SYDNEY, Australia — Australian fashion education has traditionally been a domestic affair, typified by its remoteness from the main international fashion market. However, the negative impact of its geographical position and having a climate at odds with the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the world’s population lives, is diminishing, as the fashion world enters a period of reinvention.
“If you think back 20 to 30 years ago, Australia had reverse seasons, we definitely felt like we were on the periphery. Now we’re all on this ‘instant access’ path to fashion, there’s definitely a sense we’re not remote anymore,” says Alice Payne, a lecturer in fashion and fashion history and theory at Queensland University of Technology. “Our closeness to Asia is really attractive for international students and the industry. That’s a real benefit that Australia has, not to mention just the beauty of the natural landscape — it has so much to offer in terms of lifestyle and I think that’s a big factor in the student experience,” she continues.
Spread across the country’s coastal hubs, although the majority of institutions are clustered in Sydney and Melbourne, the Australian fashion education system runs the gamut from state-run universities to private colleges and a number of private course providers. In BoF’s second annual global fashion school rankings, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) was the highest ranked Australian school, coming 17th in the global ranking of undergraduate programmes, with the Sydney Institute of Tafe and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) ranked below, placed 23rd and 28th respectively.
Twenty to 30 years ago, Australia had reverse seasons, we felt on a periphery. Now we’re all on this instant access path, we feel that everyone is everywhere together.
On average, the Australian schools’ best scores related to the long-term value of the education they provided, assessed on the student’s preparedness for the real world, based on student graduation rates and student satisfaction regarding employment, careers preparedness and accessibility of alumni. However, these results should be viewed in the context of a mostly domestic market. As students increasingly look outside Australia for employment opportunities or future consumers, they may be disappointed.
“There is a short-fall, as there probably is globally, in the business exposure and commercial education design students have been given. Previously, so many students and graduates saw their peers go out and become very successful designers for department stores in Australia, but perhaps [gain] no success globally. But that didn't matter because it was a very closed market before. Now I urge graduates to think globally about their potential customer base. The trans-seasonal nature of fashion today, the prominence of the bigger houses’ Cruise collections and the commercial importance of Resort and Pre-Fall have created a unique opportunity for Australia and Australian education,” says Edwina McCann, editor-in-chief of Australian Vogue.
Since 2014, as the first chairperson of the Australian Fashion Chamber, McCann has sought to channel this new sense of opportunity to students and graduates. “The Fashion Chamber is very squarely focused on creating sustainable businesses that are based in Australia, while also encouraging young design talent to take the best international opportunities available, to act as ambassadors for Australian fashion. We still see that as success,” says McCann.
I think Australians are generally huge world travellers and that carries through in the fashion education, students are very mobile.
In order to create viable pathways for success for talented graduates, McCann is working with both the fashion education system and the fashion industry itself. “There weren’t a lot of start-up funds for young designers, or experienced people who can go into a young designer's business and help them get started. These are the things that the Australian Fashion Chamber is trying to address. It's there to help understand tax benefits, pass on contacts for business plans,” she continues.
Although, Australia is located nearby some of the most important consumer markets and manufacturing hubs in the world, along with emerging design capitals in China, Indonesia and India, the Australian education system’s weakest scores, perhaps unsurprisingly, remain those relating to global influence.
However this is an area that is swiftly improving believes Payne. “The number of connections between Australian institutions and the international industry is definitely increasing. The destinations Australian graduates go to from RMIT, QUT, UTS, from across the education landscape, are now all around the world.” Seeing the opportunity in the upheaval facing the fashion industry, Australian graduates are ready to leave the periphery behind.
To view the full State of Fashion Education Report and BoF Global Fashion School Rankings click here.