Fashion graduates have a unique opportunity to make retail sustainable | Lee Lucas

Fashion graduates have a unique opportunity to make retail sustainable | Lee Lucas

The lockdown should have been online retailing’s chance to shine, but distribution centres weren’t set up for social distancing and some stores had to close their websites down temporarily. Now shops have reopened, retailers are working around the clock to ensure they can carry on trading if trouble hits again. This presents a unique opportunity for fashion graduates.

For fashion businesses, hiring young talent means tapping into the latest retailing knowledge – and post-pandemic, this will be more crucial than ever. In recent years, we have seen a massive shift in the way fashion courses are taught: there is an increased emphasis on the importance of technology and its role from supply chain to shop floors, as well as broader scientific skills.

This was an effort to keep pace with the changing face of retail and the challenge to the high street from online. The latest cohort of fashion students is the most technological yet, making them way ahead of the game in terms of what the industry needs. It will be data analysts, web designers, online marketers, social media copywriters and supply chain architects who make the biggest impact. The retail graduates of 2020 are already equipped with these skills.

Fashion graduates may feel stuck in a period of uncertainty, having seen their studies catapulted from the campus into their front rooms. But the good news is that forward-thinking fashion businesses will already be looking to them to meet the challenges of a post-Covid-19 world.

With the rise of online shopping and “multi-channel” experiences, the ability to code, analyse data to reveal trends and buying habits, and the know-how to turn supply chains into well choreographed retail ballets will be crucial.

Fashion brands will also need scientific, probing minds to develop new, environmentally-friendly fibres to meet the emerging purchasing habits of more green-conscious customers. Pre-pandemic, sustainable fashion was already gaining a lot of traction, and this is expected to increase further post-crisis.

As the industry is rethinking supply chain models and hurtling towards digital transformation, it is clear that fashion brands simply cannot afford to ignore recent graduates.

Fashion colleges can help students bridge the divide between education and vocation. Colleges need to improve the access potential employers have to students, inviting them in to meet undergraduates well before the end of their courses.

Vocational centres of learning have a very symbiotic relationship with the fashion industry – the Fashion Retail Academy itself was created ultimately by a coalition of retailers – and neither will recover without the other. The pandemic’s great legacy for fashion could be a working relationship between industry, students and recent graduates that is closer than ever.