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May 23, 2016

Higher education for high fashion

South Australia will produce its first locally-educated university fashion graduates this year, thanks to a partnership between two of the state's institutions.

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  • Words: Sharmonie Cockayne
  • Pictures: Josh Geelen

With global fashion businesses such as Australian Fashion Labels, Paolo Sebastian and Acler based in South Australia, it seems strange this is the first year students will graduate from a local university degree in the field.

Previously, the highest fashion-related course offered in this state was the Advanced Diploma from TAFE SA, however, TAFE SA and Flinders University are now offering a partnership degree titled Bachelor of Creative Arts (Fashion).

TAFE SA’s principal lecturer in fashion, Helen Jansson, says that the students studying the new degree are “both a Flinders University student and a TAFE SA student, so they’re enrolled in both institutions for the full 3 years”.

Sharing the students appears to be a seamless affair for both of the institutions, with TAFE SA delivering 16 subjects and Flinders overseeing the final 8 to make up the qualification. Under this arrangement, TAFE’s facilities and expertise deliver the technical fashion component, while Flinders focuses on the business and environmental side of the industry.

“You get the best the best of both worlds; you get the practical training from TAFE, and then from Flinders you get all of the academic subjects,” says second year Creative Arts (Fashion) student, Brian Yambao.

Though it may seem SA’s status as the third-last state to offer a university qualification in fashion puts us behind, Helen believes re-building the course so late in the game has its blessings. The nature of the fashion industry itself is changing and, unlike larger interstate institutions, the partnership provides the ability to structure the course around those changes.

You get the practical training from TAFE, and then from Flinders you get all of the academic subjects. – Brian Yambao.

“With the new BCA group, it’s not as relevant for them to actually produce the garments, because their job outcomes are not actually in pattern making and sewing,” says Helen. “They do [learn] all that, but in the long term we expect them to go into larger scale businesses that would have specialised pattern makers and specialised machinists.”

“It’s part of the process of being a product developer in Australia now; you basically send a whole big stack of paper over to China or to where you’re producing. You very rarely send a garment. And from that picture and those dimensions and measurements and trade drawings and technical drawings, you would then expect the garment to come back pretty much exactly as you wanted it. Sometimes you do go over, and sometimes you do make a single sample, but a lot of them don’t – they just have really good working relationships with the factory, and they come back with really good samples.


An important part of learning about this within the degree is the Retail Brief project set in second year. We visited the campus as students were working on it.

The idea of the project is for students to produce a commercially viable range of garments that would go to a retail store to sell. In the past, the students worked on small production runs and sold them at markets (some may remember last year’s student-made brand, Zazu, was sold at Fashion Concept (now SA Designer Co.) on the second level of Rundle Place). This year, however, the brief was to design a sample range for a Chinese client.

“We made them do technical work around each style and pass it over to somebody else within the group to produce. So that person that it got passed over to had to go back to the designer when there were problems, communication wasn’t good enough, or the drawings weren’t accurate,” says Helen.

“A lot of the students this year will be focusing on this kind of product… designing around looking at being a part of larger scale businesses, so like Australian Fashion Labels, where they’re doing multiple collections, very fast, quick turn around. Very fast fashion.”

It’s a practical approach that aims to make the students ready for work in the local industry.

“I think [the course] sits really well in the emerging Adelaide industry that we’ve got going on at the moment; so your Aclers and Australian Fashion Labels and SIG and all of those brands – that’s what we’re sort of gearing people towards,” says Helen.

The 30 students who transferred over from the Advanced Diploma to the Bachelor of Creative Arts (Fashion) last year will, at the end of this year, be the first class to graduate with the new degree.

As part of finishing their bachelor’s, the students will take part in an abnormally large two-day graduate parade that will, fittingly, take place at the Tonsley campus between the Flinders and TAFE SA buildings.

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