BA (Hons) Fashion Visual Merchandising and Branding student Chloe Wills won a gold medal at the UK Skills Show Competition before Christmas last year. She is now preparing for the next round before finding out whether she’ll be representing the United Kingdom at World Skills competition Abu Dhabi 2017.
Chloe recently went to Loughborough for her first UK squad meeting ahead of EuroSkills Gothenburg 2016. The team will now have 30 days of specialist training from various different mentors and experts including LCF lecturer Julianne Lavery.
LCF News spoke to Chloe following the Loughborough training session to find out more about the competition, visual merchandising and why she wanted to study at London College of Fashion.
What made you want to study BA (Hons) Fashion Visual Merchandising and Branding at LCF?
I have always been very arty and had a love for fashion, this course combined both of these perfectly. I find the psychology elements of the course particularly fascinating. And of course, the name of the university speaks for itself, it’s an honour to be a student at such a prestigious university.
You won Gold at the UK Skills Shows Competition last year. What did you create for those awards?
We were working to a very strict brief under a strict amount of time, where we were all given the same materials, clothes and props. The brief was to create an A/W window display inspired by Pop, with a check motif and using the surprise prop of plastic cutlery which was slightly challenging. I managed to create snowflakes out of plastic spoons and forks which I was quite proud of, even if Alan Springall (head of the British Display Society) said they looked like sea urchins…
You’re training for the next round of the competition in December, what is a normal day of this like?
Our training sessions are really tiring and intense as we start early and work hard the whole day, often for a few days in a row. We all try to help each other stay calm and focused. A lot of the time we are completely out of our comfort zones as we are learning new skills. We have intensive woodwork training coming up with one of the trainers from the other World Skills team, which is exciting as we are getting taught by experts.
You and two other Visual Merchandisers will be representing the UK in Gothenberg 2016. What are the UK’s chances of winning?
Only one of us will be chosen to represent the UK in Gothenberg but this doesn’t necessarily mean that that person will represent us in Abu Dhabi next year. Gothenberg is an opportunity to practice again in an intense competition atmosphere. It’s anyone’s guess who will win, it all depends on what materials whomever in the competition is provided with and if they are used to working with them or not. The atmosphere at the competition is very different depending on the country of course, so competitors must consider this in their training. For example, competing in Abu Dhabi will be physically more exhausting due to the heat, and materials will behave differently in that environment so decisions will have to be made carefully to take this into account.
Is there a country in the EU or worldwide that is famous for dominating this skill?
The Netherlands is the country to beat!
The competition is pretty male dominated at a ratio of 6:1, why do you think that is?
Many of the skills involve heavy labour so tend to be male dominated, but it is refreshing to see more and more women competing in these skills.
What are the key skills for a Visual Merchandiser, how do you turn a thousand ideas into one?
That is a difficult question as I am still learning all the time! I think in terms of competitions, I’ve learnt that sticking to what you know is important so you have a little more control over the outcome, making sure you can execute a task in the time you’ve got, to a high quality. Taking a gamble can pay off but it is certainly stressful in a competition environment. I think also sticking to the brief is key, but trying to look at it in a different light to avoid the obvious.
How important and influential is Visual Merchandising in fashion?
Visual Merchandising is crucial within the fashion industry. A brand might have a great product, but the product must be communicated to the customer in the right way to sell. VM adds excitement to the customer and allows the brand identity to really come across.
What direction do you think Visual Merchandising is heading, what contribution will digital technology make?
I think that online shopping is becoming quite monotonous as brands are struggling to differentiate from each other and so they must overcome this in order to compete with in store shopping experiences. I think Topshop’s website is showing real progress in overcoming the gap between offline and online experiences.
What’s your dream job, and where do you see yourself in five years?
I would love in the future to work as creative director for a high street brand, I think we should be proud of how great our high street is. Hopefully in five years time I’ll be working in a creative team of a well known brand, making influential decisions on VM and styling.