David Christie meets two entrepreneurial GCU London Fashion Business Creation students who are making their dreams reality thanks to a unique initiative delivered by retailTRUST.
“If you don’t try, you’ll never know if you can be in the 10%,” says GCU London MSc Fashion Business Creation student Blair Clarke.
The 27-year-old is an optimist, yes, but she’s also a pragmatist. “Knowing the failure rate is a motivator, too.
It means I will do all the research and learn everything I can to make it a success. There will be lots of tears and tiring nights, but that’s fine as I’m pursuing my passion.”
This pursuit has seen Blair pack up her job co-ordinating finance conferences and swap her Harlem home for London as she aims to launch her own online fashion business simultaneously in the USA and UK, inspired by the stylings of her eccentric grandmother.
“She was such an individual, so I’d take things from her closet and mix things,” she says. “I remember there was this electric-blue blazer with colourful embroidery which, at the time, I thought was so trendy, but, when I think back, I’d never wear now. Still, I love the fact I was bold enough to walk out of the house with it on.
“Choosing clothes and styling has defined who I am.
“My business is still in the pre-launch phase and my next goal is to identify the brands I want to stock.
“I’ve also been considering a mobile app element, ‘Tinder for fashion’ if you like. I want to provide visual inspiration and stimulation.
“I’ve learned so much already at GCU and it’s all helping me to tailor and develop the concept so, when I launch, I’m ready.”
Fellow student Martha Rodriguez, 31, also harbours hopes of developing a global business, inspired by her native Philippines. It is there she established Vesti, a social enterprise showcasing handwoven fabrics from Mindanao through bespoke handbags.
“Mindanao is an island with so much misconception, always associated with war and conflict,” Martha says.
“I am proud to be from Mindanao as it is home to a vibrant and rich weaving culture and history. These weavers are proud, skilled artisans who struggle to earn a living and I want to uplift the lives of the weavers through education, healthcare and job placements. My aim is to showcase their work to the world and put their products centre-stage.”
To achieve this, Martha has left her family in the Philippines and started studying at GCU’s British School of Fashion.
“The University’s mission for the Common Good, enabling positive change in communities, resonates with me and my brand’s social advocacy.
“I have never been away from home before, but the University, through student activities and the strong support system, has made me feel at home. It has been easy to adapt to the lifestyle change and even the erratic weather. It has been such a privilege to meet successful entrepreneurs who have shared their stories and have been fearlessly living their dreams. And having top fashion experts as professors has made me think critically and aim for more.”
Martha and Blair are the first recipients of the retailRIGHT scholarships, part of a new partnership between the British School of Fashion, retailTRUST and Hammerson.
retailRIGHT is a career-development initiative delivered by retailTRUST, a leading charity which looks after the wellbeing of the 4.5million people working in retail in the UK.
Hammerson are an owner, manager and developer of retail destinations in Europe, with a portfolio including 21 prime shopping centres in the UK and France.
Together, they have created a package of support which includes scholarships, mentoring, seed funding and access to pop-up shop space, all with the aim of helping students become successful fashion entrepreneurs.
For both Blair and Martha, the support is much more than financial assistance. “I’m a great believer that things happen for a reason and it reinforced that this is what I was born to be doing,” says Blair.
“The scholarship is really an answered prayer,” adds Martha. “It has given me that extra boost of confidence to keep going and make my dream a reality.”