The term "fashion" is open to various interpretations, but for the vast majority of people its connotations are positive and conjure up ideas of style, glamour, good looks and the very latest trends. At another level, evolving fashions can be seen as either leading or reflecting broader aspects of culture - nowadays on an international level - and can therefore provide some fascinating insights into how society is changing.
However, for those in the textile and apparel sector, fashion is first and foremost a business. It requires a wide range of technical skills and industry-specific knowledge, as well as creativity, financial savvy, an understanding of technology and materials, and a flair for presentation and display. All of that, together with relevant tertiary-level academic qualifications can open the door to careers in design, merchandising, advertising, fashion photography, buying and store management.
In Hong Kong, the textile and fashion sector is a key contributor to the economy through manufacturing, exports and foreign direct investment (FDI). The demand for high-calibre professionals remains steady and, according to Stephen Cheng, programme leader for the Master of Arts in Fashion and Textiles at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), the general prospects look bright.
"If you consider the role of a fashion merchandiser, its scope is very diverse and gives the chance to gain invaluable experience in many different areas," Dr Cheng says.
In line with this, PolyU's Institute of Textiles and Clothing (ITC) offers specialist courses which include the very latest developments. Each programme is flexible and focuses on the practical aspects of fashion technology, merchandising and, more recently, global fashion management.
"The part-time programmes cater for professionals in the business, allowing them to increase their expertise by taking a postgraduate qualification with a credit-based system," Dr Cheng says. Popular courses include the three-year part-time MA, the two-year postgraduate diploma, and a two-year part-time MA for those specialising in global fashion management (GFM).
"The prime purpose is to give highly motivated and committed students the opportunity to pursue advanced education in the industry," says Dr Cheng. He adds that students can develop personally and professionally, and that the flexible nature of the courses encourages the use of initiative.
Anticipating an increase in demand for industry expertise that can be applied worldwide, the ITC also introduced modules in GFM to the MA programme in fashion and textiles two years ago.
"The GFM specialty develops a general perspective of today's business environment, particularly in the areas of design, production, marketing and management," says Dr Cheng. It also gives students a clear understanding of how the fashion business works and of the technology that drives it.
Dr Cheng recommends that anyone planning to enter the industry should have a broad-based training before deciding on an area for greater specialisation. He says there is increasing demand for professionals to work in the mainland's textile and clothing industry and that this is expected to continue. Professionals in the sector should bear this in mind when deciding on future career moves.
Attributes of a successful merchandiser
- Able to identify things that can influence the design,
production, sourcing, distribution and marketing of apparel,
fabrics and fashion items
- Competent to handle international exports and attract
- Sound knowledge of sourcing and logistics, fashion retailing,
quality control, international trends, and IT systems used
for garment manufacturing and merchandising
A good fit
- PolyU's Institute of Textile and Clothing offers a range
of specialist courses in the areas of fashion and merchandising
- Modules focusing on global fashion management prepare
students for roles in a truly international industry
- Employment prospects look generally good with companies
in the mainland likely to require additional industry expertise
in the years ahead