Julie O'Sullivan is Course Leader for Post Graduate Certificate: Fashion Buying and Merchandising. Here, she tells us about her experience and what students gain from the course.
Tell us about your professional experience and background.
I started my career on an accelerated Management Development Programme, with Hewlett Packard. They provided excellent training and business insight but I had little interest in the product and spent some of my holidays working at Fashion Trade shows for friends. While at University, I had a stall in Affleck’s Palace, Manchester, supporting fashion entrepreneurs from the then Poly. I decided to bring my two skill sets together and work for Gucci in London.
Regular buying trips to Florence, exposure to family members and running the business to the satisfaction of the auditors was excellent retail experience.
I left Gucci, to work for a UK manufacturer and ran their operations for about 5 years. After two children, an MBA and owning part of an award winning photographic studio in Old Street, I became Creative Industries Business Development Manager at University of Brighton (HEROBAC and HEIF funded). I also developed the industry engagement for the world’s first ‘MSc in Digital Television’.
I then lectured and taught Fashion Marketing and I also wrote and delivered an MA in International Fashion Management. I joined London College of Fashion in 2013 to be the Course Leader for the PG Cert in Buying and Merchandising.
What do you do in your role as Course Leader?
I interview and recruit each cohort of students, assessing competency and suitability for the course. I ensure the curriculum is current and relevant and meets the needs of industry and work with colleagues to ensure quality delivery of lectures, workshops and academic tutorials. It is also my responsibility to work closely with industry and secure quality briefs, guest speakers and master classes.
I lecture in my areas of expertise across other courses including MA Strategic Fashion Management, MA Fashion Retail Management and MSc in Cosmetic Science. I also invest great effort to ensure my students secure opportunities, are networked to alumni and keep in touch when they leave.
What do you think your course offers LCF students?
The PG Cert in Buying and Merchandising allows students who have not studied the discipline at undergraduate to access the industry. The cohort tends to be made up of three types of student: those who have worked in fashion retail alongside their studies for most of their adult lives.
Secondly, graduates who have worked in the supply chain or retail but in consumer facing roles like sales associates / store managers who wish to re-skill to apply for head office roles.
Finally, we do have a number of applicants who have established their careers in sectors they no longer wish to work in, for example solicitors, economists and accountants. The course is something of a ‘melting pot’ in this respect, so our offer is to harmonise the cohort and enable each person to maximise their potential to access buying and merchandising roles.
What do you learn from your students?
We recruit students who have some prior experience in the sector, so each brings their own experiences. The diversity of student backgrounds also adds to the knowledge and internationalisation of our curriculum. I learn to adapt to the specific needs of each cohort and don’t take ‘a one approach fits all’ delivery. We always seem to have very good student rep’s on the course, so we have a good and two way dialogue. I invite insight on how we can improve our offer. We listen.
What inspires and excites you in terms of your area of practice?
Personally, I am very motivated by employability and my graduates securing some of the best jobs in the industry. The PG Cert has the rigour of a Level 7 qualification, but is also applied learning and we have great relationships with industry e.g. Debenhams who provide relevant and current briefs. I always want to ensure the students are ‘industry ready’. The industry itself is very exciting; it does not stand still and takes no passengers. So keeping up to date, fully informed and curious is vital to success. The current pace of change inspires me; the challenges the industry is facing are very exciting. There is never a dull moment studying fashion business.
What do graduates of the course go on to do?
The stated objective of the course is to allow those who study it to enter the industry in the role of either Allocator / Merchandise Admin Assistant or Buyers Admin Assistant. My commitment to my students is that at the end of the course, assuming they fully engage with their studies, they will be able to ‘hold your own’ in an entry level interview. Some with prior experience come to us to anglicise their knowledge and may go straight in to Assistant Merchandiser / Assistant Buyer roles. Others decide to use their undergraduate degrees, alongside this qualification to work in production, journalism, management consultantancy, store planning. We have also had overseas graduates use the PG Cert to accelerate their career development through knowledge of the UK market and move to more senior roles within their previous organisations.
And briefly, how would you sum up the LCF experience to prospective students?
This is likely to be the most intense learning experience you will ever have. It requires real commitment and great enquiry to master the width and depth of learning in 15 academic weeks. That said, London College of Fashion has excellent resources to support you, including a world-class library, study support, language support, employability team and a dedicated teaching staff. We also have active alumni, who frequently advise us of job opportunities in their organisations. You become part of this community.