One of only 17 black female professors in academia, Frederica Boateng, a lecturer at both the London College of Fashion and Regents University of London, is a rarity.
Keen to make the path a little less challenging for those coming after her, Frederica is also the founder of FASH:ED, a learning and support platform for fashion creatives.
Where does she find the time? We recently caught up with Frederica to find out about her journey as a woman of colour in academia breaking down barriers within education and fashion.
Melan Magazine: When did you discover your passion for fashion?
Frederica Boateng: I think it was when I got to secondary school; I liked fashion but the problem was that I hated making clothes and I hated sketching even though I enjoyed coming up with the idea of what to create, and the whole planning aspect. I subsequently found a course in fashion marketing and promotion, which was quite rare to find at college level. Because I wasn’t forced to make anything, I was really happy and for me that’s when things really kick-started in terms of having a really strong awareness of the fashion industry.
You’re a lecturer at both London College of Fashion and Regents University London, describe your path to get there?
It hasn’t been a straightforward route. When I decided that I wanted to be a lecturer, I kind of struggled because I didn’t know how to actually become a lecturer. You can’t just go online and then type in “lecturer internship”, you know, it doesn’t actually happen like that.
I ended up doing my masters in Fashion Entrepreneurship and Innovation at LCF. I had my daughter during this period as well. When she was about three months, I started the business. It was then that I actively started trying to get my foot in the lecturing door and needed some experience. So, I went around emailing people and asking universities if I could come down and be a guest lecturer. I became active on LinkedIn and it was through there that someone randomly approached me and said, “I’ve seen your LinkedIn profile. We can see what you’re doing with your business. Would you be interested in being a lecturer in Fashion Marketing”? I said yes. I was teaching for a whole academic year at the London College of Contemporary Arts, a small private University. That was an amazing experience and during the course of that, I continued to do guest lectures at other universities. So that’s how I kind of got into it, before ending up at Regents, then LCF. All through networking.
What are some of the key aspects that the course teaches students?
At LCF, the fundamental things that students need to be aware of are the business environments but also how the fashion industry operates. Although I teach fashion business and marketing courses, you also have to be aware of what’s going on in the industry fashion calendar, how manufacturing works and all these keys things, like personal professional development. There are a lot of things that students must learn in terms of preparing them for industries and so this involves a lot of guest speaking because it is good to have people in the industry come along to speak to the students.
Tell us about your business, FASH:ED, and why you set it up?
FASH:ED is an online education resource centre. I had the idea due to the lack of affordable and accessible education within the fashion industry especially when you’ve left university. Why isn’t there a platform that exists just to provide people with basic resources where you can get simple information to help you not only start and grow your business but also to help you within your career. So maybe you don’t actually want to start a business but you just want to get a job within the industry but you’re not sure how to. We wanted to create a platform that helps people through workshops and other tools. We’ve also just launched a mentoring scheme in September, our first intake begins in January. We carry out master classes, visit universities and offer online resources. It’s essentially a one stop shop for anyone that is looking for support with their business and their career.
What three qualities do you need to have if you wish to start a fashion business?
You need to have thick skin. You need to be resilient and have drive. You need to really be creative and you need to have your business hat on. Fashion is an art but it is a business when it comes down to it.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
The biggest challenge is rejection, but for me, rejection just drives me. I think it’s good because then it really encourages me to do things bigger and better and not to ever take “no” for an answer.
In 2015, a study surfaced revealing that there were only 17 black female professors across the UK. What are your thoughts on that?
Honestly, there is a lack of diversity in academia, especially in the fashion industry. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been the only black lecturer there. If you look into the study in depth, it goes further to say that there are only 15 who work on a full-time basis and that’s sad because there are a lot of people who want to be put on full time roles but they are not given this opportunity. That’s something I’ve been trying to encourage people with, to think about a career in academia because I don’t feel like the education industry represents what British education is essentially. If you look around us and if you look at the statistics, you actually find that there are a lot of ethnic minorities that go to university.
Have you any ambition to launch a fashion line?
I really love work wear, so I would definitely like to launch my own label sometime down the line. If I had to choose someone who would wear my clothes, it would be Olivia Pope from Scandal. I love her!
How do you juggle being a mum and your career?
Shout out to my mum, my dad and my husband because they are absolutely amazing. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do it, I would struggle a lot.