Inspired by the quality of fashion education offered in fashion capitals such as London and New York, Woolworths has teamed with leading tertiary design universities to put young South African designers on the map.

Woolworths entered into partnership with Kingston University in London and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in Cape Town last month to nurture the skills of soon-to-be fashion design graduates.

Now in its third year, the programme has offered second and third year fashion students an exclusive opportunity to gain theoretical and practical experience from academics, retail design professionals and industry leaders.

The scheme is divided into three parts:

• The participating fashion lecturers – one from each university – trade places teaching each other’s classes for one or two weeks, where they can share their unique perspectives and technical expertise.

• The two winners from each university experience the vibrant creative buzz in the cities of London and Cape Town, including boutiques, galleries, museums and entertainment as well as major cultural events such as Design Indaba and London Graduate Fashion Week.

• The winning students also have an opportunity to intern at Woolworths for five days, where they experience the design process, commercial fittings as well as range builds and reviews.

Students in both years are catered to because of the nature of the academic years, where in the UK academics start in September/October and in South Africa, in January.

Talking participation
Maryna Bergh, a fashion design lecturer at CPUT, was the exchange lecturer at Kingston University for the third consecutive year in 2014 during January. On her return Bergh implemented many of the Kingston University lessons into her curriculum.

“It is a privilege to have experienced an international design education approach to the discipline of fashion design,” Bergh said.

The changes to the curriculum have resulted in improved quality of work submitted by the CPUT student’s portfolios, as observed by the experts here and in London.

Tracey Hodgson, Design Head at Woolworths sees major value in the experience. “CPUT’s design curriculum has benefitted a great deal,” said Hodgson.

She adds: “There has been a marked improvement in the quality of the portfolios submitted to us by students at CPUT. We are so impressed with the submissions that we asked the winning students from each campus to design windows for our iconic V&A Waterfront store to coincide with ‘Cape Town City of Design 2014’.”

Woolworths continues to support and employ many young designers, including the likes of top emergent Cape Town designer, David West. A number of the learners who have participated in the program have also been recruited by Woolworths.

Hodgson says this initiative is an example of how the industry can help to nurture young talent. “This programme has been a labour of love for us. The industry and other educational institutes should support programmes such as this one to ensure that the industry continues to grow and the young design talent in this country is nurtured.”