The Vanguard Education Fund sees NET-A-PORTER join forces with the British Fashion Council to identify and nurture the industry’s next generation of innovators. Final-year BA students studying at UK universities within the BFC Colleges Council and selected international institutions (Parsons School of Design, Politecnico di Milano, TAFE Australia and FEDISA Fashion School Cape Town) are eligible. Applications closed on March 3, 2022 – so, if you’re an aspiring designer and think you have what it takes, don’t hesitate to apply next year.
In May 2022, a shortlist of creatives were invited to a judging day, where four winners were selected. The lucky winners Maïssane Zinaï, Benjamin James Davis, Finlay Roberts, and Renato Brás were each awarded a £12,500 bursary fund and paired with two of the fund’s influential mentors – an impressive list that includes designers Cate Holstein (founder of Khaite), Conner Ives and Christopher John Rogers; renowned stylist Julia Sarr-Jamois; editorial and tech expert Eva Chen; business mogul, musician and actor Jessica Jung; and NET-A-PORTER’s content director Alice Casely-Hayford and market director Libby Page.
With the pandemic creating a particularly turbulent landscape for emerging designers, NET-A-PORTER’s chief buying and merchandising officer Lea Cranfield sees this new venture as an essential means to supporting up-and-coming talent from myriad backgrounds.
“Our goal is to ensure that the next generation of creative talent is given early support to enable their success before they embark on their professional journey – we see this as especially important given the challenges the pandemic has brought to the creative industry and, most notably, at a grassroots level,” says Cranfield. “We are passionate about nurturing a diverse and representative mix of talent and are excited to see who emerges through the scheme.”
Read on to learn more about the fund and get to know the four winners, as they share their design aesthetic and the vision behind their work. Plus, this year’s eight mentors reveal why they wanted to be involved in the initiative.
Benjamin James Davis, BA Fashion Design with Industry Placement, Kingston School of Art
“The style of my work is a combination of sports and technical wear with punk and metal connotations. Best coined as ‘Dark Sci-Fi’, it is like something that would exist in a tech-noir film. The use of all-black and chrome trims is a reference to the balancing of the yin and yang, also pulling inspiration from the notion of ‘anti-fashion’ designers like Rei Kawakubo. In a further comparison to contemporary designers, my aesthetic is somewhere close to a mix of Rick Owens, Y-3, and Acronym.”
Maïssane Zinaï, BA Fashion Design Womenswear, Central Saint Martins
“Designing is essential for me. The first motivation for my work is a visceral need to tell stories and make shelters for the individuals who hope for something more than what everyday life provides. I am obsessed with questions of cultures and dimensions, which can be physical, artificial, virtual or sensorial. Creativity is the ultimate way of bringing people together. As an autistic person, I’ve always craved social interactions while also observing them like alien behavior. Through design, I can speak this language. Gathering people together is intrinsically a part of my design practice.”
Finlay Roberts, BA Fashion Design, Falmouth University
“My works aren’t fashion objects, rather modular objects, made in construction sets. The wearer is the designer, deciding its function thus creating its aesthetic. Well-designed objects serve innate human desires. Objects that serve speak to the sacred and outlive human life.”
Renato Brás, BA Fashion Design with Marketing, Central Saint Martins
“The passage of time is the central concept of my work, from which I explore the irreversible and unpredictable impact it has on people and objects. This interest and sensitivity has come from my upbringing in Portugal, where everything is beautifully and unpretentiously decayed and run down. I take great inspiration from things I see outside, which I thoroughly document and use as the research for my work, through photographs and textile manipulations. I am also greatly inspired by the objects that are discarded and forgotten, and it is this dichotomy that fuels my creative energy. My work is deeply process-based, which makes the research as important as the garments. I put great emphasis on manual labor and a physical approach to creating fashion, as I strongly believe that the sensitivity of working with your hands can never be replicated by technology. I hope to highlight the importance and inherent beauty of keeping and respecting the things we have and wear, because the signs of time and physical touch ‘carved’ into them are irreplaceable and irreproducible.”
Fledgling designers need a lot of help financially… But I also think just having someone to talk to, feed off and have an open dialogue with is really important; having someone believe in you is invaluable”Julia Sarr-Jamois, fashion director at British Vogue
CONNER IVES, fashion designer, founder and creative director of his eponymous label
“Much of my education was shaped by mentors generous enough to take the time to help me become the designer I am today. So, I feel like it’s now my turn to pass on the torch. Fashion is an industry in which you can learn a lot by doing, as opposed to just being in the classroom. I am always thrilled to work with students and emerging talent, especially having been there myself not too long ago; I know what these kids are capable of. When I was starting out, I mostly just needed someone to talk to, and that’s what I hope I can do for these young designers; be the person to reassure them that everything is going to be OK. With the world being so upside down right now, this support feels essential.”
