Meet the Programme Lead for International Fashion Marketing and Design Management
Dr Bruce Carnie is the Programme Lead for the online International Fashion Marketing and Design Management Masters programme delivered by the University of Leeds. With a wealth of experience, he is passionate about service design, fashion marketing and helping future fashion leaders realise their potential.
In this Q&A, we follow his career journey from being inspired by his grandmother to working for the prestigious Leeds School of Design. We also find out what excites him most about leading the fashion Masters course and some of the top roles graduates have gone into.
Read or listen to the full conversation below.
Q: Please could you begin by introducing yourself?
A: My name is Dr Bruce Carnie, I’m the Programme Lead for the online International Fashion Marketing and Design Management Masters/Postgraduate Certificate course at the University of Leeds, and I’m also the tutor for several of the modules in the course.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit more about your experience and how you got to where you are today?
A: I started my undergraduate education at Glasgow School of Art, where I studied textile design. Much of the textile design work that I undertook was for the fashion sector. I did a bit of textiles for interiors as well, and really that’s where my interest started in terms of textiles for fashion and the industry. I then went on to Manchester Metropolitan University and studied a Masters degree in textiles and fashion, and I was able to extend my research in terms of textiles and specifically fashion pattern making and the various sectors of the fashion industry.
On completion of my Masters degree, I moved to Australia and started work as a Lecturer at a higher education institution where I worked for seven years whilst simultaneously maintaining my practice as a textile and fashion designer. After seven years, I decided to leave higher education and managed to secure a post as a stylist and buyer for a textile company in Sydney which I did for three years before setting up my own design studio where I worked directly with fashion designers on garment design, textiles for the garments, even including things like swing tags, and marketing material for those fashion items. Most of these companies were Australian based and a significant aspect of that was swimwear and sportswear. I worked for Speedo, Seafolly, several of the surf brands, but I also worked for menswear, womenswear and childrenswear fashion brands.
That work was exciting, and I always tried to find new challenges for myself so if, for example, I’ve been working quite intensely on high street brands, I would then try and find work where I’d be working on budget brands or high-end brands so that I was constantly being challenged in terms of the work that I was producing. And a big part of that related to marketing, so to be able to produce what was appropriate for those different fashion sectors, I did a lot of market research to understand the market segments. So, that’s when fashion marketing came into the remit of what I was working on.
I returned to university to do my PhD, and I did that at New South Wales University in Sydney. While I was studying there, I was fortunate enough to receive two fellowships to be able to develop and deliver a fully online undergraduate course and a fully online Masters. And that was the first time that I engaged with distance learning, and I found the challenges of that exciting.
After graduating with my PhD, I secured a role at the University of Leeds as a Lecturer in design management, so I moved back to the UK, and although that practical experience in the fashion industry and in fashion marketing was something that I’ve continued to engage with, I also have this secondary strand in terms of design management. In terms of the course, these two areas come together and in terms of my mixed background, this was a great opportunity for me to be able to develop with the team of other tutors, and content that integrates these two somewhat discreet, but interrelated disciplines of international fashion marketing and design management.
Q: Why the fashion industry? Where does your passion for the subject stem from?
A: So, there are a couple of things that I think influenced me. Firstly, my grandmother was a carpet weaver. And while I was studying textiles, I’d spend time with my grandparents, and my grandmother showed an interest in the textiles that I was involved in. And it was great to have someone who was working in an industrial setting to be able to share that practical experience with me. So, I think the fact that my grandmother was working in the industry was really influential.
Secondly, I started in terms of textile design as a Weaver, and when I was at high school, as well as creative subjects, I was also good at mathematics. Weaving is quite mathematical, and I think I found this mixture of both applied mathematics and creativity incredibly appealing. When I had my own studio, I would say probably about 50% of my work was for weaving, and so that passion which started when I was an undergraduate student, continued to develop and it proved to be a mix that meant not only was I able to enjoy the work which was incredibly more rewarding, but I also made money from it, so I was a successful designer in Australia.
After I’d set up my studio, within about six months, I never had to look for work as work always came to me, and quite quickly I had to start employing other people to work in the studio alongside me. And that collaborative enterprise is also something that I’m drawn towards. I like working in teams. I think the aim of the course, is for that interaction amongst students in terms of bringing their personal and authentic experiences and sharing those with fellow students on the course. I believe it’s an incredibly important part of the learning experience because not only is this something that I recognise for myself, I believe it’s also a reflection of real-world situations. It’s very unusual to find somebody who works in isolation. Most often we work collaboratively, and particularly in something as complex as the fashion value chain all the way from farming and chemical engineering of textiles through to the manufacturing of garments and the marketing of that. Getting it to the end consumer requires an enormous team of people and being able to develop the skills to work in a team is also really important.
Q: What would you say your main area of expertise in fashion is? Do you have any research interests?
A: I do yes; I’m going to describe it as the service aspect of both fashion and fashion marketing. So, I see fashion marketing as a service to fashion design and production. But at the same time in terms of moving forward, given the critical situation for the fashion industry in terms of sustainability, I think there are many instances where shifting from consuming new products to looking at service provision that can extend the life of those products is a very important aspect that’s necessary in the fashion industry and for fashion consumption these days.
If we take Selfridges for example, just before the pandemic they had started an initiative where they were shifting the way that the business operated as a fashion retailer, and they now provide services for rental of garments, refurbishing of garments, accessories, and restyling of garments as well. And these types of services are going to become much more prevalent in the fashion industry and fashion consumption. So, service design, which is part of design management, is an area that has particular interest for me. And it’s a difficult and challenging one to quantify in terms of the value that’s offering, and it’s that area that I’m particularly interested in; how you measure that value.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit more about the International Fashion Marketing and Design Management course? What does it involve and who's it for?
