Academic spotlight: Claire Ritchie

Claire Ritchie teaches a wide range of disciplines within the School of Fashion and Textiles. She is the Course Director of BA (Hons) Fashion Branding and Communication and Programme Leader of MA Fashion Media. We caught up with Claire about her career so far, why a degree is fundamental in the fashion and textiles industry, and her advice for any budding fashion industry professionals.

Could you tell us about your experience and how this feeds into your course?

My own educational journey began within fashion design. By the time I completed my BA, my interests and where I felt the future was going was in a much more interdisciplinary direction. I’ve always been a communicator and a networker, so I had been involved in all types of part-time promotional and sales roles whilst studying.

Once I graduated I then gained work full-time in PR, marketing and project management, working with all kinds of creative clients and I learnt about graphic design, print, digital and social media as vehicles for brand messaging. I’ve also always been interested in all other areas of visual and social culture based around identity, so film, music, clubbing, politics and youth subcultures.

Alongside my full-time job roles, I’ve continued with my own creative freelance practice, collaborating as much as possible and placing my work in lots of different contexts; using it as a tool to facilitate dialogue with all types of learners or audiences.

When I decided to undertake higher level study I wanted to challenge myself to learn something fresh which would intersect usefully with fashion, so a new course which I found at the time, MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion, was perfect. I now use my knowledge of the three areas of fashion image-making, promotion (business/marketing) and psychology to inform my teaching and to advise on all of the exciting ideas which the students come up with.

What is the philosophy of your course?

We have a strong underpinning of creativity that runs through the programme. That can be interpreted both as creative thinking (entrepreneurship, innovation or activism etc.) as well as what we call creative ‘doing’, which is the actual process of styling photoshoots, making films, magazine and editorial design, trend prediction, digital outputs, written content, designed events and curated environments. We encourage students to be ambitious and to constantly challenge themselves to produce above and beyond the scope of where fashion currently sits as a subject.

What makes your courses distinct?

Our purpose as a course is to support our students to achieve their dreams as fashion practitioners; to equip them with the qualification, skills and right personal attributes that they need to achieve exactly the career that they want at the end. Within the boundaries of the programme, we offer the opportunity to tailor their personal learning to suit their individual aspiration. This is much more useful than imposing a ‘one size fits all’ approach upon our students. It might sound a bit twee, but we’re all individuals and capitalising upon that is the ingredient that makes a real standout, successful and resilient graduate.

Why is Birmingham a good place to study?

Our building is very new, offering excellent facilities and an open, cross-disciplinary specialist creative environment for learning. Location-wise, our campus is very close to the centre of town, with excellent transport links for across the UK and overseas. Birmingham is a very affordable place to live and has a really exciting creative and culturally diverse social scene. There is so much going on here in terms of the creative industries, new businesses and enterprises setting up and so many events and things happening to feed your inspirations and to help establish a professional network.

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Why do you believe it’s important to study for a degree and why might students want to study your course?

An undergraduate degree is really a minimum expectation for anyone wanting to enter the fashion industry.

Everyone that teaches the BA Fashion Branding and Communication course is engaged in their own creative work alongside their teaching here and we have a huge range of skills and knowledge between us. The mix of people we have on the team makes me extremely proud. Everyone is committed to working hard to make the course the best it can be across a wide range of specialist fashion areas and content. We refresh our materials constantly to make sure it is as cutting edge and useful as it can be for the students.

We also beam out lots of external project opportunities to students, connect with industry and provide support for all of the eventualities which can crop up during the students’ time with us. We’re also very human and approachable as a teaching team; we know how challenging and exhilarating studying a creative subject can be and where it can lead you. That can involve a wholly personal and emotional journey during the three years as well as a crash course in all of the cool fashion stuff!

Where will the students be based in their time here and what will their learning environment be?

We work across the Parkside and Curzon Buildings, in studios, editing and computer suites, and in more orthodox classroom spaces. Once our students progress beyond the first couple of modules and have learned the basics, they will be out and about and creating work. Fashion is a living, fast-moving and constantly evolving discipline, so getting stuck in and being involved in projects is really important.

The last 30 years of working and teaching in the fashion industry have taken me all over the world. Being open to opportunities and new project experiences can be so exciting. I come from a very working-class background myself, so my career path has been quite different to other members of my family!

What can students do to help prepare them for the course?

I would say start to think like a fashion communicator, so start to immerse yourself in fashion 24-7, and start to think beyond the surface consumer messages. If you are just observing the same content and have the same opinions as 50,000 other people, you aren’t going to bring anything new to the subject.

Start to develop more diverse areas of interest, read about designers and their careers and the origins of their inspirations. Start to study the history of fashion, fashion photography, fashion film, fashion styling etc. Attend fashion and design exhibitions, travel, people watch, and see what people are wearing around you and on the street. Also, think about who you are as a person and what you want to achieve with your degree. We pack a lot in, but the three years goes extremely fast too!

What’s your favourite element about working at the School of Fashion and Textiles?

Definitely the people and the projects that students create. We have a really strong, welcoming and inclusive community of practice. Even during the toughest times, we have persevered and we laugh all the time, which has been even more important during the last two years. Everyone loves fashion and we have conversations all day, every day about new ideas, concepts and ways that we can use fashion to create social benefit and change, which is amazing!

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