JULIA SARR-JAMOIS, fashion director at British Vogue
“I was very lucky to have had a lot of guidance when I was starting out. I had mentors that I could go to for advice, so I was able to learn about the job in a very supportive way. Of course, fledgling designers need a lot of help financially – there are a lot of up-front costs – but I also think just having someone to talk to, feed off and have an open dialogue with is really important; having someone believe in you is invaluable. I know how difficult it can be to break into the fashion industry and make a mark, which is why working with and supporting new talent has always been a focus for me.”
I hope to help designers connect with one another – and with other experts in the field – to build out their businesses and their platforms”EVA CHEN, director of fashion partnerships at Instagram
EVA CHEN, director of fashion partnerships at Instagram
“Fashion has always been about newness, but the next generation of designers represent so much more than that. They’ll be bringing their creative vision to the world, but also their values and beliefs. I’ve always believed strongly in mentorship and the concept of paying it forward. Supporting emerging talent and helping to amplify voices is at the core of Instagram. I started my career in editorial, and I’ve had some wonderful mentors who have supported me throughout the years. I hope to help designers connect with one another – and with other experts in the field – to build out their businesses and their platforms. Designers need community, whether they’re insiders from the industry who will show up and support, or a digital community who will shop, cheer them on and amplify their talents.”
JESSICA JUNG, musician, actor and businesswoman
“I’m excited to be part of an initiative that will help a new generation of talent to grow and become future innovators. It’s important for fashion to constantly evolve – I believe you can never have enough mentorship and guidance from peers and industry leaders who have traveled the same path. For any fledgling designer, committing to your passion and work is key. Remain diligent and try to maintain a positive outlook, regardless of what troubles or roadblocks come your way.”
There are myriad factors that play into the ambition to scale a fashion company. Without efficient guidance, the rollercoaster of ups and downs is sure to be extreme”CATE HOLSTEIN, fashion designer, founder and creative director of Khaite
CATE HOLSTEIN, fashion designer, founder and creative director of Khaite
“Fashion is always about what’s next, [so] nurturing upcoming talent ensures the sanctity of this new spirit. There are so many facets to this business that, as a designer and founder, one needs to be mindful of. In my experience, it’s truly a case of try, try and try again. There are myriad factors that play into the ambition to scale a fashion company. Without efficient guidance, the rollercoaster of ups and downs is sure to be extreme. Financial guidance and planning expertise is invaluable to any young designer, but, to be honest, I’m not sure I’d have been ready to hear it when I was starting out. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been way too scared to go down this path. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart.”
CHRISTOPHER JOHN ROGERS, fashion designer, founder and creative director of his eponymous label
“The industry is full of talented, creative minds that deserve the space to explore their voices. There are so many amazing designers from non-privileged backgrounds or without family funding that have limitless vision, and it would behove the industry to support them to keep moving forward. I understand both the exciting and challenging parts of being a young designer in this industry; I’d like to advocate for what these folks might need in terms of support for their businesses. I wish when I was starting out, I had understood that everyone has a different trajectory. Just keep your head down and do the work – you can make anything happen if you really love what you do and have a strong vision.”
Just keep your head down and do the work – you can make anything happen if you really love what you do and have a strong vision”CHRISTOPHER JOHN ROGERS, founder and creative director
ALICE CASELY-HAYFORD, content director at NET-A-PORTER
“Over the past few years, the fashion industry has been shaken up by the pandemic, urgent demands for greater diversity and a bigger commitment to sustainability. Now is the time for us to support, nurture and mentor the next generation of design talent, who will continue to drive things forward and innovate. I wish I’d had more self-belief at the start of my career. There were many instances when I didn’t get jobs and didn’t know whether it was because I wasn’t good enough or wasn’t ready or because of elitism and prejudice within the industry. Thankfully, the industry is evolving and isn’t as closed off as it once was. There is so much opportunity, and sometimes, what may feel like a sidestep is actually the right step. My career path certainly hasn’t been linear, but the experience and the knowledge I’ve gained from each chapter has helped get me to where I am today.”
LIBBY PAGE, market director at NET-A-PORTER
“Now, more than ever, it’s increasingly difficult for young, talented creatives to break into the fashion industry. If we don’t take responsibility, offer our support, and lift up these individuals, the industry simply won’t have the originality it needs to continue innovating and driving forward. I was fortunate enough to have some great mentors when I was graduating from university, but I found supporting myself financially challenging. The hidden costs of interning and acquiring equipment can be extremely prohibitive. In recent years, I’ve been laser-focused on ensuring we launch the very best emerging designers on NET-A-PORTER. This initiative will ensure we are discovering this talent early on and giving more students the opportunity to establish themselves within the fashion industry by providing financial and strategic support.”