Sara Villalobos was a student who attended IFA Paris’ MBA/Masters in Fashion Business program in July 2010. Sara, a 24 year old Colombian, was offered a job as Product Development at NEXT in Shanghai, China, following her program.

IFA: What brought you to Shanghai? 

Sara: I first came to Shanghai two years ago for an internship. Initially, I came to Shanghai to study Chinese for 6 months.  I fell in love with Shanghai and decided to see what other opportunities were out there.  I found out about IFA, and decided to continue my studies there.

IFA: What made you choose IFA’s program in Shanghai above other schools?

Sara: IFA offered a very unique program; first and foremost it allowed me to stay in Shanghai and experience the boom in China’s fashion and luxury industry for the first 6 months; following our studies in China, we were also able to experience the more mature European industry in Florence, Italy.  During my studies, I thought the professors were equally as good.

IFA: Did you originally plan to come back to Shanghai after finishing the 3 months in Florence?

Sara: No, I was originally going to return to my home country, Colombia.  On my way back, I received a call from Lynne McCall, General Manager, of NEXT and they offered me a job. I was introduced to NEXT by IFA’s Placement Office.   I thought it was crazy! But I was pleasantly surprised and jumped at the opportunity to return to Shanghai.

As I was already planning on returning home, all my things were already sent back to Colombia.  However after accepting the job, NEXT also helped me repatriate all my belongings back to Shanghai.  I began work the following day.

IFA: Tell me an important thing you have learned from your studies at IFA?

Sara: As I have a design background, I did not know much about business, IFA taught me all facets of business in the fashion world.  Understanding how businesses are run and most importantly, doing business in the fashion industry. 

IFA: Tell us about your work?

Sara: I visit factories, suppliers, exhibitions and fairs to find out about new trends, fabrics  and fashion products.  I also do shopping and search for trends in other countries; at the moment mostly to South Korea and the United Kingdom.  I am currently traveling quite a lot to these two countries to purchase trendy fashion items.  Back in Shanghai,  I show my purchased items to our team members and we brainstorm for days to get some ideas  out of those products.

Everyday I am collaborating with my design team, developing new samples, and keeping in contact with our suppliers.   

I have also much more responsibilities here compared to someone of my age back home. Obviously, there is more stress that comes with it, but I am learning a lot.  There is plenty of space for growth and to take initiative, as I also handle a my own budget.

NEXT is an excellent company with offices all over Asia.  We have a great working environment with wonderful and professional people. On top of it all, our office is located in the ex-French Concession which is a super convenient location.

IFA: What will you be doing in 5 years?

Sara: It is hard to say by the recent pace of what has been happening in my life. But I could say that my ultimate goal is to be a  manager somewhere in the world for an established label.

IFA:What advice would you give to someone coming to study or live in Shanghai?

Sara: If you are committed to China and believe the country will play a role in your career, definitely learn Chinese! It is far easier nowadays to get by without the ability to speak Mandarin in Shanghai, but anyone spending about a year learning the language full time, will be rewarded for it.

IFA: Do you think there is a lot of hype about the future of the Fashion industry in China (design and retail) or do you believe in it?

Sara: I believe it’s very promising. There is a lot of talent in the design field out there but still not enough support from the government. Even in China launching your own brand can be expensive and without financial support from the public sector designers need to seek support from other channels. Currently, still few business people are attracted to invest into a fashion design.  When it comes to the retail industry, China is already becoming a haven for fashion brands. Now many brands are expanding in cities most of us have never heard of.