The Fashion Memo

Introducing The 4 Winners Of NET-A-PORTER’s Vanguard Education Fund

Now in its second year, NET-A-PORTER’s Vanguard Education Fund – in partnership with the British Fashion Council – provides both financial support and dedicated mentoring to final-year students as they embark on their careers, helping them gain a foothold in the fashion industry

Winners Christopher De La Cruz, Izzy McKinlay, Tahar Al-Shekhly and Tj Finley are proud to be part of an innovative community of emerging designers

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 and ESMOD) were eligible to apply.

In June, finalists from Central Saint Martins, Parsons School of Design, Manchester Fashion Institute, and De Montfort University were invited to a judging day, where four winners were selected by a prolific panel including Tank magazine’s CEO and fashion director Caroline Issa; Perfect magazine’s creative director Jeanie Annan-Lewin; British Fashion Council head of designer initiatives and membership Katie Rawle, designer Nensi Dojaka, The Fashion Archive’s editor-in-chief Odunayo Ojo; and NET-A-PORTER’s market director Libby Page.

The deserving winners – Christopher De La Cruz, Izzy McKinlay, Tahar Al-Shekhly and Tj Finley – were each awarded a £12,500 bursary fund and paired with two of the fund’s influential mentors, an impressive list that includes designers Priya Ahluwalia, Elin Kling (co-founder of Toteme), Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant (founders of Coperni); fashion editor and consultant Camille Charrière; fashion consultant and entrepreneur Yoyo Cao; founder of Up Next Designer Albert Ayal; plus NET-A-PORTER’s content director Alice Casely-Hayford and market director Libby Jane Page.

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 mentors reveal why they wanted to be involved in the initiative.


Christopher De La Cruz, BA Fashion Design with Knitwear, Central Saint Martins

“Being welcomed into a community of emerging designers who share a common vision for a world that embraces fluidity, diversity and sustainability is truly inspiring. Together, we can drive positive change in the fashion industry and beyond. Unapologetically authentic, my creations expose the essence of who we are, leaving no room for concealment. They invite us to embrace our true selves, radiating strength, sensuality and happiness. Each garment becomes a vessel for cherished memories, encapsulating our unique identities.”

Izzy McKinlay, BA Fashion Design Womenswear, Central Saint Martins

“My work is an exploration into tangled memories, muted landscapes and abstract silhouettes. Inspired by the nostalgia of Australia’s Blue Mountains and coastal terrain where I would ride my motorcycle alongside my brothers, I hope to capture this movement – a sense of speed and directional motion. My designs integrate discarded mechanical pieces sourced from local mechanics and 3D-printed abstract shapes using filament made from ocean waste. Reclaimed parachuting fabric, second-hand outdoor climbing material and cactus ‘leather’ are the basis of each garment.”

Tahar Al-Shekhly, BA Fashion Design with Knitwear, Central Saint Martins

“The aesthetic of my work is rooted in the exploration and portrayal of masculinity in contemporary society. Although the specific style and visual language are still evolving, the core objective is to capture the essence of present-day men. I hope that my garments resonate with people by provoking thought, introspection and dialogue around the concept of masculinity. I aspire to challenge preconceived notions, broaden understanding and ignite conversations about the diverse experiences and identities within the male spectrum.”

Tj Finley, BA Fashion Design with Knitwear, Central Saint Martins

“My designs encourage people to confront their animalistic side and explore their vulnerabilities. The raw, transgressive nature of my work isn’t a gimmick or done for shock value – it is authentically woven within me. Because I am queer and working class, I have learnt to survive, and survival means you can become unhinged, fearless and ready to challenge those who try to break you down. I am planning on using the prize money for a fashion show in collaboration with queer creatives, so we can all have a platform where ideas and concepts can become reality.”


Priya Ahluwalia, fashion designer, founder and creative director of Ahluwalia

Priya Ahluwalia’s use of regenerated textiles for her brand Ahluwalia has been recognized with numerous accolades – including the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design in 2021 and a Leader of Change award for Environment at the British Fashion Awards. “In 2023, the landscape for emerging designers is really positive because of initiatives like the Vanguard Education Fund and great support from the British Fashion Council,” she says. “At the same time, it can be difficult for young talent to start a business due to economic pressures. The good thing is that there are so many opportunities to create collectives and collaborations – and, thanks to the internet, young designers have the power to market themselves in ways that weren’t possible 10 years ago.”

