The Hong Kong fashion industry tends to be extremely functional, concentrating on creating designs that appeal to the masses and therefore generate the volume of sales necessary to cover production costs. This has caused a reluctance to take risks and sometimes pushed real creativity into the background.
It seems, though, that the industry is undergoing a change. According to Raymond Au, associate professor and PhD advisor at the institute of textiles and clothing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), the influence of international trends has made local people expect higher standards of fashion design. "Companies are realising that, if they want to remain competitive, they must meet these standards," he says.
Dr Au explains that this change can be seen in the fact that merchandisers are now expected to have extensive knowledge of all the latest trends. "Previously, only fashion designers attended fashion shows and exhibitions, but now it is also common for merchandisers to go," he notes. "They are even creating storyboards or mood boards to explain seasonal fashion trends to buyers."
All these have meant that designers have also had to step up to the next level. It is no longer possible for them to use cost, practicality and retail price as the essential factors guiding their design philosophy. As a result, PolyU's master of fashion design course has attracted huge interest even from candidates with years of experience in the sector. The programme gives them the chance to get up to date and to interact with younger designers whose thinking is not restricted by industry conventions.
In turn, though, the younger designers can pick up invaluable ideas and insights from more experienced fellow students. By admitting candidates with diverse backgrounds, PolyU deliberately aims to promote peer learning and create a healthy exchange of opinions in each class.
Another objective is to get individuals to understand the concept of creativity and how it can be applied in product development. Therefore, applicants should have a bachelor's degree in fashion design, or a related discipline, to ensure they have already learned the basic technical skills that are required.
This one-year full-time course is intended to teach students what they need to work in the fashion industry," says Dr Au. Therefore, much of the coursework is project-based and drawn from real-life scenarios. For example, students must create designs based on specified guidelines for their own brand. This involves conducting research before designing collections which meet client expectations, but also show distinctive individual flair.
"Creativity is important, but students must also understand the need to sell the brand," says Dr Au. Throughout the course, faculty members are on hand to offer advice and practical guidance. At times, this will even involve mimicking the behaviour of an actual client who might be indecisive or have frequently changing demands.
This year, the programme culminates with a showcase event held at the Hong Kong Fashion Week with 13 of the top students showing their collections. "It is a first to have an opportunity like this and will be a great reward for our students," Dr Au concludes.