As the year comes to a close, it is an exciting time to keep an eye on graduates. The demand for fashion education is ever-increasing and in some cases enrolment increases have tripled. With this huge growth in fashion graduates over the past decade, where are they all going? A lot of graduate students I have spoken to over the years have said they loved their years studying, but have struggled to jump into business afterwards. Does this mean we should alter BFA’s to business degrees majoring in fashion? Rather than studying solely design? While some tertiary providers focus on design/designer development or technical skills, are we missing the business side? Much like how in high school no one learned how to do taxes, are we missing the mark when it comes to a rounded education for the next generation of designers? We are producing a strong herd of talented designers, but are we giving them the full tool kit to succeed? In reality, we are leaving these students in the dark and unprepared for the realities of job placement and business development. London College of Fashion established a new Fashion Business School this year, integrating design and industry developments with business to support a fashion entrepreneurship. Is it time we do the same? Internships are not enough anymore; we need a serious crash course in business. In a saturated market, design jobs are few and far between, leaving our next gen designers no choice but to move overseas taking their talent with them. Or, even worse, they take a job not in their field of study. I met a barista the other day who had a Master’s degree in fashion.
Fashion graduates may be satisfied with their learning curve during their degree, but there still remains a significant gap in the business side of the industry. How can our tertiary providers evolve their course offerings to create success entrepreneurs and not just creatives? More emphasis is needed on specific roles in the industry; not everyone can run an effective business and not everyone can sew a straight line. Perhaps the underlying root of this global fashion education issue lies in TV shows such as Project Runway or The Fashion Fund, leading mass youths to want to become designers and not manufacturers. Again, in reality, over 80 percent of graduates will not work as designers.
Earlier in the year at the World Footwear Congress, global tertiary providers gathered to discuss the future of the courses they provide. The biggest problems being ‘how to make the other jobs sexy’ and how to integrate a business degree into design courses. Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council told BOF that today if you went to a high school adviser and said you wanted to work in fashion, you get two options: designer or retail. “They don’t understand all of the other roles that go around that,” said Rush. “You end up with this vicious cycle where you’ve got young people who think that they want to be a designer, when actually their skills might be better suited to a different role. Either a skills-based role or even management or administration work.”
The fact is, fashion is an ever-evolving beast and new generations will have to take charge to remould it to suit them. New designers know consumers are getting smarter and want to be more eco-conscious, but these designers are left with the biggest challenge of all – making money in a no margin market. Business skills and an entrepreneurial mind-set is crucial to setting up a successful career as a designer.