The International Production programme trains Fashion & Management students in production and sourcing in a twenty week programme which takes them to Poly U in Hong Kong and a research assignment at a fashion company. Students Meritt Teunissen van Manen and Carolina Bammert answer some questions from AMFI.nl about their experiences right now in China.
Why did you decide to do this programme?
We have both been interested in the specialisation since visiting the AMFI open days, before we had even started our applications or were accepted. During the rest of our course projects, for example the Production File during foundation year, or the Sourcing and Distribution plan during the second year, our interest in production was confirmed. We both knew we wanted to become innovators in the field of garment manufacturing and product development and for that there is really no better start than to go to a manufacturing country like China.
Did you find your company or did your company find you? How did you decide where to complete your assignment?
We tried to find a company ourselves first, but it proved to be difficult to find a company who understood that this is not ‘just an internship’. In the end AMFI got us in contact with a company in mainland China, a Dutch/Danish private label that has a production office in China.
What is the assignment for International Production all about?
In general, next to regular internship tasks the program consists of doing a research assignment for the company you work for. We are here to work satisfactorily in a Chinese setting to improve the performance of the company’s activities and try solving business problems.
What “issues” or subject area are you researching and why?
We wanted to create something of value for the company, so it was crucial for us to make the stakeholders here part of our decision process when it comes to what direction our research would take. When we were still in the Netherlands we talked to the Dutch X-Company team and asked them about possible things we could look into. Together we came to the conclusion to look into how to improve their sampling process regarding quality and planning.
What will you produce (a report, or recommendation) and who is it for?
For the company we are creating several methods and tools they could implement to improve their sampling process, for example a framework that will help them to better communicate about and make use of leftover fabric stock. Next to this we also keep track of all of our findings and research for AMFI, which will in the end take the form of a research report explaining how and why we created these tools.
What knowledge or skills you gained in the first two years in FM are you using now, if any?
In general, AMFI’s education provides us with a very broad set of useful skills. We get a good foundation in textile technology, and we also understand finance and know how to actually make a garment (not to be underestimated!). Here in China we have learned to connect all of these subjects and understand that fashion production is not just about seam types and production lines but also about people management and the environment. Next to that we do fabric sourcing for our company’s customers – so our textile knowledge comes in very handy when navigating the biggest market for fabric in the world.
Do you speak any Chinese now? How did you learn?
Well… a little bit. We started learning Mandarin in our second year at AMFI, when we followed the Mandarin course offered by AMFI and PolyU in Amsterdam. This was a very nice experience and has given us a good foundation for the International Production Programme, because during the first four weeks in Hong Kong we continued our Mandarin lessons at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Especially since we are located in China now, people really appreciate that we at least try to talk to them in their own language. It makes people smile… or they might just laugh at us – either way it makes them happy ;-).
What other things did you do to prepare for your programme?
China is a hard country to get into and it is time consuming to get the right visa, housing, find a company and manage all the other organisational aspects. We needed a substantial investment of time and money. Next to that we tried to get to know more about China and Chinese culture by reading articles or watching documentaries or series. If you speak Dutch we recommend the series Langs de oevers van de Yangtze from VPRO.
Is there a remarkable cultural difference between China and the Netherlands? Perhaps that you didn’t expect?
There are plenty of cultural differences. Especially if you go to mainland China for the specialisation you will find many things that might seem weird compared to Hong Kong. We did prepare ourselves culturally before we went on this journey, but we still have trouble getting used to the spitting, not just on the streets but also inside shopping malls. What we did not expect was the reactions from co-workers in the office about our research. Due to us being very curious and asking many questions, some ‘joked’ that we were detectives spying on the company. We’re working on that.
You’ve taken some classes at PolyU. What classes? And what was it like/how was it different from what you were used to at AMFI?
At PolyU we followed the Chinese Language and Chinese Culture courses, which gave us a lot of perspective historically and in a contemporary sense. On top of that it was a great experience to have studied at such a big university for a while. The campus is a lot bigger than the Amstelcampus and there was always something happening. Besides great and super cheap places to eat, bands were playing at lunchtime or there were career fairs to connect students to possible employers (with fashion conglomerates like Kering, LVMH and Inditex). Overall PolyU has a great vibe and lots of opportunities for students to enjoy their time studying.
Do you have any personal time to travel, for example in the weekend? If so, where have you gone so far that you liked the best?
We have had some cultural days yes, visiting temples such as the Dafo Buddhist Temple or the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall and doing hikes at Luofu Mountain. The most interesting however has been attending a Chinese wedding banquet! One of our colleagues got married and invited us. It was really cool and there was tons of good food, heartfelt toasts and beautiful traditional Chinese dresses.
What’s the funniest (or most ironic) thing that happened to you so far?
There are so many small funny things happening every day actually, so be prepared to have a fun time whenever visiting China. One time our local supermarket was closed for renovation and when we walked in for the first time after reopening we burst into laughter because above the shelves with alcohol was a funny-sounding reminder.
What kind of role do you see for yourselves in the industry after graduation?
We both aim to work as product developers or production managers somewhere in Europe. After graduating from AMFI, Meritt plans to start working and Carolina might first pursue a master’s degree. But for now we focus on successfully finishing this specialisation and making the most of it, which will help us no matter the future career we will have.
Do you have any advice for students thinking about this programme?
Realise that in China communication is going to be difficult, it’s likely that you’ll need to be flexible and adapt your plans, and that everything takes longer. Once you get here, take part in local culture, be genuinely interested and open-minded!