VIA icon Road
A lot of the clothes that Danes are wearing are produced in China. Therefore it is useful knowledge for design students to know “the realm in the middle” from the inside. Four students from VIA Design (formerly TEKO) in Herning are in Shanghai for 5 months and they will attend both a fashion school and be in work placements in the clothing industry.

Every year a large number of the students from the design programmes in Herning go abroad. Internationalization is a fixed element on all the programmes in VIA University College which VIA Design is a part of. 

At the moment 20 students from VIA Design take a semester in China. Four of them live together in Shanghai which is the largest city in China with approx. 23 million inhabitants. The students are Mette Havkrog, Dina Bjørn, Maja Mathiesen and Pauline Pas. They are 24 years old and share an apartment in a skyscraper with 40 floors. The girls are in China as part of their 3½ years course to become a PBA in Design & Business specializing in Pattern Design. 

Useful to know China 

The pattern designer is usually employed in a design company. The pattern designer evaluates the designer’s drawings and decides which production methods are the most suitable to use. Furthermore the pattern designer is responsible for the product’s fit and finish/details and must also secure that the design matches the group of clients as well as the right price level. In other words – the pattern designer is the designers very close sparring partner when the collections are developed. 

The pattern designer has also much contact to the production sites in Denmark and other countries. Therefore it is really useful to know how design and production take place abroad – and this knowledge could come from work placements somewhere in the big world. 

Mixture of theory and practice 

“We have learned a lot of basic things within our trade at VIA Design in Herning. But here in Shanghai we learn a lot of new things – both professionally and personally,” Mette Havkrog tells us. 

During their stay in Shanghai Mette and her three roommates study at International Fashion Academy which is China’s leading fashion school. All teaching is in English and the four Danes have two subjects focusing on the construction of apparel by means of special IT programmes. As a supplement to the theory from school they all work in different companies within Shanghai’s fashion industry. 

Mette and Dina are trainees in two different Danish fashion companies. In Shanghai they produce clothes for the Danish and European market. Maja and Pauline are both trainees in a French-Chinese company producing men’s wear for the Chinese market. 

Speaks with gesticulations 

“You get a lot of useful experience from a work placement. You can use this experience when you graduate as a pattern designer”, says Maja Mathiesen. “I have been asked to make some styles together with Pauline. We learn a lot from doing this. I have also been involved in the company’s fashion show where I was working backstage. And I have participated in a photo shoot where my job was to style the models. That was all great experiences.” 

Maja Mathiesen, who is a skilled tailor, adds that it is very special to have colleagues of which the vast majority does not speak English. Communication takes place via gesticulations. But luckily the Chinese colleagues are nice and willing to help. 

Looks good on your CV 

The four TEKO-students all chose an international work placement, because they would like to know more about the Chinese culture and also have more things to write on their CV. 

“I thought it was a chance you should not miss. We have very exciting subjects at International Fashion Academy, and as China is an important player in our trade, it is good to have experienced the culture, seen the production and also learned how the processes take place out here,” Dina Bjørn states. 

With her own words she is crazy about Shanghai og would love to come back even though it was a bit of a culture shock to come to this huge city with people everywhere and a very hectic traffic with taxis driving dangerously fast. 

Tourists on Tuesdays 

“We are so lucky that we are off each Tuesday at noon. Therefore we are tourists each Tuesday afternoon. We have visited local markets, cafés, museums and we have been visiting some of Shanghai’s beautiful parks. We also use our spare time to just relax and enjoy the beautiful sun. It is possible to sit out all night with the temperatures, we have. We have also learned how to eat with sticks, and we often eat food that you buy in the street. For 25 DKK all four of us can be filled up. The Chinese language is terribly difficult, but we can say hello, thank you and other ordinary words,” Dina Bjørn says. 

She and her fellow students from VIA Design haven’t got really Chinese friends. In return they often meet with other international young people who have chosen a stay in Shanghai. And daily they greet the local greengrocer and the guard working in the huge building in which they live. 

“Very often Chinese people stop us in the street because they wish to have a picture of us together with them,” Dina Bjørn says. 

Ready for a job abroad 

In August Dina, Mette, Maja and Pauline will continue their studies at VIA Design in Herning. The course ends with an assignment based – to a degree – on the knowledge they now get in Shanghai. If everything goes as planned they all graduate as pattern designers in the apparel industry December 2013. 

The girls are open to get a job abroad, if they get the opportunity. The months in Shanghai have whetted their appetite to see the whole world as their coming workplace. 

“My dream is to get a job in a company who prioritize the clothes’ fit and who do not compromise. I have always thought that I would stay in Denmark. But after all my great experiences in Shanghai I do not have barriers in relation to a job abroad. I would like to start my own company in the future, but I must have solid experience first,” Dina Bjørn writes in a mail from Shanghai. 

Possibilities for students 

Helle Winding, who is director of the business department at VIA Design, which is part of VIA University College, tells us that right now 20 students are in China for a semester. In the autumn 2013 another 16 will go to China. Last year 30 students from Herning went to China to study and work in a company. 

“The fashion industry is Denmark’s 4th largest export trade. And a lot of the clothes sold in Denmark are produced abroad – mainly in China, but also in Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and Turkey. It will continue that way because Denmark cannot compete with the salaries in Asia. This means that you have a lot to do with foreign countries when you work within design and creative businesses. At VIA Design we therefore give priority to all students having the possibility to go abroad during their course. In a global word it is crucial that our young people have an international vision,” Helle Winding states. 

She adds that it is also a benefit for the students to have a study and work placement stay in a foreign country on the CV. 

“Our experience is that the fashion companies preferably recruit newly educated with an inter-national experience. Many TEKO-students have obtained exciting jobs in known companies after a stay outside of Denmark,” the director of education from TEKO emphasizes. 

TEKO has departments in Herning and Aarhus.