My adoration for fashion dates to my grandmother who was a dressmaker from the Caribbean. One of my first pieces that I designed was a mandarin-coloured jacket. My grandmother brought my design to life. It is a special memory that I will always remember.
I was born and bred in Birmingham, and I had the big ambition to move to London and have a fashion career. I worked within the fashion industry for over two decades, working for brands such as Burberry and Harvey Nichols. In the beginning, I enjoyed studying fashion design but then realised that my passion lied within visual merchandising.
I graduated in 2002 and landed my first job as an assistant at Harvey Nichols. For about 6 months, I badgered the visual merchandising manager to assist her, unpaid, just so I could gain experience. The hard work paid off and I got the opportunity to work in London Fashion Week which led to a contract with Harvey Nicols to work for their flagship store in Knightsbridge. Afterwards, I transitioned to Burberry where I gained experience in a heritage brand and met some incredible people while travelling the world.
Having worked with the brands that I have in the past, I've had opportunities from touching and feeling exotic and exquisite £5000 bags made from crocodile and python to creating events where people have a required minimum spend of £50-75K. However, there's nothing more rewarding than being able to pass on the knowledge I gained to the next generation of students wanting to get into fashion and helping them realise the changes that they'd like to make.
The connection between fashion and sustainability has become an important element in the curriculum. Younger generations are much more conscious about what they want to buy and the impact that the product has on the environment.
The expansion of the Metaverse has completely transformed the direction of visual merchandising. Brands are learning how to leverage AI technology and gamification as well as leveraging their social media strategy to effectively engage a particular consumer. Fashion is no longer about just selling products but selling a lifestyle. Shops want to ensure that consumers feel comfortable inside their spaces and can envision themselves via the lifestyle the product creates.
The reason for me coming to the University of East Lonon is the demographic. I wanted to support those kids who may be from disadvantaged backgrounds and give them the hope that if a working-class black queer man from Birmingham can do it - anyone can! And whoever that can impact, I'm always here to support that person get to where they want to be.
Jason Forrest, BA Hons Undergraduate Fashion Marketing Course Leader