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Interview: Marian McLaughlin of the Amsterdam Fashion Institute

By:
Feb 24

Taking a break from the five-day social compliance course at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI), our communications manager, Cori Sue Morris, sat down for a chat with Marian McLaughlin, head of AMFI’s International Office.

McLaughlin, who has worked in this role at AMFI for seven years, oversees the fashion management honors program, which begins with the five-day social compliance auditor course.

 CSM: “So, tell me about this honors program for the fashion management students.”

 MM: “This is the fifth year of the honors program for fashion management students who are specializing in international production. It focuses on business in China—primarily sourcing and production. A lot of the companies are now selling in China, not just sourcing for the west.

We set this up at the request of both private companies and the students. Students are seeing that China is a very important market—it’s very important to know how to do business with China.

The program is taken by students in their third year. They begin the semester with the WRAP course to learn about the factory side of apparel production. Then, they go through short classes in fashion industry logistics, quality control, and sourcing while dealing with the visa process. During this period there are also guest lectures by sourcing industry experts.

It’s all preparation to help them with what they’re going to do in China. Then, the second phase is at Hong Kong Polytechnic, where they take four weeks of Chinese language and culture. The third phase is individual internships with brands and apparel sourcing companies across Hong Kong and China”

CSM: “So, why China?”

MM: “Companies are looking for graduates who have experience working in Asia. The cultural component, the cross-cultural communication is one of the major benefits of the course. Because, let’s face it, it’s in the communication that things go wrong all the time.”

CSM: “Chinese is a difficult language, how much do students actually learn in four weeks?”

MM: “I’m actually surprised by how much they can actually do at the end of four weeks. They take three hours of Mandarin every morning for four weeks. They learn the basic, polite forms. Then, the last week is dedicated specifically to clothing terminology. They learn things like ‘too dark,’ ‘too small,’ ‘too high,’ and ‘too low.’ They learn the phrases for classic things that could go wrong with a garment in clothing production.”

CSM: “How does this benefit the students in their future careers in fashion?”

MM: “Students intern with impressive brands like Intersport, O’Neill and also with compliance organizations like WRAP. During their time in China, they go straight into factories, taking with them what they learned on the WRAP course.

We’ve noticed that it is really good on their CVs and definitely helps students get jobs afterwards. The fact that they have already worked in Asia is a real plus point.

The strong industry links, practical assignments for companies, encouragement of students’ entrepreneurial attitude all set AMFI’s fashion management program apart.”

CSM: “What do you think about Stuart [Webster, WRAP’s Vice President of Training and Education], who teaches the course, and his teaching style?”

MM: “The students experience an amazing eye opener this first week. Stuart is a bloody good teacher. He really warms them to the subject of factory conditions, social compliance, and the importance of ethics in apparel production. In theory, they’ve looked at the apparel production so far in their educations, now we try and work on ethics and sustainability.

The films he shows of the factories and the real situations—that really opens their eyes. They have visited factories in Europe and Turkey. But, unless they’ve completed an internship already, they haven’t experienced what factories are really like in the major production countries.

Stuart is an amazing trainer—he manages to imbue an amazing enthusiasm for his subject.”

CSM: “How do you think this will impact the future of sustainable and ethical fashion?”

MM: “The purpose of this program is to educate the students on international production and help them obtain a career in fashion. But, it is also to help them realize that they are members of a bigger society. And, when you source or when you produce a product, you are responsible for the way it was produced and the conditions under which it was produced.

I think that, after this course, when students go into the workplace they’ll have more of an eye for how things are made, and the conditions under which they have to be produced. Our hope is that they’ll take that into account when they get into a position that they are negotiating prices.”

CSM: “How important do you think ethics are in the fashion industry?”

MM: “It’s certainly talked about a lot in the fashion and fashion university world—it’s certainly something we feel we should be doing.

It’s definitely the case that big producers are trying to produce organic cotton and be more sustainable. Obviously, these big companies feel that the consumer is starting to care more.

So, I think we’ve reached a point where it may start to tip. It was often that ethical clothing had what I call a “High Birkenstock factor”—it was expensive and made for idealists. I think maybe we are reaching a tipping point where it will start to become more main stream.

With the recession, it will go either way. People may say, 'Oh, we’re just going to buy cheap.” Or, they’ll say “We’re going to buy clothing that’s made to love and made to last.' I hope it’s the latter."

 
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