From the design concepts in the sketchbook to the product display in the shop, Claudia Davaar Lambie finds out about the Bachelor of Fashion Merchandising Management program at RMIT Vietnam and why it is now an invaluable pre-requisite for fashion-hungry students wanting a head start in this competitive industry.

Three mannequins stand in the foyer of the Centre of Communication and Design at RMIT. The students busy around them ensuring that the tailored evening wear outfits complement their silhouettes. The packed bookshelf hosts titles such as Art and Fashion and Visual Storytelling and there is a real buzz around the department. The creativity that stems from the Fashion Merchandising Management (FMM) program is visible in the two purpose-built classrooms; seasonal trend boards, design collection ideas and supply chain diagrams appear on the walls showcasing what the students are currently working on.

Relatively new, the FMM program at Saigon South Campus has been running for three years. The program has been carefully convened and comprises 24 courses which hone in on the three core specialisations of the fashion industry: production, business and retail. This varied mix of compulsory modules and electives allows students to gain an in-depth understanding of the field and provides students with the building blocks of knowledge for the business of fashion.

The program is delivered by a series of lectures, workshops, tutorials, field trips and industry briefs ensuring that the students are work-ready when they graduate. Victoria Ho, Head of Fashion and senior lecturer, has worked on the program for a year and a half. She loves every minute of it and proudly announces that the RMIT program has made it to the top 10 in the 2015 Business of Fashion’s Global Fashion School Rankings. Importantly, the FMM program has been established in line with international training standards and the lecturers are from an array of countries. Credit to the program is given as it applies global approaches to the local context; something which Ho notes makes the program unique.

The necessity to develop a program such as this reflects the changing nature of the fashion industry in Vietnam. According to the Vietnam Textile and Garment Association (VITAS), the apparel and textile industry is forecasted to grow between 12 percent and 14 percent per year from 2015 to 2020. Ho explains the fashion scene has undergone a huge metamorphosis over the last 20 years. “[The program] was established in direct response to this need,” she says.

She smiles explaining how exciting it is to be in Vietnam right now as it is becoming the manufacturing hub of Southeast Asia. Importantly, Ho also points to the newly established and growing area of online retail here in Vietnam.  Online fashion giant Zalora has changed the face of shopping and its creation reflects the on-the-go lifestyle that the emerging middle class are now adopting. This boom in online shopping creates a need for those to be in the know about marketing and online retail as it continues to grow rapidly and the FMM program delves into this.

With prominent changes in the industry, a creative flair is now not the only essential requirement to break into the fashion arena; business ‘savy-ness’ is also a must. For Ho, she wants her students to develop as all-rounders.

Whilst studying the FMM program, My Nguyen, 24, was fully immersed in all things fashion, studying marketing, branding and merchandising in depth. She conducted detailed market and trend research to design a swimwear collection for Topshop Vietnam Spring/Summer 2015. Being able to analyse a brand’s position in the market and employ key marketing principals such as the ‘4Ps’ (Price, Promotion, Place and Product) are just some of the aspects that she implemented. Nguyen says she particularly enjoyed creating marketing materials to target and satisfy consumers’ demands. Merchandising has emerged as one of the cornerstones of the modern fashion industry. Nguyen learned about maximizing sales and profitability of a product through costing sheets, margins and profits. It is necessary that items are retailed at attractive but profitable prices to the right customers at the right time.

Impressively, Nguyen worked on a major project for designer Anna Vo to design a menswear collection for the AV Basic Men Range for Spring/Summer 2016. The project was a culmination of everything that she had learned in the last three years at university. To make it a successful one, she meticulously developed a trendy mood board and lookbook emulating her visions in colour palettes of black, grey, white and burgundy.

Vo comments that year on year the students from the FMM program impress her with their creativity and direction. The students produced a very wearable collection, stylish, chic and simple with unique details, which can be sold in both local and international markets. Vo says, “The students think outside of the box and this is essential when working in the industry.”

Breaking into the fashion industry is becoming more challenging in any corner of the globe as there is an expectation of increased levels of professionalism and knowledge. Christina Yu, founder and creative director of Ipa-Nima, was very impressed with the caliber of fashion students that the FMM program is producing. The students worked with her on two projects over the summer, creating mood boards by analysing social media trends and visual merchandising in her own shop window. “The program teaches students to think on their feet and strikes a balance of being creative and commercial at the same time,” says Yu.

Ho believes that the students studying the course here in Vietnam are at an advantage to their Australian peers given that they are studying at an internationally recognised university in a country that is at the manufacturing epicentre. There are many foreign universities who want to organise exchange trips to Vietnam for this very reason. The students at RMIT Vietnam are able to experience real-life industry practice that is right on their doorstop. Ho is surprised when her students ask her why she left London. In their eyes, this is where the world of fashion lives. Ho reassures them that it is, in fact, Vietnam that is the place to be for a career in fashion. “The opportunities are endless here,” she says. With the Fashion Merchandising Management qualification on your resume, the world of fashion is your oyster.