Fashion Jobs: Career Chat – Q & A with Professor Susan Roberton on Humber College’s Fashion Management and Promotions Program

Style Nine to Five - Fashion Jobs CanadaSusan speaking

Calling all fashionistas! Looking to make the move to try and break into the fashion industry? With a vast range of career options and an increasingly competitive market, how can you find and land your dream job? Professor Susan Roberton of the Humber College Fashion Management and Promotions program has the answers to all your questions, and outlines why a postgraduate degree may just be the platform you need to get started.

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Style Nine to Five: You’ve had a very successful career within the fashion industry working as a Wholesaler, Buyer, and Product Developer, how do you infuse this industry knowledge into the course content at Humber College?

Susan Roberton: I love to share my personal experiences with the students, the lessons that I have learned the hard way from my years in [the] industry. The ideal lecture is to teach the foundational knowledge from the textbooks and our other supplemental resources, and then layer on my own personal experiences with real world examples.  It makes the content easier to comprehend and I think more memorable for the student.  Because I worked in almost every aspect of the business, I can share my insights on a problem or topic from a variety of perspectives – how would the buyer solve this, where is the opportunity for the sales agent in this scenario, how would the manufacturer or importer relate to this?  Our industry is very fluid and if you can examine a problem from each stakeholders’ perspective, you have a much better chance of solving the issue successfully. For me it makes the classroom an extension of the industry and I hope it does for the students as well.

SNTF: What are your three fashion rules to live by?

SR: Number 1. I only wear what suits my body type first and foremost, so my rule would be to stay far away from trends if they don’t enhance what God gave you; Number 2. Decide what the focal point in your outfit is and make that element the “star” – is it all about your shoes, your accessories, the fit or fabric of what you are wearing or maybe it’s a strong colour statement? –  choose one element and let it tell your story; Number 3. When in doubt wear black, but add an interesting accessory, a broach, a necklace, a belt or bracelet, I get the most compliments on the broaches I layer onto my blazers or cardigans. They aren’t necessarily expensive or precious, but they are unique.

SNTF: What kind of education and skills would you say are necessary for people wanting to pursue a career in fashion?

SR: We are in a credentialed business environment these days, so employers are looking for skill and education. There is no one right way, but if you really want to get ahead in fashion you have to have an understanding of both the creative and the business side of things. You need both to really succeed, they go hand in hand, you can’t put together a great product range and then have no idea how to price it or market it, you have to have the ability to do the research, understand elements of fabric and colour and trend analysis as well as markup, merchandising and strategic planning. So in my opinion the program that offers you both knowledge in product and business is a great place to start, look for a curriculum that covers the business side of fashion with the tactile elements included. If you decide that the creative side is where you really want to focus your energy, then layer your design courses on top of the business acumen you have already learned.   The other area that is key for success is having solid excel skills, all employers are looking for this as it forms the base for every financial document in the industry. Entry level positions in corporate offices require students to have excellent excel and general computer skills, don’t underestimate that value of excel, it’s huge. If you are working in the marketing or promotions fields you will need to thoroughly maneuver your way through social media, and many employers love students to know photo shop and the various programs that support the more visual aspects of technology.

SNTF: What careers will a postgraduate certificate in Fashion Management and Promotions prepare students for?

SR: We seem to have found a niche with a couple of key positions out there:  buying, planning, sales analysis – all positions in the corporate head office seem to be an area where our students are excelling. Also product development jobs where they are working closely with a design team. These positions are a great fit for our students as they are filling the role of a sales representative working on the business aspects with private label clients and the in house design teams. We also have many successful students in the wholesale sales field and in visual merchandising, both of these areas are growing in the Toronto area and we have a lot of interest from employers for our student talent.

SNTF: What types of projects can students anticipate to do when enrolled in the program at Humber?

SR: Projects really focus on simulating what will happen in the industry. For example, in the retail buying class students will have to learn the basics of retail math but also be able to complete an open to buy document, mark up/mark down strategies and complete assortment plans all while using excel. In their marketing courses, they will create a blog and examine the analytics behind it, how many followers, how many hits, trying to really understand how this new area of fashion how it works, how to make money doing it, and following and examining through case studies some of the really successful blogs out there. In their career courses, students do everything you need to do while in a job search: resumes, cover letters, skills and strengths statements, developing a dynamic LinkedIn site and a personal digital portfolio to showcase your experience and skills to potential employers.  In wholesale sales, you learn how to sell and show a line and you do it as an assignment, we don’t just teach it, we give you the chance to do these things while still being in a supportive environment.  I think this is what makes the post graduate journey so rewarding, you have to push through your own fears and actually do the things you will have to do in the real industry. It is such an impactful and eye opening experience for many students. Every project [the] students do have the foundation of it based in industry, and because our faculty have all worked in these roles, they create assignments and have expectations that are align with industry standards.

SNTF: How does the fashion management field placement equip students for a career in fashion?

SR: Field Placement is such a big part of the program. We have a Placement Office that supports students in this area. The process of an internship really gives the student an opportunity to get on the inside of a company and job to see if it is right for you. It allows you to make connections and to grow your network all critical aspects of securing full time work. Sometimes it clearly shows you what area you don’t want and that is a good thing too – better find out now and re-direct your efforts. The ideal situation is that you secure an internship in an area you want to pursue and after you’re done the company hires you full time. This happens all the time, and it’s great for the employers too, because they get to really work with the student to help them be successful in the role. In the end, they hire a known entity and everyone is happy. The career development courses really prepare students to be able to successfully complete their job search and find a great placement. We really work with each student to make sure they “own their strengths’ and can sell their best selves in interviews and on the job.

SNTF: What sets Humber’s Fashion Management and Promotions program apart from other fashion programs in Toronto?

SR: First of all, we are a post graduate program, all of our students must hold a 3- or 4-year undergraduate degree in any discipline in order to be considered for admission. This means that the class is full of eager students who have already learned through their undergraduate degrees great time management and organizational skills, they have done the university thing and know more about themselves and where they want to go. They are focused, keen, ambitious and eager to get themselves launched into a career so they are here to learn and to succeed, quickly. Classes are intense with a heavy work load, incorporating a lot of group work and presentations. No one can escape or hide in these classes; everyone has to give their best effort in order to succeed – kind of like a real corporate setting! Our curriculum is very well balanced and covers all aspects of the industry; sales, marketing, merchandising, product management, brand promotion, visual merchandising, buying, sales analysis, and importing with a domestic and global overview – a little bit of everything. We teach the business side, but we also give you colour and trend analysis, product knowledge and a bit of textile science. We set you up to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk”. You won’t have it all mastered, but you will have enough solid knowledge to maneuver yourself successfully into this business.   

SNTF: Lastly, is there any advice you would give to students entering into this program?

SR: I love the fashion industry, it has been very good to me over the years and has allowed me to work every day doing something I love it, but it is a tough business. When you enter your post-grad journey, I encourage you to start on the right foot by coming prepared to work hard, stay focused, listen, learn, grow, network and to push yourself every day. Immerse yourself in the program, your course, classmates and the industry right from day one. You will get out of this experience what you put into it, the harder you work the more success you will find.  In the end it’s your journey, you need to take full responsibility for your time here, we can’t do it for you, but we will be there beside you cheering all the way.

By Jennifer Wilcox

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