A: The course is really being designed and developed for people who are interested in the areas of fashion marketing and design management but who are unable to study full-time on campus. Working professionals are finding it more difficult to take study leave as I did for my PhD. So, it’s for people who may be working in the fashion industry in some part of that fashion value chain, or they may be interested in moving from the field that they’re currently working in, into the fashion industry because that’s their passion.
The course is really designed for people who are in employment, or have considerable care responsibilities for a partner, child, or parent, and want to continue to study, and want our flexible learning platform mode of delivery which the fully online programme offers.
So, we’re anticipating that the mix of students learning on this course will be very diverse. When I taught in Australia, I had students who were literally living around the corner from me in Sydney, but I also had students in Scandinavia, throughout Asia, the Americas, and Africa, and that mix of students created a very vibrant peer group who were learning from each other and understanding situational differences.
Some of those situational differences are cultural; they may be to do with standards of living, or how much industry is there and which parts of the industry. It may be that if we consider some parts of Northern Africa and the Middle East, that’s where cotton is grown, so it’s focused on the first part of the fashion value chain, whilst in other areas like Indonesia and Cambodia, that may be where more fashion production is taking place. And if you get a mixture of students from these various cultural and situational backgrounds, they will have access to those areas and may even be working in them to bring that knowledge to the class for their contribution to discussions and so on.
Q: What are you hoping students will get out of the course?
A: I’m hoping that students will get a broader picture of how the fashion industry operates now compared to the past. Sustainability and the impact of textiles on fashion, the environment and society are also important topics to consider. I think that the course is designed to both highlight those challenges, but also to create space for students to come up with propositions and ideas for how businesses can change to improve situations such as the carbon footprint of fashion logistics.
So, in terms of the fashion industry, a lot of components are moved around the world until they get to the end consumer. All of this has considerable impact on the carbon footprint of each garment and there are all sorts of ways that can be considered to shift that: onshoring as one of them or near shoring. Companies like Burberry have restructured their business and are now onshoring here in the UK. And although that means that there’s still garments that are being exported and shipped around the world, much more of the core sales are occurring closer to the point of manufacturing. So, those kinds of challenges are the type that I see students having the opportunity to develop both their knowledge of and their experience in working through ideas to change that situation for these fashion brands and businesses.
Q: Why did you choose to join the University of Leeds?
A: So, there are a few reasons. Firstly, the University of Leeds School of Design is quite unusual in that it is not restricted to creative practices. So, there are scientists and engineers who are part of the academic team within the School of Design. And for me, it’s this reflection of our real-world situation, in that multidisciplinary teams often work more effectively in developing solutions for big, challenging problems. I think that perhaps this is reflected in the quality of research that’s undertaken in the School of Design. So as a Russell Group university, research is a big focus for all the academic staff, and that research takes all sorts of routes, so publications, publishing papers, and the students will have examples where the tutors that are teaching them use their own publications to demonstrate ways that they’ve looked at a particular challenge or problem, and how they’ve worked through that.
There’s also examples such as Future Fashion Factory, which is a £5.4 million project that has been funded with the principal investigator, Professor Stephen Russell, in the Leeds School of Design. The project has an academic core, and that is led through the Leeds School of Design, Huddersfield University, and the Royal College of Art. But perhaps more importantly, it has over 500 external partners that are part of that research project like Burberry, or perhaps slightly more niche different sector companies like Ruby Moon, which is a swimwear company. And they’ve identified problems and challenges that they want to address, that academics and the research labs in the School of Design are working with those partners to try and resolve.
So, those are the best things about the University of Leeds for me. From a student’s point of view, it’s that all the staff that they will be encountering during their studies are involved in this practical research. Yes, some of it is theoretical, but largely it’s practical. Much of it has to do with textiles and fashion which are the core areas, along with graphics in the School of Design, and that makes for an exciting environment to work in from the student’s point of view. As I mentioned, the staff that are teaching them directly will be involved in research. In addition, we bring in support from other members of the academic team to contribute to case study material for students’ learning content. We have several professorial staff that give short interview videos that are shared with the students as part of their learning. So, although there’s a core team, we really have access to all the members of staff in the school which makes for a very rich learning environment and experience for the students.
Q: What's it like being a part of the Leeds School of Design, and could you tell us a little bit more about its reputation and the ranking?
A: The university itself is very highly ranked both nationally and internationally. We have an excellent mentoring scheme where more experienced researchers will mentor new academics.
I would describe it as very collegiate – it’s a very supportive environment to work in and that really stems from the Head of School, Professor Maria Lonsdale. She’s an incredibly empathetic person which is an incredibly important characteristic in many jobs. We often think about it as being very important for the nursing or healthcare profession, but I would say that for design, empathy is an incredibly important characteristic to develop. And when it’s in place within the school, amongst the professional activities that are conducted there, it’s something that’s passed down through the learning process to all the students in the school as well.
I think it’s a great environment to work within and it’s certainly the best working environment that I’ve had in terms of teaching at various universities around the world. I’ve taught in Singapore, Australia, in several universities in New Zealand and a couple here in the UK, and the University of Leeds has come out on top in terms of being a supportive environment to work within.
Q: What have some of the previous graduates of the School of Design gone on to?
A: It’s very varied. We’ve had one of our graduates work with Burberry in a customer relations function. Others are working for the Fendi Group in China, but we’ve also had students set up their own businesses and enjoy success there.
We’ve had students who have been very passionate about areas such as sustainability and working with organisations like Stella McCartney where sustainability is a core part of their ethos from the inception of the company. We’ve had several people work for Boohoo. It’s impressive that within three months of graduating, a very high percentage of our students are in full-time employment.
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