Former British prime minister Tony Blair and Arcadia retailer Sir Philip Green were just some of the A-listers who turned out to mark the 10th anniversary of the Fashion Retail Academy last night. The academy, which was set up during Blair’s government, is a vocational school for aspiring buyers, merchandisers and graphic designers.
“When Sir Philip came to meet me at Number 10 to discuss his vision he wanted to create something that was not a school but an academy,” said Blair of his initial rendezvous with the Topshop tycoon. “Somewhere that valued and taught to the best degree and maximised young people’s potential,” he added. “Our country is a leader in design and creativity and the Fashion Retail Academy has helped nurture its students and excite them about future possibilities.” Over the last ten years, the academy has helped over 5000 students, 90% of who are currently in employment across the fields of fashion retail, merchandising, buying and graphic design. At its opening a decade ago, the academy was backed by founding partners Marks & Spencer, Next, Tesco and Arcadia, as well as data firm Experian. Today, over 100 retailers support the initiative, including former M&S boss Lord Rose and his successor Marc Bolland, Harrods chief executive Michael Ward, Tesco commercial director Jason Tarry and Boohoo founder Mahmud Kamani, who were all in attendance at the ceremony last night.
“Ten years have gone by in a flash and I would like to thank the founding partners for helping me bring my vision to life,” said Green, who spoke during the two-hour ceremony at London’s Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden. “We have been fortunate to have been able to provide endless opportunities and are very proud our 90% employment rate over 10 years for our level-four students.” The businessman, who admits that he gets a great rush from finding “somebody who’s 18 and has a great eye and gets it, but who needs to be educated and taught how to buy and how the machine works,” initially didn’t want any interference from politicians for the realisation of his scheme, but admits that things have since worked out quite favourably. He also took last night as the chance to announce the launch of a £100,000 seed capital fund to provide backing for students with good entrepreneurial ideas.