DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The Fashion Design Institut (FDI) offers courses in Fashion Journalism, International Fashion Design, Fashion Management and Fashion Marketing. The school’s approach to education is focused on creating adaptable and employable individuals who learn the realities of employment on small-scale campuses to prepare for the international fashion industry.
Although the school has sites located on three continents — Europe, Asia and Africa — it remains a family-run business. Each school was designed to create an intimate educational environment for the student body, which accumulatively numbers just under 200 students. However, the student population is internationally diverse, with less than 40 percent undertaking their studies in their home country.
According to BoF’s annual independent survey, students who attend classes at FDI receive a well-grounded education in technical skills, innovation and sustainability courses, with access to both marketing and business courses. Students also rated the school’s networking events and careers fairs highly. "It was an amazing experience, I was given a lot of exposure and equipped with the necessary skills that prepared me for the fashion world,” said one respondent. “I had so much exposure at different fairs and fashion weeks, which were all organised by the institution. That is why I felt ready to start my own fashion business right after my studies. The school gave me a general overview of the fashion world, including PR, styling, marketing, photography and many other aspects encompassed by the fashion industry."
BoF sits down with Inna Thomas, the creative director of fashion design at FDI, to discover the educational ethos behind its operations, and how she nurtures international creative talent.
How would you define the ethos of the Fashion Design Institut?
All three campuses of the FDI share the same DNA despite the fact that they are located across three continents in Germany, Morocco and Cambodia. They are all small, family-like schools, with a real focus on the individual student. However, fashion is a global industry. That is why the FDI maintains a strong international network of relationships, be that inviting guest lecturers, finding internships with diverse international entities, or connecting students with Masters courses in London and Milan.
Our absolute goal is to nurture graduates to be among the best prepared for starting a career in the international fashion industry. While, of course, this is largely achieved through the content of each of our courses, in addition to pure academics, professional traits including diligence, punctuality and flexibility are also developed. It is important to us that the graduates are truly prepared for an optimal start to working life. This is the only way they will have an opportunity in the labour market worldwide.
How do you approach student development?
The study programmes of FDI are rooted in a simple concept: learning through independent development. Every student who comes to us is individually supported and uniquely challenged. In practice, this means learning through research tasks, which require developing ideas and projects based on real life situations with real life critique regarding the expectations and current needs of the fashion industry.
The teaching staff at FDI have previously worked at a range of leading companies including Hermès, Vetements, Acne and Central Saint Martins. As a result, we focus not only on a creative education, which is obviously extremely important to us, but also consider developing students’ professionalism to be fundamental too. Personal and professional advancement are always taken into consideration. We want our students to find their personal aesthetic and individual creative direction by having fun, but to also develop an awareness of the realities of the job market and the consequences of not working hard. The goal is to develop the know-how to the highest possible professional level.
Why is adaptability and flexibility so important to the curriculum at Fashion Design Institut?
At the FDI, we focus on developing students who are creatively innovative while commercially astute. Most schools train pure specialists; an approach I believe is no longer up-to-date. Flexibility and adaptability are increasingly important to fashion employers. Due to the rate of digital disruption in the market, new skills and new working methods are constantly required. Companies need people who have not only mastered one thing but are also capable of learning other fields. In fashion and other creative industries, this is especially relevant due to the popularity of freelance careers. Our graduates are employed because they are flexible, well-educated, conscientious and diligent.
What additional methods do you use to develop students’ academic practice at Fashion Design Institut?
The internship is a fundamental part of our academic studies. I am always asked numerous times, “why do we need this, why do we have to practise and practise?” by at least one student. However, after the internship, the students always know why, because they get the chance to experience first-hand what we have been explaining to them all along.
To further push our students academically and professionally, internships must be completed abroad to gain a more extensive experience in a global industry. Often, students receive a lot of positive acknowledgement and affirmation during their internships. Along with attending tradeshows, fashion weeks and developing their own personal network within the industry — through guest lectures etcetera — I think our internship programme really prepares students for the reality of working in fashion.