18 June 2019

Designing a future out of fashion | Study With New Zealand

Linley Boniface

Otago Polytechnic Academic Leader of Fashion, Professor Margo Barton is a big believer in letting students be themselves and encouraging them to find their own way. Nothing gives her greater satisfaction than seeing a student discover what it is they really want to do – and succeeding at it.

“I love it when a student isn’t sure what they want to do, and then – through working with other students and teachers – finds out what it is they want to do, and…does it. It’s really exciting!” Margo says.

Margo’s academic role is backed by a long career in the fashion industry. She describes her teaching as hands-on and collaborative, a style that is common in New Zealand.

“Rather than having a master-student relationship, we offer a more collaborative way of learning. It’s not about forcing our own ideas onto our students. We help them find out where they want to be and what they want to do, and we connect them with the industry,” she says.

It helps that Margo and many of her colleagues are also practitioners in the areas they teach in. By integrating theory with practice, they give students real insight into working in the industry.

“Work experience is vital,” Margo says, “because this is how students see how things work and find out the possibilities. Sometimes they decide they want to do something else within fashion, sometimes they end up with a role in the industry.”

Margo also believes international exposure is crucial, and says students at Otago Polytechnic benefit from many exchange programmes – mainly to Asia and Europe – and have opportunities to apply for scholarships that take them overseas.

“I highly recommend exchange programmes,” she says. “It’s very important to understand culture, design and business from other perspectives.”

Thanks to Dunedin’s iD Fashion Week, Margo’s students also enjoy global experience without leaving New Zealand’s shores. The only international emerging fashion competition in Australasia, iD Fashion week attracts leading designers from around the world. As the event’s founder and creative director, Margo offers her students a truly unique opportunity to work alongside top designers and be part of something really exciting.

And while global links are extremely valuable, students also have a lot to gain from being immersed in New Zealand’s creative community. Margo explains how the country’s small size and geographic location helps to stimulate students’ imaginations. 

“We’re a relatively young country so it can be easier to go against tradition – and sometimes we’ve had to. Due to our geographic isolation, some physical items are unavailable, so we need to be inventive,” she says.

What about the future? Fashion is possibly one of the fastest changing industries in the world. How does Margo prepare her students for what’s ahead?

“As things change, we try to be responsive. Sometimes when students come to learn about fashion, they think it’s just about designing. But there are so many other jobs in the industry, and new jobs are being created – such as social media experts. We say fashion can be anything, it can be an app or any other product related to fashion.”

One of Margo’s ex-students, Dylan McCutcheon-Peat, is an example of a graduate who’s ready to embrace the future. This June, just months after graduating, he had the opportunity to showcase his Is he a Tomgirl? collection in London’s Graduate Fashion Week.

Dylan McCutcheon Peat

Dylan is full of praise for his former teacher: “Margo utilises her own connections and vast industry experience to apply to each student’s needs. She has been incredibly valuable to me as a mentor and teacher.”

And of his experience at London’s Graduate Fashion Week, Dylan says, “the positive feedback has instilled me with a new sense of confidence. I plan to move to the UK next year, and I now have various contacts I can get in touch with.”

“Dylan was great! He showed a collection which integrated theory with incredible tailoring skills in a very modern and challenging way,” says Margo. “It was very well received. His collection was one of just three or four to be picked up by social media and shared around the world. I’m so proud of him.”

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About the contributors
Linley Boniface

Linley Boniface is a contract writer for Education New Zealand. She is based in Wellington, her favourite city in New Zealand. A former journalist, Linley spent a year in Montreal, Canada, as a secondary school student.