High Mill Campus Herriot Watt University

A collaboration exploring the new creative landscape of Scotland

 

Herriot Watt Theresa CoburnLate December 2012, Modeconnect approached Heriot Watt University with an interesting proposition: a collaboration with our Fashion Communication students.

I am Theresa Coburn, programme director in Fashion Communication at Heriot Watt University, Galashiels in the Scottish Borders.

The Fashion Communication programme at Heriot Watt University, the first degree of its kind in Scotland, is a broad based course run alongside the University’s established Fashion and Textile courses. The Fashion Communication course was developed in response to a growing demand for fashion writing, fashion film making, photography and fashion graphics. The course is aimed at students who want to explore diverse creative ways to communicate, promote and present fashion to different audiences. In particular the course develops students’ awareness and understanding of how contemporary culture might influence fashion. This approach aims to inspire original, dynamic ideas to communicate fashion to an international audience in the 21st century. 2014 sees this course first graduating cohort, now equipped with wide ranging transferrable skills.

For the Modeconnect collaboration, students were asked to explore the creative landscape of Scotland, discovering new, emerging talent or reporting on more established businesses within the Scottish fashion industry. Heriot Watt University felt that the project was interesting on several levels.


 

It offered a fantastic opportunity for students to engage with a live brief that required a professional approach. Students had to consider organisation, time management and the importance of meeting deadlines. The project taught them real life skills about interviewing professional people. The experience also enhanced their confidence and communication skills. It enabled them to discover, to research and contact creative individuals based in Scotland and pursuing a wide and exciting variety of fashion careers. In addition to bringing the talents of these practitioners to the notice of a worldwide audience through Modeconnect, this project helped students to promote their own journalistic talents, as they effectively became correspondents for Modeconnect.

Working with fashion writer and journalist Hywel Davies from Central St Martins and myself, students covered the length and breadth of Scotland, discovering a fantastic wealth of talent from the Borders to the Highlands and within the major cities of Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow.

Theresa Coburn

Theresa Coburn

During the course of the project the students each undertook five interviews. This gave them an excellent opportunity to expose the many and varied career opportunities which exist within the fashion industry in Scotland. The interviewees demonstrated that Scotland not only has a rich, cultural heritage within the knitwear and textile industry but that the new generation of creative thinkers working in Scotland are determined to leave their own legacy.

The conversations with the interviewees inspired the students to consider their own careers and the opportunities that exist through internships, funding and networking.

A lot of the interviewees were keen to make the point that they didn’t feel that they needed to relocate from Scotland in order to be successful.

The project represented a tremendous learning curve for the students and it is fair to say that all of them found the brief far more challenging than they had anticipated. They realised that producing an exciting and engaging interview requires the ability to develop and draw on a lot more personal attributes and skills than solely the ability to write well.

Through researching Modeconnect and its audience, students were aware of the calibre of the practitioners that they were expected to interview.

Herriot Watt Iain

They first had to overcome confidence issues in making the initial contact with them.


 

Interview by Kirstin Kerr

Designs by Kirstin Kerr & Interview by Fiona Jones

Students then quickly became aware of the need to remain flexible around the schedule of the interviewee as appointments were cancelled at short notice or affected by circumstances beyond the students’ control. This reinforced the importance of problem solving, planning and contingency plans.

Students who attempted interviews via email found that answers in the main were uninspired and basic. It was agreed that the face to face experience elicited the most interesting and fulsome responses as students were able to build a rapport with the interviewee, getting of a sense of their personality in the written piece.

Here is what some of the students involved with this collaboration had to say.

“This project really opened my eyes to the fact that all the people working in the same industry were coming from such different backgrounds. It also made me realise how important it was to ask questions that would engage the reader but how difficult it is to think of questions that are not commonly asked! Transcribing the interviews took hours and it was important to edit interviews in a way that would still make them exciting to the reader.” Rona Leslie

Herriot Watt Ruth Straton“The biggest lesson the project taught me was the power of networking and communication in the industry. Researching interesting people in the Scottish fashion industry really broadened my awareness of the fashion circle around me. It also made me feel positive about the future of Fashion in Scotland. I also made a lasting connection with interviewee and designer Rebecca Torres, as following the interview I was offered an internship, which has proven to be an invaluable experience.” Ruth Strachen

“I was made aware of designers and photographers that I had not previously known about in Scotland who were producing exciting work and in turn these interviews helped me discover other brands. It was really interesting to see first-hand the importance of getting to know people in the industry, and sharing contacts. I’m now still in touch with, not only the people I had originally interviewed, but with others who I made contact with through my interviewees.” Rachel Stott

“I had never truly realised the background work that goes into an interview, not only the time it takes to edit and select the best information, but also how long it takes to cast the right people to interview and where to source them in the first place.


 

The main issue was finding an original interviewee from the small pool of designers, photographers and models that is the Scottish Creative Arts Industry. The solution for me to was to locate somewhat unorthodox creatives.” Iain Curran

“I gained communication skills, becoming more confident with the whole interview process. The face to face interviews were the most beneficial and in this situation I got the most out of my subjects. The most challenging aspect of the process was taking the portraits of the people and their studios, as they were quite particular about how they would like things to be photographed.” Abigail Donaldson

Herriot Watt Abigail“The project was a great way to look into Scottish talent and make connections with those people for the future. The main problem that arose during organising interviews was the lack of response and how much time it took to arrange meetings with those that did respond. Skills I learned in particular were organisation and time management.” Brianna O Donnell

“I feel the project emphasised the importance of being aware of up and coming talent within the industry by staying informed in a fast paced and changing environment. How good the interview is relies on how comfortable the interviewee is in your presence and being able to engage them in conversation.” Roisin Ferguson

“The project was an insightful representation of working for industry. The independent creativity we were given in choosing who we wanted to interview was something I particularly enjoyed as it allowed me to fully explore and network within the Scottish Fashion industry. Sending formal and professional emails in correspondence with these people or their representatives was another skill that I feel I improved on through this process.” Rhoda Beeton

Interview by Rona Lesley

Interview by Rona Lesley of stylist Ian Tod

“The project made me think about how to make an interview interesting. It probed me to think of questions that were interesting to me and to whoever would be potentially reading them. Also that talent in the fashion industry comes in many forms up and down the country, so it broadened my horizons in that sense. Overall, this project made me learn how to ask interesting questions and how to get good answers out of subjects.” Rebecca Foran

Theresa Coburn
Programme Director in Fashion Communication
Heriot Watt University

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