to sustain it over time.”

Cantada also hopes to inspire his students and draws his own inspiration in both expected and unexpected places.

“Designers who inspire me are the ones that take risks and work between art and design,” he said. “Alexander McQueen, Iris Van Herpen, Hussein Chalayan and Rei Kawakubo are some of those designers. I’m also inspired by simple, unexpected moments like seeing an interesting color or shape in nature. With the world moving so fast, it’s nice to have those moments.”

Learn more about the Fashion Studies program at College of DuPage.