From classroom to catwalk

by Wendy Shair

Academic grounding helps young designers shine

A career in fashion revolves around more than catwalk glamour and cocktail parties. It is a highly competitive field where success requires creativity and flair, a strong practical sense, management genius—and a good education.

"People hoping to make it in this fast-paced industry must be equipped with up-to-date theoretical and practical knowledge," explains Brian Tam, programme director, fashion design/fashion marketing and management, Raffles International College Hong Kong. "A truly fabulous design must be able to hit the high street the minute it leaves the drawing board."

Since big international labels traditionally dominate the Hong Kong fashion world, budding new talent often find it hard going to establish a career in this sector, but Mr Tam is positive about the outlook for the industry.

"As a bustling Chinese city renowned for its glam, glitz and unique cultural characteristics, Hong Kong offers local designers a plethora of opportunities to advance. Local designers must look beyond their immediate market and find a way to break into the global arena," he advises.

Mainland China, in particular, offers unprecedented openings for career development because of its huge population and untapped potential, Mr Tam stresses, adding that there is still promising scope for growth within Hong Kong's own fashion-design industry.

Behind the scenes

The designer clothing featured at major international shows are the result of intensive work behind the scenes—from the actual design process to meticulous research and development, merchandising, manufacturing, quality control and exhaustive administration and sales and marketing efforts, as well as design management, Mr Tam points out.

To be successful, designers therefore need to be diligent professionals that are passionate about the job. "When you think of any international brand, you should realise how much work went into the garment in the store window, not only in Hong Kong but also in Tokyo, New York and London," he says. "It's important for aspiring professionals to think globally and learn about overseas trends to broaden their horizons."

The best way for fashion designers to establish such an outlook is to build a strong foundation at the very early stages of their careers. This often starts with a sound education.

Raffles International College, for instance, runs an advanced diploma for those new to fashion design, while bachelor's and master's degrees are also offered for those wishing to further enhance their fashion credentials.

Known for its practical approach to learning, Raffles equips its students with strong academic skills and ample opportunities, getting them involved in industry events such as fashion shows and competitions. "Hands-on experience is key to future success," says Mr Tam, who believes that Raffles' international ties give the institute an advantage.

"We embrace a mix of cultures in the classroom, with students from across the region contributing their ideas, and the aspiring young designers therefore benefit from a vibrant and inclusive educational environment. Our medium of instruction is English to accommodate the needs of our applicants from around the globe," he remarks.

The fashion-design industry covers many different aspects and jobs. Students may one day become buyers, stylists, merchandisers or fashion journalists. "In this business, people must recognise their own strengths and strive for excellence in those particular areas," Mr Tam adds.

Taken from Career Times 25 March 2011, A10

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