Right here, right now

It’s time to celebrate women with inner strength. An extraordinary mind can be discovered in every woman we know.

From London to Hongkong and Saigon, Julia has inspired many young people to find their confidence and develop their skills.

Here, she shares her fashion sense, memorable impression of the people and cultures from Europe to Asia and also The Middle East, and her life-changing moments

Hello Julia, what brings you to Vietnam?

I had visited RMIT Vietnam a couple of times for events and was very impressed with the fashion work and the team delivering the programme. I also loved HCMC so when I heard that they were looking for a discipline lead for the fashion area I applied and got the job. I felt that there was a real opportunity here to make a difference, working with a developing industry in a fast-growing environment where there are a lot of opportunities for young people to get into fashion.

Can you share with us your favourite spots in town?

I have already found some favorite spots like Prem bistro in District 3. I am a vegetarian and they do the best vegetarian food. Tram Cafe in Phú Nhuận District because the setting is magical and I love Koi fish; they have the most amazing collection.

The crescent lake in D7 where I live, I love to watch people here and there are lots of dogs. I miss my french bulldog Barney who is now back in the UK with my son. The Crescent is also where I go to the Centuryon gym and work out with Kelly my personal trainer; and I take painting classes with the lovely Ms Thao at Erato Studio.

You shared that you have passion for travelling. What are the most memorable places and the best feelings in the world for you?

I have been lucky to travel extensively in my work and to visit some places I would never have been to otherwise. Some of the most memorable are Uzbekistan, Syria and Bangladesh. Uzbekistan was memorable for the amazing hospitality of the people and the rich mixture of cultures that have influenced their textiles.

I think my favorite city is Istanbul, it is a crossroads between east and west with amazing architecture, fabulous food and I love the markets; especially the ceramics which are so colourful.

How do you dress for everyday and on vacations? Does your fashion style express your personality?

I would describe my style as smart casual, I wear a lot of black and white and add a splash of colour such as red or pink through my accessories.

I like classics with a bit of a twist, I also look for good quality and try to support local designers/ businesses. I never buy anything just for the logo, in fact I own very few big brand names. I do own some McQueen scarves but that is because I love the prints and the quality of the silk. I think of my clothing in terms of pay per wear. I am willing to spend a lot on something if I know that I will wear it often and it is classic that will last a few seasons. I also like to think in terms of sustainability, I don’t like throwaway fashion and I always try to pass on my clothes or recycle them when I know longer want or need them.

On holiday I pack the bare minimum I try to just take cabin baggage as I have had experience of losing my luggage more than once. I love to swim so a selection of bathing suits and beach wraps are essential otherwise it shorts t-shirts and one or two loose cool dresses;I look for things that will not crease easily.

What kind of clothing and accessories do you feel connected with? What special about it?

I have some items in my wardrobe that I have had for many years and I still wear them; a black jacket with chinese embroidery is one example. I bought it in 2005 and people still comment on it when I wear it. The other is a pleated silk evening dress that was designed by a friend of mine Tonia Bastyn. I love her clothes; she really understands what women like to wear and the cuts are always interesting. I have worn the dress to many special occasions and parties so it has a lot of memories attached to it.

Looking how you enjoy wearing your clothes right now, what are the stories behind them?

The blue dress I bought from a local brand Bunga, I had the sleeves altered to suit my style, I love the cut and it is very well made. The white shirt is from Shanghai Tang a well-known brand in Hong Kong where I used to live , this was given to me by a friend because it didn’t fit her anymore. I like to recycle clothes and often swap things with friends. I love the simplicity of the cut and the lovely knot button detail. The chinos are from Marks and Spencer; they have been making this style for some time and I have bought them in navy, black and cream. I find it difficult to find trousers that fit well and work with the weather here; these are perfect and good quality.

How would you make your clothes matched with?

I commissioned a tailor here in HCMC to make a shirt from some beautiful red silk that I found in a store in District 1 . The colour is stunning and it has a Chinese motif woven into the fabric that is subtle but pretty. I can dress it up for an evening with silk pants or down for daywear with jeans. I have a pair of red tassled earrings with Chinese knots that go perfectly with it. People always comment on it when I wear it and it is extremely comfortable.

