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Fashion excellence in our own backyard

Australia's fashion industry is booming. With the recent opening of TAFE Queensland's Fashion Centre of Excellence and border closures forcing offshore manufacturing to move back onshore, Leading Vocational Teacher Sally Brindley-Mills says there's never been a better time to enter the industry.

Before she joined TAFE Queensland's teaching team, Sally had a long and successful career in the fashion industry both in Australia and overseas.

"I worked for a very large accessory company in London for a couple of years, which I really enjoyed. They sold upmarket leather goods which we manufactured in Italy and sold to a variety of companies throughout the world. I've worked on the Gold Coast as well for a swimwear company as a clothing designer," she said.

Despite transitioning into a different phase of her career, Sally's connection with the fashion industry didn't stop when she became an educator.

"Part of our role as a TAFE teacher is to actually go back out in industry and get some professional development," Sally said.

"At the moment I'm actually working with a company, Packer Leather, where I'm training their staff how to get the best out of the leather to be sustainable, and also how to use the equipment and tools so they can then pass it on to their clients," she continued.

It's this kind of hands on, practical skills that Sally and her colleagues pass on to their students to provide them with a solid foundation to enter the industry.

"When the students come into TAFE they learn a variety of different skills, from basic pattern making to sewing and basic design, then they go through learning professional practice and marketing. As they move from the certificate IV to the diploma they learn specialist skills such as sewing stretch materials, and designing accessories," Sally said.

"Then as they go through from diploma to advanced diploma, they get to choose what they want to specialize in, so they can specialize in an area they'd like to be employed in. That could be something like swimwear, it could be costume design, it could be men's wear, children's wear, street wear or androgynous clothing."

Students have the option to specialise in all of these areas as the teaching team at TAFE Queensland come from a variety of different backgrounds and bring with them a wide range of skills.

"We have a lot of staff that have special skills, they're actually really highly skilled and have a lot of industry experience."

"We have staff who've worked with textiles, in the CAD area, through to design, pattern making or sewing as well. We offer quite a lot of skills to students to be able to specialize in the areas that they want to participate in," she said.

For Sally, it's an exciting time for both fashion students and teachers at TAFE Queensland.

"At the moment it's probably the best time ever to be a student in TAFE Queensland because we now have the Fashion Centre of Excellence as part of our new facilities," Sally said.

"We've got a lot of new technology as well — we've got printing machines, we've got sophisticated software equipment as well to do pattern making, we also have a variety of laser cutters and 3D printers."

"We also have a lot of great new machinery that specializes in particular areas. For example, in the accessory area we have machines that can sew through large thicknesses and a lot of other leather products, which is really exciting as well."

In addition to the new facilities on offer, the industry is also undergoing a range of exciting changes. Australia's fashion industry has benefited unexpectedly from the COVID-19 pandemic, with many jobs that would normally be based overseas now staying in Australia.

"Since COVID, our industry at home in Brisbane has actually grown quite a lot because manufacturing has moved back on shore rather than offshore. The industry is actually growing within Queensland, they're increasing their staff numbers and buying more technology and manufacturing here in Brisbane," Sally said.

"As a student, if you're graduating in the next year or two this is a great opportunity to be able to get a job in our own backyard."