Albert Ayal, founder of Up Next Designer

Launched in 2019 by Albert Ayal, Up Next Designer is a social-media platform that offers an accessible front-row seat to the next generation of designers. “Emerging designers are finally beginning to get the recognition they deserve from stylists and editors,” he says. “Back in the day, stylists would typically pull looks from the more established brands. Now, we’re really seeing a shift in their approach. It’s very promising to see top-shelf talent searching for cool pieces from young designers, and I think up-and-coming brands will have an advantage in 2023.”

Priya Ahluwalia and Albert Ayal
Alice Casely-Hayford, content director at NET-A-PORTER
Yoyo Cao (left) and Camille Charrière

Yoyo Cao, fashion consultant and entrepreneur

A leading figure in Singapore’s fashion industry and a front-row regular at fashion week, Yoyo Cao is redefining Southeast Asian style with a dynamic perspective. “With what has been going on in the world these past few years, a slowdown is expected, but that may actually work in the favor of young talent,” she says. “Emerging designers who can offer fresh concepts is exactly what the fashion industry needs to bring about a renewed sense of excitement and allow us to look at the familiar in unexpected ways.”

Camille Charrière, fashion editor and consultant

Charrière is a fashion journalist whose candid take on the industry has led to her becoming one of Paris and London’s most influential sartorial figures. “My best advice for young designers is to have patience – it’s normal not to have everything figured out yet,” she says. “You will change your mind a million times to grow, evolve, and make mistakes while facing challenges throughout your career. Keep going; hard work and finding your own niche will make you stand out.”

Sébastien Meyer (left) and Arnaud Vaillant, and Alice Casely-Hayford

Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant, fashion designers and founders of Coperni

Creative director Sébastien Meyer and CEO Arnaud Vaillant founded Coperni in 2013. In 2015, they were appointed co-creative directors at Courrèges until deciding to relaunch Coperni in 2018. Today, their brand is known for its minimal, subversive designs, which are inspired by modernism and technology – and, in case anyone needs reminding, they were the masterminds behind that viral Bella Hadid spray-on-dress moment at Paris Fashion Week last October.

Alice Casely-Hayford, content director at NET-A-PORTER

An editorial expert with a keen eye for sharp storytelling, Alice Casely-Hayford held positions at Refinery29 and British Vogue before commencing her current role as content director at NET-A-PORTER. “It’s essential that we nurture and make generous space for the talent of tomorrow, as they are the future of fashion,” she says. “Historically, the industry has been an exclusive and impenetrable place, but the welcoming of creatives from all different backgrounds has been a wonderful thing to witness. Similarly, it has been exciting to see the next generation of fashion prioritizing sustainability, inclusivity and authenticity in their craft, so it is paramount that we help the new generation bring its vision to life in a meaningful way.”

Priya Ahluwalia, fashion designer, founder and creative director of Ahluwalia
Libby Jane Page (left) and Elin Kling

Libby Jane Page, market director at NET-A-PORTER

Libby Jane Page is a nexus between buying, editorial and marketing at NET-A-PORTER, offering holistic insights into fashion and product to support the commercial success of the business. “The next generation of young shoppers sees emerging designers and sustainability as a huge part of its values, and that’s a positive thing,” she says. “There are challenges ahead, which is why the Vanguard Education Fund was launched in 2022, at such a pivotal moment. The mentorship and money combined will help support students that, otherwise, might not have been able to go on and work in fashion. That said, there is lots of opportunity and young designers should feel encouraged and optimistic about the future.”

Elin Kling, fashion designer, co-founder and creative director of Toteme

Having cut her teeth as a journalist at leading publications in Stockholm, Elin Kling’s eye for design led her to launch womenswear brand Toteme. Co-founded in 2014 by Kling and her husband Karl Lindman, the brand has amassed a cult following for its minimal aesthetic and fresh, seasonless pieces, positioning Kling as a much-lauded industry figure and a marvelous mentor for fledgling designers.

The Vanguard Education Fund judging day

Take a look behind the scenes at our judging day and hear from some of the finalists as they share what the Vanguard Education Fund means to them…


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