'Fashion skills not being tailored to jobs'

A failure by the government to inject cash into the UK’s fashion colleges will result in Britain falling behind its international rivals, leading fashionistas have declared.

In a reported warning to both officials and academics, style gurus Jasper Conran, Mulberry and Savile Row tailors Henry Poole said today’s fashion graduates lack the basic skills.

The dearth of relevant expertise was said to be most marked in technical areas, which typically enable designers’ visions to be turned from vague sketches into hand-crafted garments.

Supporting the designers’ appeal for the state to address the “growing education crisis” in fashion is Skillfast UK, the sector skills council for fashion and textiles.

Chief executive Linda Florance told the Independent that graduates will fail to get on in the industry without pattern-cutting, computer-aided design and production skills.

And the signs of graduates being unemployable are already present: figures seen by the paper reveal just 500 of the 3,000 fashion graduates can expect a job in their field.

In a type of testimonial for state intervention, Skillsfast said it had seen graduates fresh off £10,000 courses having to pay for private lessons or placements to learn the basics.

Evidencing the claim, London tailor Imtaz Khaliq, whose clients include Michelle Pfeiffer, said graduates had approached her not knowing how to “cut a basic pattern.”

Rather than not being able to keep up with the industry’s needs, as in the case of Digital, fashionistas say their colleges are largely under-funded and understaffed.

The shortage of new fashion techies entering the workforce may spark more outsourcing abroad, yet some brands want their couture or hand-made pieces created in the UK.

One of those labels seen as keen to boost its British identity is Mulberry, which has said the need for skilled fashion technicians extends beyond custom-fitted fashion.

Far from the mass, automated production lines, its Bayswater bag, for example, is said to need one person sewing, another person riveting and someone else to ink the seams.

To raise the plight of fashion employers, Skillfast said it has launched a campaign – Behind the Seams – to spotlight the craftsmanship behind the UK fashion industry.

It cited figures indicating any action or investment to solve the workforce’s skills mismatch must address its age imbalance, as more than 70% of its practitioners are aged 35 or older.

“As skills are lost through retirement, there will be a need to attract fresh young talent into the industry,” the group said in an online statement.

“Promoting a positive industry image, and providing meaningful work placements for those looking to enter the sector, will be key to achieving this.”


18th November 2008

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