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Fashion Retail Academy creates leaders of the future

Caroline Nodder

I was taken right back to my university days this week when I had the great privilege of attending this year’s Fashion Retail Academy (FRA) awards ceremony hosted by its founder, Sir Philip Green.

I was taken right back to my university days this week when I had the great privilege of attending this year’s Fashion Retail Academy (FRA) awards ceremony hosted by its founder, Sir Philip Green.

Three very powerful things struck me about the experience. First, the academy itself, which now has the support of 105 fashion retailers and brands and trains 700 students, is almost unrecognisable from the old-fashioned dusty halls of my own experience. This is a slick, technologically advanced and focused hub, with smart white boards in the classrooms and a set of tutors who look younger and far more fashion forward than the students of my day, let alone the teachers! It is also safe to say that the courses these tutors run are far more interactive and geared around enabling students to walk into a job than mine ever were, and in today’s highly competitive job market this is critical.

Second, the number of chief executives and senior directors in the room struck me as extremely telling, showing not only how many retailers and brands are engaged with the FRA but also the level of importance they attach to it. I spoke to a lot of them before the ceremony began and they invest in the academy because it is an excellent way of growing talent for their businesses. Many have consistently increased the number of students they recruit off the courses year on year and most told me they are really impressed with the level of understanding of the business and the industry they join with. In the past the drop-out rate for new recruits would be quite high as they realised the reality of being a junior in the buying team was not for them.

At the FRA that decision is made far earlier and there are no surprises.

As Marks & Spencer’s Marc Bolland (another big supporter of the academy) told guests at the awards, the fashion sector is very lucky to have such a place on hand to train up its future leaders.

And third, and probably most importantly, what struck me about the event was the passion the academy nurtures. Two alumni members (Lisa Storrier and Grace Tully) took to the stage to give speeches in front of the assembled audience including Green and Bolland, and having done similar myself I can assure you it can be a daunting experience. These two, though clearly only in their early 20s, were calm, collected and natural, and the passion they quite evidently have for the industry was genuine and heartfelt. I spoke to several of the current students myself on a visit to the FRA earlier this year and I can testify to the fact this passion is a crucial part of what sets their graduates apart. Indeed as Lisa quipped in her speech, I can easily imagine that long after the retirement of Sir Philip, the sector will be led by Lady Storrier, Lady Tully and their FRA peers.

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