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Old Girls Open Window onto the Fashion Industry

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Attendees at the latest virtual Perspectives lecture hosted by Bolton School Girls’ Division enjoyed a fascinating insight into the world of fashion. Five former pupils, at different points on their career trajectories and working across several job roles, shared their experiences and offered their views on the industry and its future.

Rajeshree Bhosle (Class of 1998) presented from Reigate and spoke about her role as the Global CFO for The Faction Collective, a disrupter premium ski brand which specialises in hard goods and apparel aimed at the Freeskier market. She told how her work involves aligning finance and business strategy and being responsible for day-to-day accounting and finance, as well as overseeing operational functions such as Legal, Logistics and HR. With over 15 years’ international experience in both commercial and technical finance, Rajeshree revealed what it was like working for some of the world’s most successful brands and industry leaders including Ivy Park with owners Sir Philip Green and Beyoncé, Selfridges, Christian Louboutin, Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo. She reflected on how her Business Studies with Italian degree from the University of Hull had undoubtedly helped her career, the language element being particularly useful when she lived in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. She told the audience that once you have a profession – such as accountancy or law - then you should pick an industry that interests you. She reflected that, working in fashion, there is certainly more than a little truth in the line: ‘A million girls would kill for your job’ from The Devil Wears Prada film. In her line of work, she said you have to be both proactive and reactive and you need to be able to work under pressure!

Joanna Czutkowna (Class of 2000) reflected on her 20 years in the business and talked about how she had led innovation and product development teams for several international companies. She recalled her time in Shanghai where she learnt about every part of the product development process, from ideation to sampling and manufacture. Working directly with the factories, she said, gave her hands-on experience in learning how processes and products can be developed more efficiently and sustainably. She also recalled being asked to set up innovation teams for one of the world’s biggest family of brands, redesigning how they worked with suppliers and instigating their global product development innovation hub. It was during this time that she learnt about digital design and how it may shape the future of the fashion industry. Having had children, she is currently running her own consultancy, specialising in nurturing creative thinking to support business leaders to think differently and push for a more innovative, sustainable and considered approach. Joanna spoke of keeping ahead of the game and told how she is planning to study for a PhD in Digital Fashion whilst guest lecturing at universities. She advised the audience that, ultimately you have to combine creative thinking with strategic thinking if you are going to make products that will sell.

Sarah Ann Murray (Class of 2001) Zoomed in from Portugal, recapping her career, which currently sees her working as a menswear stylist. She explained how she had become a freelance fashion stylist and creative director, styling and art directing photoshoots for magazines, styling celebrities and working closely with brands on their visual campaigns and collection designs. Sarah recalled how, when living in Singapore, she joined a luxury men’s magazine as their Fashion Director and spent six happy years there writing and attending fashion weeks, whilst styling the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Charles Dance, Serena Williams and Eric Cantona. After this, she went freelance which Sarah said felt like starting at the beginning but she was soon working with some of the industry’s most recognisable names, from photographers like Rankin, to styling Massimo Dutti’s Spring imagery, dressing David Beckham and more recently, becoming personal stylist to Brian May, for Queen’s world tour and for their Oscar’s performance.  She advised those thinking of joining the industry to get to know the business inside out – to know your designers and iconic collections and to develop your own creative voice.

Flo Hughes (Class of 2009) told how she is loving life as a designer at Asos, her focus being on accessories and bags. She fondly recalled her time at Bolton School, where she studied A levels in English Literature, Art and Textiles and then how she studied for a degree in Fashion Design at both Central St Martin’s and The University of Westminster for five years where she focussed on womenswear. She said there was lots of coursework and that, importantly, she managed to fit in some work experience with Mulberry too. She told of working for Alfred Dunhill and Top Shop before moving to Asos, where she has been for over four years. She currently visits India and South-East Asia four times a year as well as spending time in Europe on shopping and inspirational trips. She told how the industry allows you to build a long-term career and potentially offers you great creative freedom. Considering the creative process, she said she always has ideas in her head and a large part of her job involves making sketches. She advised that brainstorming with a buyer can help when creating a new design and the process is very often a team effort. There is no bigger thrill, she said, than driving global trends and seeing sales grow across the world.

Imogen West (Class of 2019) talked about her BA (Hons) degree in Fashion Design at the University of Leeds, where she is currently studying. She said her strength lies in designing and creating and that she had always been interested in art and design. She told how she is being kept very busy on her degree and revealed how her knowledge of the fashion industry and her creativity had been enhanced through modules such as Garment Technology, Research and Design Development and Fashion Marketing. Imogen was looking forward to a 12-month internship which will begin in September at the Harris Tweed tailors, Walker Slater in Edinburgh and will allow her to practise her skills in a real-life setting. She also advised future fashion students to try to set themselves apart from other undergraduates and revealed how she has been working with Oxfam Leeds, upcycling clothes to sell on their website. Looking back on her time at Bolton School, she recalled how she studied A levels in Fashion and Textiles, Product Design and Psychology. She felt that choosing two design-based subjects at this stage in her education, along with undertaking creative work experiences over the summers of Years 10, 11 and 12 had helped her decide which aspect of the design industry she wished to study further. She advised students to choose a university which offers pathways and modules that are of interest to them.

Several themes recurred throughout the presentations and in the questions and answers session which was overseen by Miss Stafford, Head of Textile Technology in the Girls’ Division. All the speakers emphasised that it is a very competitive industry, although Rajeshree thought the exclusivity of the sector was gradually being broken down. Sarah also made the point that with her degree in Law with French, she was living proof that there are many ways into the field. There was also agreement that these days there are increasingly more women in top roles. All the panellists stressed the importance of work experience and of gaining an internship. Joanna suggested contacting the top 20 companies you hope to work for to ask them for some work experience and recalled having to gain experience herself when she left university prior to taking her first job. There was also talk of the many different roles that are available in the sector. Sarah said that whatever your skillset – whether you are organised, creative, like working with numbers or like bringing designs to life - there will be a role for you. She also said it is important to know your own skillset and that there will be as many ups as there are downs. 

The ever-changing nature of the business was considered. Imogen advised the audience to ‘be aware of current trends but don’t be constrained by them.’ The audience was told about the prevalence of free online resources such as Edx and that they could learn more about sustainability through the Ellen McArthur Foundation. Consideration was given to the possibility that we might be printing off our own clothes, mapped to our bodies, in the future! Nearly all the presenters had travelled extensively and had often spent time living abroad, although some panellists wondered if this might reduce post-pandemic and with a need to reduce carbon emissions. All speakers told of the critical importance of networking and of keeping ‘a little black book’ of contacts. Those that could speak another language also spoke of how useful this had been in their careers. Considering what had inspired them, Joanna cited Mrs Tankard, her Textiles teacher at Bolton School as being the person that made her believe in her abilities and who encouraged her to pursue a career in fashion and textiles. Sarah said it was her love of creative freedom and her love for dressing people that drew her into the business. Everyone agreed that we are at a pivotal moment for fashion and that there will be a lot of changes ahead in the next five to ten years as we drive towards circularity and sustainability. 

Sixth Form student Zara Leach, who makes her own clothes and has a keen interest in fashion, thanked the speakers for offering a wonderful insight into a wide variety of careers in the sector.

The discussion was the latest in a series of Perspectives lectures that have been hosted by the Girls’ Division of Bolton School and have been open to the local community. Earlier in the year, former pupil Sally-Anne Huang spoke about leadership and there was a panel discussion careers in journalism.

If you would like to be advised about forthcoming free public lectures at Bolton School, please click this link.

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