Sashaying down the design runway

by Anna Tong

High-profile exposure gives future couturiers artistic confidence and commercial sense

Artfully inclined fashion gurus across the globe share some specific business characteristics: a good sense of brand management and market savvy. These attributes are particularly imperative to budding professionals looking to make a mark in the fast-paced, multifaceted fashion industry.

Although the very discipline of fashion design is often seen either as high art that is out of reach for some people, or to the other extreme, a process in garment manufacturing, there is always more than meets the eye. A job in the field can range from retail through to fashion photography, merchandising, branding and marketing. "Those who have learnt the ropes and accumulated sufficient experience in the field may even go it alone, setting up their own brands," notes Brian Tam, fashion programmes coordinator at Raffles International College.

Get the balance right

The Hong Kong fashion scene may be sidelined by established and other growing industries but the city's economy of scale has in store certain advantages for aspiring designers. "Exposure to the world market is one," says Mr Tam. "The key to success lies really in a global perspective."

He emphasises that a recognised qualification is paramount since competition comes in all forms and shapes and from all directions. "Change is constant in this highly specialised industry and people in the field need to build their technical repertoire on a wealth of design and business theories in order to support their designs and decisions," he says, pointing out however that people don't necessarily need a university degree to showcase a flair for fashion.

"For instance, our advanced diploma programmes in fashion design and fashion marketing & management adopt a non-linear approach which immerses students in a multicultural learning environment where they interact with their peers from across the globe. This level of exposure essentially gives the learning experience various dimensions."

Mr Tam believes that it takes more than just natural talents to make it in the field. "There are two important aspects to fashion design: creativity and methodologies," he says.

In a competitive global marketplace, canny marketing and proper management are two necessary drivers of success, he adds. "Fashion is also a business after all," he asserts. "Skills in these two areas will give professionals in the field a leg up the corporate ladder."

In view of this, the institute's programmes shed light on the design aspects as well as those of fashion marketing and management. "Nowadays, creativity alone cannot sustain a career or business excellence," he cautions. "Fashion is not a fine art. The role of a fashion designer is more about how to inject art into life."

Learn beyond borders

Aside from this, Raffles' reputation as an international institution means that their graduates are equipped with the competence to present their ideas to anyone across the world in English—the universal language of business. "We often find that our students become more articulate as they grow in confidence," says Mr Tam.

Raffles students are encouraged to put their skills and knowledge in the limelight, by participating in competitions like the "Taste of Style" fashion design competition organised by Lee Kum Kee in July this year, to get a grip on reality, which can be harsh and unforgiving. "We want our students to leave the safe confines of the classroom," emphasises Mr Tam. "Our objectives are to boost their self-confidence, give them a first taste of the real world and have some fun."

Earlier this week, students at Raffles got hands on at the Cathay Pacific FAU 35th Anniversary Ball where they had a chance to design, produce and showcase 30 party pieces for the Cathay Pacific personnel on a catwalk show. "Running a 30-minute catwalk show at full throttle can be nerve-wracking to any experienced professionals," says Evelyn Mak, Raffles' marketing assistant. "Our students were also tasked with a range of administrative duties from catwalk model management to runway coaching."

Ms Mak believes this level of industry exposure, alongside the glitz and glamour, will add value to the students' resumes, giving them an upper hand as they enter the employment market. "Our approach to fashion design training not only gives students a solid, non traditional academic foundation, but it also presents opportunities for them to put together an impressive portfolio that will help them to gain a head start in the fashion industry."

Collaboration between academia and the business sector also imbues students with greater enthusiasm for learning, stresses Mr Tam. "Getting to know the workings of a fashion show helps students to see the industry from various perspectives," he remarks. "The drawings are essentially important but it is even more important for students to see what works in the fashion sphere or a specific business scenario."

However, events like the catwalk show constitute only part of the institute's efforts in expanding its students' professional horizons. "Raffles' education ethos focuses on blending theories with hands on experiences in order to boost career prospects. People looking to shape the future of the fashion industry will find a proper qualification a good stepping stone," Ms Mak says.

Taken from Career Times 17 December 2010, A8

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