TGW Q+A: Dr. Rachel Matthews, Head of Fashion Marketing at Collarts

What makes a leader? How do we behave when we get to the front? And, why is fashion about so much more than having stuff?

Last week we had a chat with London implant Dr. Rachel Matthews, program leader of the recently added Bachelor of Fashion Marketing course at Collarts. Dr. Matthews studied fashion at Central Saint Martins and Winchester School of Art, before starting her career as a designer for Whistles, John Lewis and Next. Also creating fashion visuals for Elle, Brides and Fashion Forecast magazines, Rachel’s illustration and consultancy work found her working with fashion companies in Hong Kong, Tunisia and Mauritius; educating those around her on the process and practices that inform fashionable taste.

As the Fashion Business Marketing course rolls out at Collarts for the first time ever, we wanted to understand what kind of fashion dish gets to be the leader, and why so much bandwidth is devoted to superficial non-sense about fashion these days. Rachel shares with us how fashion makes a significant impact on society, despite the wider perception of it being a little on the “pink and fluffy” side.

TGW: How do you set yourself up for the day ahead? 

RM: I’m an early bird, I like getting up early. I never sit down to work without a decent breakfast and a cup of coffee, then I have to check the BBC website…just in case anything important has happened in the World while I was sleeping. My first real piece of work for the day is to make a realistic to-do list, [and] I live by the list. I would love to be the sort of person who can listen to music while I’m working, but I have more focus without any background noise. If I’m doing something tedious or repetitive – I might get away with a little bit of music (I can always make room in my life for Soul Time on PBS Wednesday 3-5pm!!).

My first real piece of work for the day is to make a realistic to-do list.

TGW: What is your favourite unit within The Bachelor of Applied Business (Fashion Marketing) course?

RM: The new course has masses of great content, I have a couple of favourite units – they are two that work together: The History of Fashion Movements and The New Fashion Influencers. These two units cover a lot of ground, travelling back in time to begin with then through to what’s ahead. The first unit examines the style of fashionable dress at various times in the last two centuries, but also who, what, why and how fashion and style changed. It’s an opportunity to discuss how fashion is interconnected other fields such as business and trade, technology, infrastructure and politics. The second unit – continues the theme of who, what, why and how changes occur. Of course, Bloggers, Vloggers and Instagram stars are part of the current landscape, however, there are other players at work here too. These two subjects connect up some really important ideas that have and continue to shape fashion’s past, present and future. It’s an opportunity to discuss how fashion is interconnected other fields such as business and trade, technology, infrastructure and politics.

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TGW: What do you hope to introduce in addition to the overall course structure?

RM: I hope to instil in students an understanding of the importance of fashion and its contribution to the broader cultural landscape. Fashion is sometimes dismissed as being a bit ‘pink and fluffy’ – I believe it makes a significant impact on society both at personal level and collectively. I want to make sure that the study of fashion marketing is underpinned by this conception of fashion.

Fashion is sometimes dismissed as being a bit ‘pink and fluffy’ – I believe it makes a significant impact on society both at personal level and collectively.

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What are some of the practical aspects of the course? How will students work together? 

RM: In all the subjects on the fashion marketing course there are times where students need to collaborate, whether generating future business ideas or arranging photographic sessions. Within the course, there are also specific parts of studying fashion merchandising and styling when they will be working together on live projects, set and critiqued by industry. At another level, studying at Collarts means that fashion marketing students have the opportunity to work with music, event management, contentment creation and entertainment journalism students too. These groups of students regularly work at festivals, launches and showcases, the fashion marketing students will be included in these types of events, working with emerging artists and designers in planning their promotional activities.

Dr. Rachel Matthews | By Monique Myintoo (8 of 8)I had to learn the [fashion] industry stuff the hard way – on the job, in my early career.

TGW: Are there things covered in the course that you wish were around when you started in fashion?