Could you share about your decision to become a lecturer, especially in major of fashion?

I studied a BA in fashion and textiles and then went on to a Masters Degree at the Royal College of Art in London. I started to teach part-time whilst designing my own knitwear label and doing freelance work. After doing part-time teaching alongside my own work for a while I was offered a full-time job managing a National Diploma Course. By this time I had my daughter and teaching fitted better with my family life. I found that I loved teaching and so I studied for a Doctorate in Education at Surrey University. I worked at Croydon College for 11 years running the fashion area and then moved on to London College of Fashion where I stayed for 18 years in several roles. My last role was as Associate Dean of the School of Design and Technology. I worked on a lot of International projects whilst at LCF and that work gave me the motivation to move to Asia. Before joining RMIT in Vietnam I worked at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Most universities are looking for lecturers with a combination of industry experience and qualifications, it is becoming more difficult to get into higher education as a lecturer as a lot of universities now require a doctoral degree.

What are you most passionate about your work?

I love watching the students develop their skills and confidence. As a teacher I want to ensure that the students get the best experience that I can give them and to prepare them for the reality of the industry that they are entering. I love working with clothes and textiles but I am also passionate about changing the wastefulness that goes on within the fashion industry. I try to teach my students to make conscious decisions about the materials and processes that they use.

How does your everyday look like?

I get up at 5:30 do the plank exercise for as long as I can hold (current record is 8 mins) then I go down to the pool do 600 jump ropes and 20 lengths. After my workout I feed my pet guinea pigs and let them have a run around while I have breakfast. At 08:00 I head out to work on my lovely refurbished Honda Cub scooter.

If it is a teaching day then I will normally have a class at 09:00- 12:00. I grab a quick lunch in the staff canteen where I catch up with colleagues. The afternoon will usually be a mixture of meetings and administration or an industry visit. We try to work closely with industry to provide the students with authentic projects and activities.To be honest no two days are the same which is what I love about my work. I get to meet people from all over the world and in different areas of the industry from manufacture to media.

In the evenings there are often work-related social events to attend or I will go to the gym for a training session or yoga. I usually attempt the Guardian Cryptic Crossword before going to bed, it helps me to relax and also trains your brain to think laterally.

Have you ever been through a life-changing moment. How was that experience?

I have recently been through two life-changing events. The first was the end of my marriage of 28 years and the second was discovering that I had breast cancer. I view both of these events as positive influences. Being single again has enabled me to travel, meet a lot of new people and make new friends and also to spend more time doing the things I enjoy like painting and hiking.

Having cancer changed my attitude to life, I realised that I spent a lot of time worrying about things that were really not that significant. It has made me appreciate everything that I have and made me more adventurous. I am now a much happier person then I was before the diagnosis. It has been treated and my prognosis is good so I intend to enjoy life and have more adventures, the next one will be becoming a grandmother in September.

Which people or books have had the most influence on your growth and why?

My mother has been the main influence on my life; she brought up three children on her own whilst running a photography business. She is now 81 and has a number of health issues but still spends time doing things to help others like knitting hats for charity. She never complains and is always there with some sensible advice or a kind word when needed.

The book that had the most influence is “The Creative License” by Danny Gregory, I read it at a time when I was no longer doing the things that gave me joy because of my workload at that time. After reading this book I began to draw and paint again. Painting is my therapy, whenever I get stressed I pick up a brush and start painting.

How would painting be part of your daily life?

My paintings are mostly figurative and inspired by nature and my love of colour. Usually I paint animals, flowers and landscapes that have a meaning for me. I have a painting of my dog Barney hanging in my lounge; it is a fantasy piece where he is floating on a lily pad, it combines several of my favourite things, water lilies, koi carp and a dragonfly. I am just starting my first attempt at a portrait of my daughter, I miss my kids who still live in the UK and painting them is a way of feeling connected.

Besides painting, what do you do in leisure time?

Painting and designing and making jewellery are my two main hobbies. I started painting about 5 years ago; I started with watercolours but now also work in oils and acrylics. I started making jewellery about the same time. I work mostly in silver with semi-precious stones but recently designed and made an engagement ring for my son. Fortunately, his fiancee loves it and I was really flattered that he trusted me with such an important commission.


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