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Irene-Marie Seelig embarked on MA Fashion Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which allowed her deepen her knowledge and experience in sustainable fashion, develop a groundbreaking sustainable material from mushroom, and to be involved in pioneering projects from Helen Storey's climate change campaign to LCF's 2016 Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion.
What made you want to study at LCF?
Prior to studying at London College of Fashion, for seven years, I led marketing and e-commerce teams for several California-based ready-to-wear fashion businesses and a sustainable athleisure start-up making activewear from recycled plastic bottles (this was prior to when this sustainable material alternative to polyester became the norm amongst fashion brands). I also dabbled in developing my own fashion start-up by co-founding a jewellery business that houses fragrances and merges fashion and well-being with sustainability at the core of its ethos. So, I decided to pursue a masters in fashion to gain further experience and knowledge in business and product development for sustainable luxury fashion businesses while learning from the best in the industry.
On my search for the university and masters course that would meet my criteria, I came across London College of Fashion where the university's curriculum and award opportunities allow students to explore the intersection of fashion, technology, sustainability and innovation. What excited me most was the MA course Fashion Entrepreneurship and Innovation led by the Course Director, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, the Centre for Fashion Enterprise, and the five-year partnership with Kering.
How have you found the course?
The course allowed me to grow academically and professionally.
Having gone into the course with several years of industry experience under my belt, I was able to explore other areas of interest that I have not had the opportunity or time to do yet. These included emerging technologies to stimulate consumer behaviour, circular supply chain management, and biomaterials, specifically mushroom leather. One of the many reasons why I chose to study the course Fashion Entrepreneurship and Innovation at LCF was because the curriculum was designed to apply what is learnt in lecture directly to industry experience. I believe this type of education is most effective, especially when you bring your passion and insatiable desire to learn and push boundaries. This kind of applied academics became the stepping-stones for me to build an international career in London.
The two course units that were a highlight for me was Business Planning and the Collaborative unit.
In Business Planning, I developed a business plan for the jewellery startup I co-founded and receive mentorship and feedback from experts regarding the business model, USP, financials, IP, and how to present a winning pitch. In the Collaborative unit, I applied to an industry project with Holition, a creative agency focusing on augmented retailing solutions and was selected to co-create on a wearable technology that focused on sustainability, well-being, and technology.
While at Holition I explored emerging technologies, which included tracking, EEG, augmented reality, and projection mapping and how to apply these technologies to luxury fashion while incorporating a sustainability and well-being element. For me, this was a remarkable experience to work with a company of this calibre and add value to their team. During this project, I developed the idea to humanise the fashion supply chain through a data visualisation that would simply, yet beautifully communicate the stories behind a garment’s lifecycle--beginning at raw material production and processing stage and going all the way through to the end of use stage. I was determined to make this project a reality, so through my network that I built while studying at LCF, I pitched the project to Kering.
What has been the highlight?
During my year of studies with LCF there were many highlights, but one that stands out amongst the many is participating and winning the Kering Award 2016 for Innovation with Stella McCartney. I applied to the Kering Award in November 2016 with the idea to innovate a mushroom material, biodegradable and animal cruelty-free alternative to leather for the luxury fashion industry. Ever since I applied to the award opportunity, it has been very extraordinary and fulfilling ride.
What have been the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge during my masters course came at the beginning of each term— narrowing my field of focus. During your MA you are exposed so many different fields, which is exciting, but it’s important to keep your focus narrow and go deep into that 1-3 areas. Some great advice I received from a tutor from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion was to ‘explore your areas of interest, which are many, but pick a direction and go ten-times deeper into that one topic than you would brushing the surface of many – the sooner you can do this the better’. This guidance was very valuable that I ended up carrying throughout the rest of the course. This helped me to check the direction I was headed at every crossroads. I also utilized the advice that the graduate school employability and industry team, provided me, which was ‘spread your risk’. Finding the balance between both was a challenge, but was very helpful to be successful in the masters programme.
What has the teaching been like?
The professors and mentors who teach at the London College of Fashion are at the top of their field academically and professionally, supportive, gracious with their time and are truly inspiring. Collectively, each one of the professors I have had the opportunity to learn from have contributed to my growth while attending the London College of Fashion and I am eternally grateful for their time and sharing their knowledge.
My course Director and my Dissertation Advisor are both highly accomplished in their respective fields, therefore they set high standards to the academic work they expect to receive from their students. Their academic standards coupled with their very supportive and insightful feedback, helped me to push the boundaries to reach my goals.
You participated on LCF’s Helen Storey Dress for Our Time project, tackling climate change. How did this come about?
The Helen Storey Dress for Our Time project was the first interaction at LCF where I was exposed to the LCF’s sustainability culture and drive to innovate the fashion industry by using fashion as a medium to discuss climate change. With my background deeply rooted in sustainability, I was asked to be interviewed regarding my thoughts on the relationship between climate change and fashion. I believe one of the most fascinating aspects about fashion is the fact that we all participate in it, one way or another, therefore we can all relate. Taking an abstract concept like climate change and turning it into a fashion conversation, that is where people start questioning, doing their own research, and taking action for their personal impact on the environment. Helen Storey’s Dress for Our Time, does exactly that.
You participated in 2016 Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion. Can you tell us about this project?
My Amadou Mushroom Skin project was developed for the Kering Award 2016 with Stella McCartney. I first came across this unlikely material for luxury fashion when I was researching methods to boost the human immune system in cancer patients. My interest was sparked and was brought very close to my heart when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and I decided to defer my original application in Fall 2016 to London College of Fashion to become my mother’s primary support and caretaker through her cancer journey.
For the Kering Award 2016 I sought out to confirm the mushroom material’s viability in a global market for the luxury fashion industry. The Kering Award mentorship programme and the professionals who collaborated with me helped me develop the first shoe from this material.
Can you sum up the kind of opportunities LCF presents?
The opportunities and connections that are presented through the LCF network are like no other. I am truly grateful that I made the seemingly small decision, in retrospect, to attend LCF as the professors, mentors, centres, and industry partners added immense value to my education, career, and life forever. LCF provided direct links to industry.
And what do you hope to do next?
I hope to continue to build my career at the intersection of sustainability, technology, and fashion where I thrive and where my true passion lies. As more and more fashion and other product based businesses see the necessity to incorporate sustainability and transparent communication into the core of their business practices, companies will rely on technology to meet this demand. This is an exciting space to be in and I am thrilled to be here!
What advice would you give students considering studying at LCF?
When considering to study at LCF, I highly recommend to do your research before, so you know what you’d like to become an expert in. The more you can bring to the table at LCF, I believe, the more you will get out of this life changing experience. There are remarkable and once in a life time opportunities that LCF provides that it is important to be prepared to take these on and add value.
This is best said by American author, Zig Ziglar, “Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.” Follow your passions, find your niche, and don’t look back!