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How can knowing about textiles help me with my PR job in fashion?

Mary E. Ward, author of English for the Fashion Industry, considers the challenge of tailoring English courses for professional students.

Have any of your students ever asked you a question similar to the one above? Very often our jobs as English teachers involve convincing our students that a certain lexical set or expression is useful. In today’s on-demand world where we can get many products and services with a simple click, teachers increasingly encounter requests for tailor-made English courses. Students may want to skip over a unit or exercise since they may not see the immediate relevance.  Our role as ESP teachers also includes giving students a bird’s eye view of how the language we teach them applies to the world of work.

At fashion institutes and houses across the globe, demands for custom-made courses are very common. How, then, can teachers approach a classroom where students’ future jobs may be as varied as fashion event planning, design, accessories, visual merchandising, or pattern making?  Examples and statistics can help to show students how interconnected the fashion industry really is, and knowing a little bit about each sector can go a long way.

A leading Italian newspaper recently reported that in the next 8 years, there will be a growing demand for jobs in the textile and embellishment sectors of fashion.  Perhaps one of your students has a future as a popular designer. When he or she needs to source cotton and textiles in India or another South East Asian country, English will be the language of the day. Can they ask about which textiles work best for a home line, or a prêt-a-porter collection? Practice with expressions in and exposure to realistic communicative contexts can give them that competitive edge.

B2B websites, customer care pages for retail, and social media exemplify how fashion uses the internet to network for business purposes. Maybe your PR students need to respond to post fashion show comments using social media.  Or, they may want to promote an eco-friendly textile supplier for their maison’s most recent collection. Knowing terminology specific to textiles, or pattern making for that matter, will certainly help them navigate the global digital world of fashion.

Just as fashion has a global nature, so does the language used in the industry. There are big differences between British and American terminology, and many French words are commonly used. Though flexibility in using these lexical sets may seem more at home in fashion journalism, they will also prove useful in person or for any digital interface.

Perhaps your students are studying to become stylists, or accessories designers – key roles in the world of fashion shows and promotion. Did a model forget to use a face scarf whilst putting on an haute couture gown? Or maybe the model did not stand on the floor covering and the gown got dirty. Students and fashion professionals may find themselves in these situations and have to apologize for them, and know what to expect when someone responds to an apology.

In ELT, we pride ourselves on catering to students’ needs. When working with a multi-faceted industry such as fashion, though, a global approach is appropriate. The more students and professionals know about how the industry sectors interconnect, the more confidently we can send them out of the classroom to display their English language skills.

How do you help students connect classroom content to their professional experiences?

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This season’s must-have? English.

Fashion photo shootIf you want to be a true fashionista you’ll need to have a reasonable command of the English language. Why? Well, for a start many of the world’s leading designers are British or American: Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs, to name but a few. The world’s best designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, and Jean-Paul Gaultier are all able to discuss their designs in English quite comfortably, despite being non-native speakers.

Fashion is a truly international industry at every level and it’s growing. In fact it’s growing 4% faster than any other industry as we emerge from the global recession. It’s also an industry that provides a vast array of career opportunities, from designing and manufacturing to styling and reporting.

Designers set the fashion trends for upcoming seasons when they show their collections, usually at one of the fashion weeks around the world, such as London, Milan, or New York. This is the top end of the fashion industry. The UK has what is generally regarded as the best fashion school in the world, Central St Martins in London. Famous alumni include designers Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. It also has its own language school, because of the huge volume of overseas students studying there.

Magazines cover the trends set by the designers and publicise them. Most of the industry’s top publications, such as Vogue, Elle, and Marie Claire are based in English speaking countries.  It’s also common place to find a British Editor at the helm, such as Joanna Coles at Marie Claire and Anna Wintour at Vogue. A typical fashion shoot at a glossy magazine might involve a British stylist, a French photographer, and a Russian model, all using English as the accepted lingua franca of the industry.

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Why do people follow fashion trends?

Female model with bleach blonde hair in a fashionable styleAs part of our series of posts exploring a “question-centered” teaching approach, we asked Rebecca Arnold, author of Fashion: A Very Short Introduction, to give us her thoughts on the above question, featured in the new course Q Skills for Success.

Hello, I’m Rebecca, and I’m a London-based fashion historian. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about why people follow fashions, and it seems to be a contradictory mix of impulses and emotions.

Desire and anxiety are at the heart of this. We’re drawn to the new and novel, to things that provide a feeling of change, and, perhaps, progress. We also want to belong – to be part of something recognizable – and there is no more obvious way to demonstrate this than through your clothes. A new outfit that fits with what magazines and advertisements are promoting can be really pleasurable to buy and wear. It can give you a new identity, even if it’s only for one night.

The flip side of these desires is anxiety – about not fitting in, not being up-to-date, and being an outsider. The international fashion industry plays on these negative feelings, to make people feel they must keep up with new trends and keep shopping.

But do you view trend following differently according to the goods being bought? Do you judge someone who has bought the latest Louis Vuitton handbag in the same way as someone who has bought an iPad?

Find out how you can use questions like “Why do people follow fashion trends?” in class.


Dr Rebecca Arnold is Oak Foundation Lecturer in the History of Dress and Textiles at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, UK. She is the author of Fashion: A Very Short Introduction (OUP).

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