Brand View: Billa Bhandari, Advisor at the Board of Trustees, The College of Fashion and Design (CFD), explains the role the college will play to help Dubai reach its 2021 goal.
Paris, Milan, London and New York are known as the world's most fashionable cities, where prestigious colleges and promising designers reside, dreaming of the day their creations sweep the runways of the globally-watched fashion weeks. But there is one particular city that is aiming to make the race. In line with its Vision 2021, Dubai is working towards being crowned the world's capital of fashion. While it is home to several fashion institutions and dedicated developments including the Arab Fashion Council and Dubai Design District, a new kid on the block is The College of Fashion and Design (CFD).
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your educational and professional background?
Shortly after graduating with an MBA from Pace University with a dual concentration in Finance and Management Information Systems, I joined the banking world, during which worked for some of New York, Paris and Boston’s largest banks. But my first big break was in 1992, when I designed and implemented the world’s first digital trading floor for Credit Lyonnais in Paris. I then built a similar trading floor for State Street Bank in Boston, where it made history for being the first time that Solaris OS and UltraSPARC chip-based computers were deployed to process real-time financial trades. After over a decade in the industry, I called it quits in 1997 to start my own venture Parallax Corporation with my friend Scott O’Brien. The business grew rapidly but came to a grounding halt due to Scott’s death in World Trade Center on 9/11.
I took some time to recover and in 2002, I launched Akoura Biometrics to focus on Strong Authentication (Biometrics) and advanced encryption. A few years later, I signed a technical partnership with the US Army and developed DataSecure, which became a flagship product.
After the success of Akoura Biometrics, however, (and a few failed startups), I realised that I was always ahead of the technology curve. This led me to focus on the education domain, which is where I consulted for the Indian School of Business and Indian Institutes of Management.
How did CFD originate? What brought about the whole idea of a fashion college in the Middle East?
In 2013, Sheik Mohammed announced his 2021 vision to make Dubai the fashion capital of the world, thus creating Dubai Design District by 2015. Keeping this in mind, founders aligned their vision with the 2021 vision and launched CFD to cater to the growing needs of the city and the region’s fashion market.
What makes CFD more appealing than other colleges or courses in the region?
CFD is the only accredited fashion-focused boutique college in the region. Its courses are aligned with the industry needs and are taught in a lab environment. Its blended teaching model integrates classroom sessions with lab sessions, master classes and field visits.
How did you lay the foundation for your college? What kind of research did you need to conduct before you could launch?
In line with Dubai’s growing appetite for creative economy, the founders commissioned a detailed market study to understand the need, affordability and demography of potential students. Details of this study include market needs, student interest in a boutique fashion college, global scenario of university-bound students, employer’s outlook, target markets, market drivers, competitors and employment market.
Is there anything unique that you would say the college offers to its students in comparison to international colleges?
Indeed, it does. CFD is a walking distance from the Dubai Mall, which offers incredible internship experiences to students. And in comparison to international colleges overseas, Dubai offers unparalleled security as well as exposure to a multi-cultural community. Moreover, besides the fact that CFD is the only college that offers an accredited program and state of the art labs, it also provides IB-based programs which are great when it comes to student mobility.
How do you reach out to probable candidates or students, and what are some of the challenges involved?
We rely heavily on social media and word of mouth for local enrollment. For markets abroad, we have appointed enrollment executives. As for the challenges, sure, there are some, but then again we are new. We also offer a four-year degree program as opposed to a three-year diploma offered by other international colleges. At times, it becomes challenging to convince potential students as to why they should study for a year longer.
What kind of experience does your faculty have? Have you employed any celebrity names or influencers in the fashion world for this region?
Our faculty is an international mix of Arab, Russian and European nationalities, all of whom are specialised in their subject area. Many of them have years of experience in the global fashion industry but particularly in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.
In terms of influencers, we most recently had Project Runway and Australian Lebanese model/influencer Jessica Kahawaty who visited the college to offer industry insights and spent some inspirational time with our students.
What excites you the most about fashion design?
Fashion design is an evolving business. To meet the trends in fashion, we have to constantly update our curriculum while complying with accreditation standards. This is the most exciting part as we plan to get the industry more involved in design adaptive curriculum.
What is the biggest challenge in growing CFD?
At the moment, it is space, as we are constrained by the total capacity of our modern and urban campus.
What is your future expansion plan for CFD in the region?
We will be setting up branch campuses and partner with other institutes for top up programs. We will also offer additional programs such as Interior Design, Fashion Merchandising and including an MBA in fashion.
What is the feedback you have received from the first batch of students?
Generally, our students love the respectful, creative environment that we have at CFD, and say that they felt a warm welcome from the very start. They feel that it’s a place where they can flourish as individuals both creatively and mentally, and where there is a real focus on each student to develop their careers as designers by providing them with the best possible opportunities the fashion industry has to offer.
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