RM: One of the strengths in the course is its emphasis on industry awareness. Throughout the course, students connect and interact with fashion companies and industry professionals through live projects, placements and guest lectures. The course also contains masses of content about how the fashion industry operates – who does what, who works with who. My training was much more focused on the creative development of fashion concepts…I had to learn the industry stuff the hard way – on the job, in my early career.

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TGW: What is something that students or creative writers can do each day to get better at their craft? Just how important is research and fact checking?

RM: Think about and question the things you read / see about fashion each day. Be curious and get informed. With an understanding of your subject, you can develop well founded opinions. This will allow you to get much more from your studies, have more interesting and engaging conversations with your friends, and find your direction in fashion more easily.

Think about and question the things you read / see about fashion each day. Be curious and get informed…if you intend to take your career in fashion seriously, it’s really important in today’s media environment to dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

There’s a lot of bandwidth devoted to superficial non-sense about fashion. Sure, we all love a bit of celebrity gossip and clickbait; however, if you intend to take your career in fashion seriously, it’s really important in today’s media environment to dig a little deeper and think a little harder. Research where the information is coming from, why does the writer want you to read this? Do they have their facts right? Bear in mind that for every online source there is an offline source that can help you sort the wheat from the chaff!

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TGW: What makes a particularly good image so memorable? 

RM: I think strong images stick with you when they come with meaningful associations. That can be an element within the image itself, like the clear gaze of the subject or the sense of place that makes you feel something inside. Or otherwise it can be from the context or place you are in when you first see the image – your mood or the physical experience that gives the image a context. For an image to leave a lasting impression, it needs to be more than just technically accomplished; it needs to make a mark on an emotional level.

For an image to leave a lasting impression, it needs to be more than just technically accomplished; it needs to make a mark on an emotional level.

TGW: What was your last brilliant fashion read?

RM: There are two sites that make for compelling fashion reading, that I return to again and again: Women in Clothes and What We Wore. Both are online archives where people share stories and reflections on their personal connections with clothes. The Women In Clothes project is based on a survey (of 80 candid questions) that a growing number of people have answered and added to the site. The What We Wore site is described as ‘a people’s history of British style since 1950’ and resembles an old photo album. Individuals post photographs of their previous ‘fashion moments’ with short personal stories that describe why they wore the outfits and what they meant to them. I love the way that both these sources capture people’s intimate connection to garments – how the tiny details have significance, create associations and evoke memories for them. It’s a great antidote to articles about the big fashion brands with plans for global domination!

I love the way that both [Women In Clothes and What We Wore] capture people’s intimate connection to garments – how the tiny details have significance, create associations and evoke memories for them.

TGW: You told us that you visited the Dior exhibition on a recent trip to Paris. How important are exhibitions showing heritage brands as art? What can we learn from them?

From a personal perspective, I am thrilled to see the history of fashion told through the lens of one design house. The range of exhibits and information in the Dior exhibition in Paris was quite extraordinary – and a fashion experience that would be difficult to replicate in any other way. The quality of the garments and accessories on show  with the accompanying ephemera, such as press shots, illustrations and packaging, as well as perfume and make-up are a testament to a world view that the House of Dior has created over the last 70 years. On another level, it is interesting to see how the popularity of art and culture can be co-opted as a powerful way of enhancing a brand’s narrative. This is clearly an important marketing technique for heritage brands as new designers take charge of its creative direction.

It is interesting to see how the popularity of art and culture can be co-opted as a powerful way of enhancing a brand’s narrative. This is clearly an important marketing technique for heritage brands as new designers take charge of its creative direction…this type of museum exhibition is not founded solely on scholarly research, it is a branded experience that engages and entertains us.

I think we can learn creative and commercial lessons from these types of exhibitions. The objects themselves are part of the social fabric of fashion that reflect creative practices from a time and a place in the way they were conceived, made, promoted and worn. From a commercial perspective, it is important to recognise that this type of museum exhibition is not founded solely on scholarly research, it is a branded experience that engages and entertains us. From a fashion marketing perspective, it probably ticks all the boxes!

Read all about the Bachelor of Applied Business (Fashion Marketing) course at Collarts here.

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