Karen Outram possesses a fascinating insight into many facets of the global fashion industry.
Her career launched 20 years ago with a contract at the prestigious London costumiers Angels And Bermans. Plucked from 900 applicants, the Manchester Metropolitan University graduate thoroughly enjoyed her time at the costume house, which she describes as a “six-storey wardrobe”; providing costumes for Oscar-winning films and high-profile theatre productions was all in a day’s work.
It proved to be an excellent grounding for a diverse and fascinating career in the fashion industry.
“I’ve always been very driven,” says Karen. “I knew I wanted to work in fashion from a young age.”
She went on to work all over the world with international brands including TopShop, John Lewis, House Of Fraser, Reebok, Speedo, Canterbury Of New Zealand, Joe Bloggs, Tesco, Harrods, Hamley’s, Claire’s Accessories and Sainsbury’s.
The first half of Karen’s career was design-based – she was Joe Bloggs’ Manchester design manager and held a design role with Reebok in which she visited the world’s trade shows to monitor changing trends.
She then moved into product development and the business side of the industry, roles for which she needed technical as well as design expertise as she worked with factories around the world to get apparel produced.
Her most recent role, managing accounts for many of the above-mentioned high street names was a high-pressure, seven-day-a-week job that she describes as “well-paid and very stimulating”.
“There was a definite thrill about it,” she says. “I was responsible for coming up with new ranges, going to see buyers and work with overseas factories to try to hit price points. It’s been very interesting to see new fashion economies emerging, with the advent of China and India developing as competitive world economies.”
She also has experience of running her own fashion businesses, selling men’s streetwear into Japan and is looking into developing a business selling a line of leather accessories.
All of which means she is uniquely placed to offer a rounded insight into the world of fashion.
Karen began teaching BA (Hons) Applied Creative Design: Fashion and BA (Hons) Fashion Marketing: Retail at Harrogate in March 2012. Recently, she also moved into a maternity cover role teaching Applied Creative Design: Fashion at Hull School Of Art and Design.
Karen is currently completing her PGCE, after which she intends to complete an MA in CAD, focusing on digital fashion and textile conceptual design. She is also keen to develop a research interest in the global impact of emerging economies, particularly with a view to the Chinese work ethic and culture and its development in the worldwide marketplace.
All her students benefit from an enviable raft of industry contacts and are currently involved in a project with Speedo.
“My hope is that this will become a springboard for students,” says Karen. “The project is partly design-oriented for the fashion design students and partly marketing-oriented, focusing on business and statistics with the Harrogate students.”
She plans to introduce more live client projects in the near future as she believes this “real-world”, pragmatic approach is vital if her students are to graduate with a worthwhile understanding of the industry.
“It really inspires students if you can give them professional projects to work on,” she says. “If I feel any of my students aren’t putting their heart and soul into it, I’m quite forthright about it. They need to be professional, even at undergraduate stage and getting industry speakers in really underpins that message. I’m striving to make my teaching relevant and real – to give students creative freedom while also giving them a realistic view of what employers want.”