Co-founder Maïssane Zinai shares the benefits of creating an undergraduate and postgraduate digital support network led by students.
Placement years are a time when eager students believe interning will open the heavenly gates of networking to secure a post-graduate job. Students envision themselves shooting for British Vogue, then jetting off to L’Officiel Paris and back to London for fashion week, but for many students like CSM undergraduate Maïssane Zinai, placement years only go as far as the four walls of their homes.
Covid-19 inevitably put a halt on internships and job openings as many companies suffered financially, and in-person work was on hiatus. However, throughout the last two arduous years, the younger generation has shown real strength, resilience, and defiance. February marks one year since Zinai founded CSM Fashion Alumni Club in response to the lack of internships and help provided by her institution during the pandemic. The final-year design student launched the first CSM digital undergraduate and alumni network for fashion design & communication students. Since its launch, collaborations have blossomed into friendships, internships have flourished into jobs, and the community is multiplying and thriving.
Below, Zinai opens up about shaping the next generation of industry insiders and why students need to dictate the industry we imagine ourselves working in.
Yelena Grelet: What was your placement year like?
Maïssane Zinai: I was hoping it would be the traditional vein: two internships, one in a big brand and one with a smaller designer, but it’s been the complete opposite. I worked with Mathilde Rougier on a digital VR/AR collaboration. Then I started the [CSM Fashion Alumni] Club, which became my placement.
There was a lot of anger emerging from the general survey we launched last October 2020, giving voice to almost 200 students from the year out, final-year, and recent graduates. Although we received a contact list of brands to reach out to for placement opportunities with the current situation, it was simply not enough. With distance, we realized the missing piece in this puzzle was the CSM Fashion Alumni Club itself. It’s a true mindset shift that was needed, and the impulse had to come from us as the younger generation.
YG: What was the catalyst for you to launch a digital network aimed at fashion students and graduates?
MZ: The Club started as a rebellion. All undergraduate students who were seeking an internship had to either secure a placement by the end of October or jump straight into their final year because of a governmental measure. It was a shock for many, creating panic for both DPS and final-year students.
We have such an amazing alumni network at CSM, but where was the proof of this extended CSM family? I believe that the future of fashion is rooted in community and collective movement, so the obvious next move was gathering these students in a more tangible space thanks to the digital sphere until we could make it physical again.
YG: How do you find these internships/job listings?
MZ: Our members, students, and graduates from both B.A. and M.A. courses share opportunities they spot online or hear about where they work. We receive opportunities all around the world, from the U.S. to Asia. Brands like Bradley Sharpe, Asai, and more have partnered with the club by offering us quite a few placements.
YG: How has the launch of CSM Fashion Alumni Club benefitted its members?
MZ: The first real success of the club was not long after we launched the survey. Back in October 2020, we managed to find 54 placement opportunities for every student in need to secure their DPS year.
Additionally, we received 31 proposals of mentoring from graduates, which gave us the idea to initiate the Family Programme (a scheme that pairs students with graduates to help them with their doubts regarding portfolios, placements, final year, and post-graduation choices.)
Mental health is a major concern within fashion students which the initial survey highlighted. We aim to help release some pressure so students can enjoy their educational experience in the best way. Last Autumn, we were delighted to provide a venue and curate an exhibition for HÄN, a multidisciplinary project created by M.A. post-graduate students Ella Boucht, Heather Glazzard, Nora Nord, and The Bartlett postgrad Bryanna Kelly. It was the first time we could physically see what the Club was doing, bringing people together in a shared space while helping them develop their own projects!
YG: How do you see the CSM Fashion Alumni Club evolving?
MZ: Since last summer 2021, the club has been part of a collaboration with The Salon, who have enabled us to offer our members a space to show their work for free. We are also in the process of launching a podcast channel and will keep working on the Family program.
The new generation is conscious of the industry shift pertaining to the development of digital fashion to sustainable and environmental concerns. The Club wants to do its part for the industry’s future by building a community that enables multidisciplinary projects to blossom.
Images courtesy of CSM Alumni Club