Shaping the Future of Fashion Education

Laura Arrowsmith, lecturer on our BA (Hons) Fashion Business and Promotion course, was recently interviewed by Emma Golley from US fashion website Fashion and the Free. She discussed her role as a lecturer, the changing nature of fashion education and the importance of keeping in touch with the evolution of the industry. 

Laura Arrowsmith
Lecturer in Fashion Business and Promotion

Student using computer at a desk

Laura, tell us about your role as a fashion business lecturer at Birmingham City University and your journey that led up to this role.

Hello! So I am a lecturer in Fashion Business and Promotions at Birmingham City University, I essentially teach everything within the fashion industry but design. My journey started after I graduated with a first in Fashion Management. I began my career working within buying, however after three years I felt it wasn’t as creative as I’d expected. I made the transfer into marketing where I worked on customer facing campaigns for a large organisation. I was lucky enough to travel internationally managing photoshoots in South Africa, Miami and all across the UK. I have had shoots featured in Elle, Grazia, Women & Home and Vogue. My experience ranges from in-store POS, social media management, events, editorial and advertorial.

I was later asked by Birmingham City University to come in and talk to the students about my experience within the marketing industry and I just simply fell in love with it. I really enjoyed helping the students overcome their hurdles and further their understanding of marketing, so when a position became available I had to interview! I then completed a post grad in higher education while working full time at the University. At present I would like to continue furthering my education so I am never stagnant and always understanding the evolution of the fashion industry.

The course I teach is run so it follows the life cycle of a product. We start off with all students participating in a fashion business context which enables students from business and creative backgrounds to level out and all be on the same page. We then move into trend forecasting where students explore the future of trends, have a better understanding of how they are created and also form their own ideas. Students then move into buying and merchandising where they create their own collection and then move into visual merchandising with a better understanding of in-store aesthetics and concepts.

The second year covers more of the promotional side exploring marketing and PR, international retailing events management, they then have the opportunity to participate in a work placement. The third and final year is all about exploring your own path through your dissertation and final major project.

Do you think fashion education has changed significantly over the years?

Absolutely, fashion education is changing to meet the needs of the industry and the students. It is paramount that lecturers keep in touch with industry, grow with industry and collaborate with industry to ensure the course is never stationary. It’s constantly evolving and always challenging the students, getting them to think ahead. University students are the future so it is crucial for them to be guided in the right direction, understand what’s happening politically, socially and so on as these are the things that will impact the industry going forward.

I think the pandemic has provided Universities with a further understanding of how education can be delivered and also how academics need to evolve to meet the needs and wants of the students. The industry is changing fast and everyone must adapt.

What topics do you feel are important to include in your curriculum?

For me the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals are extremely important to be embedded into the curriculum. Students need to understand the importance of these global goals and how all 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted a plan to achieve a better future and how to get there.

The SDGs provide an influential aspiration for improving our world, they highlight where we collectively need to go and how to get there. By understanding how the UN is implementing these goals provides students with a better understanding of how businesses need to adapt and how everyone needs to play their part in the progression of a better future.

Something else that I try to also embed into my academic practice is the importance of mental health and well-being. For the marketing and PR module that I lead, students are assigned a brand and a cause to create a campaign that encapsulates corporate social responsibility. I think it’s essential for students to understand the importance of the greater good and produce work that benefits society rather than solely boosting sales. Mental health awareness is increasing nationally and internationally and it is also part of number 3 on the UN’s SDGs. I strongly believe that the more open we are discussing these topics, the more it can help to break down the barriers and stigmas and get people talking! 

How engaged do you feel the students are when learning about Sustainability and SDGs? Are they aware of the role the fashion industry plays in relation to climate change and people in general?

I see a mix with my students, some are incredibly switched on in regards to sustainability and know this is what they want to focus on and be a part of when they graduate, however others are wanting to work for fast fashion retailers not fully understanding the impact they are having on the environment and future generations so it’s a real mix. This is why we try to educate within every module what is happening globally inside and outside the industry. I think it's so important that fashion students explore the PESTEL framework and are continually reading around each sector.

Sustainability is an ongoing battle and we know the fashion industry plays a significant part in this. Fashion is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry therefore we must educate the students in this in the hope that they will make the right choices after university.

In your opinion, how has the fashion industry changed in recent years and how can students best prepare for these changes?

As with society the fashion industry is slowly learning that in order to meet consumer wants and needs as well as looking after the planet they need to have a strategy that takes into account their brand’s impact. When graduating and applying for jobs within the fashion industry I think it's essential to read up on the brand's corporate social responsibility to see if it aligns with what your core values are.

Students need to know what consumers needs and wants are so they can enter the industry with the correct mind frame as to how to make a business thrive in the current circumstances. A recent WGSN report stated that “Gen Z are more driven than ever to change the world we live in and that they have the hope and the chance to rebuild, reform and rethink society which is their key motivator.”

What opportunities lie ahead for graduates and what can they do to secure their dream role once they’ve left University?

We are seeing a rapid growth in online retail and less involvement with bricks and mortar stores, therefore students need to understand how brands can adapt in a digital world. We are a society that thrives on experiences, therefore how can brands create this virtually - as well as incorporating personalisation which has seen a massive influx in the past three years. For students to succeed they need to stay relevant, in the know and open to adapting to their surroundings. In order to stand out students must be mindful of innovation, not be afraid to stand out and have their own opinions while also ensuring they have a professional online presence. They need to look outside the box and not pigeonhole their knowledge to fashion alone. Making sure they are continuously scanning their surroundings, observing how people's habits are evolving.

Are there any online resources that students can use to do their own research and learn more about SDGs and fashion’s role in climate change?

The United Nations website is a fantastic platform that goes into depth about each of the SDGs as well as how it is planned to be implemented globally. In terms of climate change in general, I highly suggest keeping up to date with the latest news and reports. Trend forecasting and insights platforms such as WGSN and LS:N Global are great platforms for this although they do require a subscription. Alternatives that are also really useful are BOF (The Business of Fashion) and Instagram accounts such as The Sustainable Fashion Forum.

Find out more about BA (Hons) Fashion Business and Promotion