Fashion Education Is Incomplete Without Practical Work Experience

By Imran Amed

Schools must offer opportunities for practical work experience in the real fashion world to adequately prepare their students for today’s fast-changing fashion market.

LONDON, United Kingdom — In the research that went into The Business of Fashion’s second annual global ranking of fashion schools, there was one consistent piece of feedback from the more-than 10,000 students who participated in our survey: fashion students are hungry for more practical training and real-life exposure to how the industry actually works.

As an industry that operates at the intersection of business, creativity and — increasingly — technology, fashion schools must offer opportunities for hands-on practical work experience in the real fashion world, especially now that the industry is being radically reshaped by forces ranging from rapid globalisation and digital media to shifting consumer expectations and widespread economic uncertainty.

What’s more, fashion is unlike some other disciplines in that there is no single formula for success: no right way to design a collection, no best way to merchandise a store, no ideal way to stage a fashion show. There are many paths and models for success and the only way to get a real sense for the wide range of approaches is to see them in practice in the real world.

Yet at many schools, students of fashion design are still creating in a bubble, far from the real demands of their future roles as designers, in which interacting and collaborating with other functions — from sourcing to marketing to sales — will be a key part of their day-to-day work. In this year’s BoF student survey, only 68 percent of BA students were satisfied with their work placements and internships.

High quality work placements can have a big impact on student satisfaction and learning. At top-ranked Central Saint Martins (where, full disclosure, I am an associate lecturer), students are encouraged to take a gap year between their second and third years to pursue internships at creative East London fashion start-ups and established French and Italian houses alike. While CSM’s students are dissatisfied with many other elements of their learning experience, one area where the school does shine is in practical experience. 83 percent of CSM students surveyed report that they are satisfied with their work placements, which often lead to full-time jobs.

Other schools have even more structured programmes, integrating work experience into the actual curricula. Drexel University in Philadelphia may not be a world famous fashion school like CSM, but in part due to the learning experience it offers its students, including required work placements, it ranked 11th in the world, and 86 percent of students are satisfied with the the school’s offering of work placements.

If fashion schools are to adequately prepare their students for today’s shifting fashion landscape, work experience must be an essential part of the puzzle.


Imran Amed, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

The Business of Fashion’s global fashion school rankings are the world’s most comprehensive and rigorous analysis of fashion education, surveying more than 10,000 students and alumni representing 54 fashion schools in 17 countries around the world.


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