CSA: Let's hear it from the teachers! (IX)

Thursday, 06 November 2014
As the hectic month of global fashion weeks has come to an end, universities across the country have begun opening up their doors for the start of a new year, prepared to mold the budding textile and fashion designers who will led the future of the industry. It is up to the fashion lecturers, professors  and designers at these institutes to help guide these students of tomorrow on their way and ensure they are ready to enter the industry when they graduate. But what are their thoughts on the current state of affairs within fashion educational institutes, designers and the industry itself? FashionUnited took a moment to speak to Wendy Moody, Course Group Leader and Senior Lecturer Fashion Design at the Cambridge School of Art, part of Anglia Ruskin University to hear what the teachers had to say.

FashionUnited:What initially drew you to the fashion industry?

Wendy Moody “Many years ago, I remember helping a friend out with make-up during a graduate fashion show at Central Saint Martins. She ended up being ill and asked me to step in. One of the graduates at CSM had also committed suicide earlier that year so all the collections being shown were really quite dark that year, in tribute to this student. To me at the time it felt like it was a very expressive field, one which made me think about the relationship between art and design, as well as the psychological aspect behind it all. So that was my initial introduced to the fashion industry. There was a part of me which thought, 'Oh I could do that.' And I just understood it and it rang home within me.”

“Of course, you also have to be interested in clothes, textures, color and how they all work together to stimulate people and individuals. I strongly believe in the power of fashion and clothes therapy and how they can be used as tools.”

How did you ended up in a teaching position at the Cambridge School of Art?

“I was always interested in science and after obtaining my PhD in 2007, which focused on the psychological and neurological factors that are associated with fashion, I wanted to combine my love of research with teaching. Multi-disciplinary teaching was something that spoke to me and I felt that there were less boundaries within the teaching side of the fashion industry than within the industry itself and that appealed to me. Teaching allows you to vocalize what you are thinking, whilst you are dealing with the designers of the future. It combines the best of creativity and design, which to me is the enjoyment you receive in return.”

“Before I was teaching at the Cambridge School of Art (CSA), I was at the University of Manchester and I did some teaching at Manchester Met as I was based in the North-West there. At the time I was based in a department where there was a lot of research going on in terms of consumer behavior, retail and textiles. But it wasn't an art school and I came from a very creative place and I felt that it was time for me to go back to my practice, in terms of research and teaching more, I really wanted to go back to a creative environment. And I have been here ever since, nearly six years now.”

What are your thoughts on today's fashion educational institutes and their current course offering?

“Well we offer smaller and friendly courses, very student centered. We do not cater to large number student groups, so we can support the students as individuals more. Most classes we have contain between 20 and 25 students max, as this works best for us. But really there are so many schools out there and there are so many good courses, it's hard to say. I think there has been a debate going on about how they maintain the level of practice in terms of pattern cutting and construction skills, that has been lost, I believe, in some courses. But I see that other schools are picking it up again, because it is held in high esteem within the industry, and without understanding a garment's construction, pattern cutting and draping, you do not fully understand the product, so you can't really design effectively."

"In terms of industry values, such as creativity, innovation, design and sustainability, these are core issues that all students should be aware of and things we consider as we move forward into the future. Another thing I have noticed is there is more of a focus on employability, which is great. Where as back in my day, when I was a student, it was more about creativity and there was less focus on employment issues.”

Do you think it is important for fashion educational institutes to remain up to date with the current changes/trends in the fashion industry and apply this to their course offering accordingly?

“I still think we need traditional fashion design courses, because that's so significant to the industry. I think in terms what is happening with the emergence of new technologies and how that has an impact on fashion, there are quite a few schools which do offer relative courses, but that tends to be more within a Masters course than a Bachelors course. But some do offer students the opportunity to deal with a number of future issues within the industry. It just depends on how far ahead the institute is looking, how far they need to look and what is appropriate for each particular course. Some courses are indeed more industry specific or offer a fashion textile course rather than just fashion, so it really depends on the course.”

“That being said, some technological advancements, like 3D printing, will have definitely have an impact in terms of production and product development and I think that is starting to come through on more courses. But there is still more that can be done, especially when it comes to the manufacturing aspect, there are some innovative approaches which could have an impact on the industry, which courses need to keep in mind. Sustainability is also a growing phenomena, which most people believe is just about the environment, but it crosses into so many different areas that people are unaware of it becoming a relevant sector to all employers within the industry now. It is just another thing our future designers need to keep in mind. A lot of these things are covered in master degrees, but not bachelors, so perhaps more schools should be trying to introduce them earlier on to see how it affects students and the courses they choose to follow later on.”

How do you feel about CSA's current fashion course offering?

“Well we just started offering our Fashion Design Masters course, which looks at key issues, future trends sustainability and focuses on collaborations between other art disciplinarians such as photography and illustration, as well as psychology. So they are interacting with other students through projects or work shifts and engaging with new learning processes whilst acknowledging traditional teaching methods as well. We also work with certain brand and companies, who offer support for the students. It is a year long course, which cover womenswear and menswear design, so we may have students who take on abroad more of the technical aspects we offer but its really created around creativity and innovation. We are preparing them for a career in the industry, one which they can carve out for themselves since its so broad. We have students going in as designers, production assistants, marketing, style directors and buyers.”

“We do a lot of teaching based on conceptual thinking and creative thinking because it doesn't matter if you are a student or a industry worker you need to have developed a certain pattern of thinking to keep ideas fresh and new and marketable. We always refer to emotion as well within our courses, especially from the second year onwards in regards to how students approach ideas when it comes to styling and design. When we base things in emotion it connects the students identity as a designer to their work, we feel. And emotion is always significant within the industry itself, its always picked up one way or another. Which feeds back into the design process and thinking."

Do you think it is important to create links and contacts within the fashion industry whilst attending school?

“I think networking is a significant skill to have, especially as you will never work alone within the fashion industry. Students need to be able to work with other people and we foster that, in particular, throughout our BA courses. Whether the student is working with photography or design it is important that they take that on board either through work placements, blogging, or showing their work, it is all ripe for the taking. It is a tough industry to break into as well but having good connections is important for job satisfaction. We support students with our employment division as well and prepare them for their work placement, whether is be helping streamline their CV, practicing for interviews or offering advice where they can look for work placements. We do our best to support them whilst giving them the tools to make their own links in the industry.”

“On the teaching side, I think we do a lot of projects with different retailers and brands, as most universities do and try to get as many industry experts coming in to give lecturers and give advice and so on. And yes, this also helps us open more doors for our students to find a work placement. Students who come back from a work placement really realize the value of the experience and understand the industry on a different level. We have students who will test the waters as well to see what different placements they can find on different market levels to explore what sector, whether it be the high street or couture speaks to them. It's a process of elimination sometimes because the industry can be quite broad and this helps them narrow down their interests. And we encourage that because it is a good opportunity for them to try out different fits, so when they get to their final year they have more of an idea of where they want to go.”

What is your opinion of the fashion industry today as a whole?

“It's very electric to me at the moment. It seems as if designers are responding to what is happening in the world today, more than they have in the past, whether it is to do with environmental, gender or political issues, something which hasn't really happened in my opinion since the 1980s. Of course, some of the responses are a little tentative, because it is still an industry, but it is nice to see the designers expression coming through again, especially via different mediums such as social media platforms as well as magazines.”

And finally, what is the one main piece of advice you would give to graduating students about to start their careers in the industry?

“It may not be easy to find a job in the beginning, initially you just have to keep trying because it is a competitive industry, but don't give up because once you are in, you are in. And that's it.”