Disruptors in Fashion Education: Zowie Broach From London’s Royal College of Art
Zowie Broach is the Head of Fashion at London’s Royal College of Art—an institution that continually pushes forth creativity across campuses. Before she began her career as an educator, Zowie founded BOUDICCA, a fashion house that continues to influence the industry today. We had the chance to chat with Zowie about her long-standing design career that has seen her go from an emerging designer to an educator within the industry, where she sees the future of fashion going, and so much more.
Maxyme G. Delisle
Hindsight has the power to influence one’s approach to the present. Are there any specific lessons you try to impart on the design students based off of what you wish you knew when you were first starting out as a designer?
I feel today that time and the perception of time have to be considered. Very few of us become a designer overnight; for most of us, it takes a lifetime to achieve, if ever. But time is key to build experience, understand the fail as well as the success, to explore beyond the walls of education and find your wider tribe. This all takes time; and it is valuable, valid, and with a commitment and tenacity that is required in our global world right now.
Of course, there is a parallel time set where everything moves very fast; that's when instincts are essential. That's why the real truth of your own sense of self is so key in defining your next steps, whether it is in the fast time or the slow time of your life, adventure, and routes.
I also think it is important to work with and under those that you admire. Personal masters are key to find and spend time with; listen and learn from those with experience.
I always tell designers that they should take time to travel the world to see the "real" that is out there; it is so essential for a positive future. When you travel you have the ability to not be bound by the obvious fashion cities and instead can take the time to search out where identity, fashion, and community can inform your work, whether it is about gender, faith, sexuality, environment, science, or even luxury. Any new venture or addition has to be bound, connected, and understood within the real.
Renata Brenha Ribeiro
The fact that Boudicca operated independently within a market swarming with fashion giants is quite a feat. What do you think made this possible?
Madness, passion, not knowing…..and instincts that were driven by imagination.
How does your own experience in starting a business influence the way in which you approach fashion education?
I put forth the importance of controlling reality to allow the space for your own truths.
You’ve taught at fashion schools around the world—each one located in a distinctly unique city. What were the common threads and interesting differences between these institutions? Did the location factor into this?
Each place has its own positives and its own issues that create a resistance and a growth.
Cavan Jayne McPherson
How does London influence the curriculum and education at RCA?
London is a heaving metropolis that is electrically connected; it's a live wire that bounces over a pool of water creating sparks of energy for some to soak up and some to avoid. The city moves at a furious pace, and there is a vivid community, an inclusivity, a powerful pool and history of phenomenal talent that has forged a city of freedom. We cannot ignore any of this. It influences us, leads us, and has made most of us who we are today. It has its own network, its own less known but deeply influential set of voices that asks us to remain as alive as the city it is positioned within.
How do your design students inspire you?
When they find that moment within them that lets go and yet connects deeply to their unique and individual potential, that's when we see a magic appear. Ideologically this is a force for our future world and it feels so exciting to see the positive shift that will come from them as they move our world forward to a place of acceptance, new ideals, new values, and new aesthetics.
You place an emphasis on experimentation. In what ways does the RCA curriculum enact this? Do you think this freedom in education is where the future of fashion lies?
Education should give a solid structure that enables a freedom.
Do you see a need to strike a balance between formal education and forward-thinking approaches? How do you achieve that?
Fashion is a cultural spirit; ethereal, active, fluid, agile and yet at times stagnant. If we observe all parts and not cut out education away from the world, then we see the need to be able to ask those deeper questions. It is our responsibility. It is possibly the only place left in the world that has the only pure thinking space left to allow a new world to form. That sounds dramatic, but really the world is in a dramatic place and needs somewhere to begin to counter act what we are seeing; to build confidences in communities of designers that can tackle, re-build, re-construct, and add to those forward-thinking moments.
Not everyone has the ability to attend a university like RCA. What advice would you give to a designer who may be unable to receive a traditional design education due to their socio-economic situation? And how do you see us trying to shift this balance?
Today, so much is possible, available, talked about, and shared—and this modern exchange can offer potential for all. If you have a drive, a passion, and smarts about you, then the online ecosystem alone can offer so many opinions, analysis, aesthetics, and debate.
And as I said already: travel the world and form connections with people. There are other ways to educate, and that is by doing, meeting, and being an active member of the fashion community that you are most attracted to. Fashion needs designers, but it also needs so many other roles that are so creative but not necessarily the lead role as it were.
I deeply admire my sister who traveled the world through India, Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, Greece, Morocco, and so much more. She ended up working for Paul Smith and Patrick Cox and now works at MZ WALLCE—all of this without a fashion education.
London is an expensive city to call home. How do you see an escalating cost of living impacting the fashion community, especially recent graduates?
How will cities decide the future of the city? We know historically that artists, designers, and the unique content of culture they bring are an essential nutrient for any city to survive and grow, and although there are never direct links necessarily to the bigger economy, we definitely know that those outsiders are often the ones who create the best environment for growth and those bigger ambitions. They are the visualizers: they are brave, they are eccentric, they are diverse, inclusive, entrepreneurial. They proliferate. They are the beauty within the intensity that is able to ask questions about us and for us—without this, we become dry, rigid and break.
Eun Kyung Shin
The current fashion system sees young talent underpaid and underutilized. In what ways are your students breaking into the industry to combat this? How do you prepare students for this?
I think the question needs to be the other way around. What are companies doing to change this?
At the same time, we all know that the "new" is never financially supported fully. There will be times when it is ok to work with those you learn from, on an equal level, so that you all may build something together. It is ok to not earn thousands as long as this is your choice and you have balance and support and community. There are ways, places, and great people who do support this, but there aren't many.
Perhaps the industry does need to view sustainability and new thinking as a priority; to understand what that space is and how they can act in new ways. I think placing everything on education and then expecting the student to know how to be the fully-formed professional is not always going to be right for everyone. Great people come in different guises and learn at different stages of their life, and a new and open attitude of how we work, employ, and look for teams, has to be considered and questioned.
As an educator of the next generation of designers, what do you think the future of fashion looks like?
It depends on who runs the joint! I hope the future of fashion represents the most inclusive and ethical understanding of who we are with the most ecstatic, ebullient topping of joy.