An understanding of the global market is essential for career success in the fashion manufacturing and merchandising field. Whether it is through a part-time academic programme or visits to leading fashion producing regions, international exposure tends to open doors.
Master's students in global fashion supply chain management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) now have the valuable opportunity to immerse themselves in truly global business training. The university has joined hands with the North Carolina State University in the US and a specialised textiles-industry institution in France to offer the full-time, subject-based programme which gives students the opportunity to study at each of the three campuses for one semester.
"They will learn about different business practices in the industry on three different continents," says Jason Choi, assistant professor and programme leader, Master of Arts in Global Fashion Supply Chain Management, Business Division, Institute of Textiles and Clothing, PolyU.
Dr Choi says hardworking merchandisers may sometimes remain in the same position for 10 years. However, with proper training, they can go on to become a supply chain director, which is a step up from merchandising manager. The programme targets candidates with at least three to five years of merchandising experience and an outstanding track record, for example owning an apparel brand.
People currently working as quality controllers or textile chemists are also welcome to apply, while fresh graduates with an extensive knowledge of fashion or supply chain management will also be considered.
During the screening process, the recruitment panel will consider candidates with good English who perform well during their interviews. The aim is to enrol students who will adapt well to their new environments and get full benefit from the chance to study in Asia, North America and Europe.
Truly global business training must acknowledge the importance of cultural differences. An outstanding supply chain manager should not only know the universal business protocols, but also understand the different needs of local markets.
In addition to core subjects focusing on all aspects of modern fashion supply chain management, students will be expected to take part in industrial workshops, visit fashion and textile companies in their host countries, and complete an industrial experience project on an assigned topic.
"This is one of the best ways for the students to acquire hands-on experience and become culturally sensitive to different markets," Dr Choi points out. "In the US, for instance, contracts are regarded the most important part of a business agreement, while Asians may see relationships as the most important component of a successful joint venture. In Europe, the quality of material is the top priority when making a business decision."
Supply chain management was largely unknown in Hong Kong before the late-1990s economic downturn, when fashion companies found that they needed new tactics to guarantee their survival in an increasingly competitive market. This specific discipline fosters symbiotic relationships among different components along the supply chain and provides strategic support to retailers, vendors of raw materials, branding agents and assembly factories. This helps to realise new business models, such as vendor-managed inventory (VMI).
Fashion remains a large, sustainable market within the manufacturing and merchandising industry. Recognising the growing demand for supply chain professionals in an increasingly global fashion industry, the three academic institutions jointly started the master's degree programme in 2007 to foster interest in the niche market of global fashion supply chain management.
The programme has not only attracted interest in Hong Kong, the US and France. It has also drawn applications from as far afield as Korea, the Middle East, India and the UK. With one of the university's most diverse student profiles in terms of nationality, the class mix is an added bonus in the effort to develop a global sense and network in the field.
Programme subjects focus on supply chain operations, information technology, marketing, strategic planning and demand forecasting, which are all related to the fashion supply chain and designed to equip students to develop a sustainable and competitive edge in the industry.
"The programme is unique in its structure and curriculum, as we focus on specific topics and on nurturing qualified professionals for this niche market," says Dr Choi.