On November 29th, I had the opportunity to get to know more about Jayne Swallow, fashion buyer specialist, and her impressions about teaching at IFA Paris in Shanghai.
IFA Paris : Hi Jayne, thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule to share some of your experiences with us. For the average reader, it would be great if you could give us a brief introduction about yourself and the experience you are able to bring to IFA Paris.
Ms Swallow: Absolutely, I initially graduated in a non-fashion related subject having obtained a degree in politics. Upon graduating, I undertook a graduate training program as a buyer in the UK for a company, for their clothing side. I had the advantage of a lot of good courses that they ran in-house; I went on to work for a company that changed its name and is now River Island. I bought accessories and hosiery there. Then I worked for the company where I spent the largest amount of time, a company called Primark. When I first joined, many years ago, it was a very little known company. In total, they only had 45 stores in Ireland and the UK. I grew from being a buyer there to be a controller then executive controller and finally director for buying, When I left, which was over 22 years later, I had responsibility for ladies wear, lingerie, footwear, hosiery, accessories – it accounted for about 2/3rds of the turnover. But by then, the company had grown from being a very small company to an international company, very well known and one of the largest retailers by volume in the UK, so it was a huge change! After this success, I wanted to give a new turn to my career, I started to teach a Masters program in the UK focused on Fashion Merchandise Management. I really enjoyed teaching Buying and Merchandising and its now been part of my passion for 25 years.
IFA Paris: How did it feel to start as a teacher compared to working in a professional environment?
Ms Swallow: In some ways, there’s a lot of correlation because at such levels, that is to say junior levels, you would present a range, use your communication skills by meeting new suppliers, etc. So there is a core set of skills that are translatable and obviously the professional side knows the actual work so it was basically learning how to adapt and to work with the students.
IFA Paris: So you definitely use practice and not only theory during lectures?
Ms Swallow: Because I come from more of the experience side of the industry, I have that aspect. But what I tried to do was really give them a taste of what it is like to be in a buying office. So what I started to do and what I have developed and am doing more and more now is set up scenarios that are truly what would happen in a buying office. For example, when we are talking about pricing and sourcing, we would go through negotiating scenarios. I also printed off huge amounts of photographs of styles so they can see what is like to have to select from a big range and what you could put into a top store and how you condense it down to smaller stores
IFA Paris: What classes are you currently teaching at IFA Paris and to which programs?
Ms Swallow: I am teaching on the MBA/Masters programs and the unit I do is Buying and Merchandising. So I am working with students on the details of what a buyer does and what a merchandiser does. I am also covering some wider aspects: they are not just only learning about the buyer and merchandiser’s skills but we are also looking at how technology is changing, fashion retail, ethical and sustainable issues and the future of fashion. So we try to embrace the bigger picture.
IFA Paris: So you have to adapt your content depending on the news for example?
Ms Swallow: Yes! In fact I wouldn’t be able to send my Powerpoint lecture notes until one week before, particularly with technology: its changes so much! For example, I just heard on the news that eBay had opened a pop-up shop: so this is an example of online retail going to bricks and mortar and how the distribution channels are changing.
IFA Paris: How have your current experiences at IFA Paris been?
Ms Swallow: I have really enjoyed the variety of the students. We have a really interesting mix and a lot of nationalities: out of 21 students, there were 15 nationalities! We do a lot of interactive work in groups and it is very interesting because the cultural background that people are bringing to how we are looking at things is very enriching as well.
IFA Paris: Is there any difference between teaching in China and teaching in the UK?
Ms Swallow: Well I do not have extensive experience teaching in the UK but on the Masters course, I also had this variety of nationalities so, to some extents, it is pretty similar.
IFA Paris: So you do not necessarily need to adapt the content of your lectures in that sense?
Ms Swallow: The content has to be truly international. Whereas when I am teaching in the UK, it would be more grounded in the UK retail picture, I am very conscious of using global companies.
IFA Paris: What is your philosophy of teaching?
Ms Swallow: What I have discovered is very much that I should really start them on certain topics and give them some initial background information. The most effective way is for them to work in groups and then I can work individually with those groups as well to prove they’ve understood what we are doing. And sometimes I think they’ve understood and it is only then that I find some gaps and some misunderstandings. Through feedback, students have mentioned this is a great way for them to understand.
IFA Paris: So there is a big focus on case studies?
Ms Swallow: Yes, but very much the type of things that I write and scenarios that I set up rather than an overall case study taken from elsewhere.
IFA Paris: Do have any thoughts about IFA Paris or any particular course?
Ms Swallow: I really like the breadth of the courses they have here, far more than in the UK for Masters in fashion business. I think students are exposed to a wide variety of courses which is interesting as a lot of students are not quite sure how they want to take their careers. So having the opportunity to dig into different aspects of fashion really helps them pick a suitable career path in the future. I also think there is a huge advantage being based in China which is where so much of the manufacturing sites are located. With such an amazing opportunity to study in an emerging market, its great to see students capitalize on visits to fashion fairs and manufacturing factories. I would find it interesting for IFA Paris to find closer relationships and build links with the manufacturing side, the buying offices and the testing companies in Shanghai.
IFA Paris: Do you have any other suggestions or comments you would like to add?
Ms Swallow: I understand it is only the beginning now but I would suggest using more the LMS tool which represents an amazing resource in terms of teaching materials.
IFA Paris: Thank you for your time Jayne!