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Università della Svizzera Italiana about the success of their new Master Program

By Esther Hut


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Photo by: USI

The Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI, University of Italian Switzerland) launched their Double Degree Master Program Digital Fashion Communication in 2018 and it has been a success ever since. The first two cohorts have graduated and all students have found a job in positions that are in line with the program. Director of the Master Program Lorenzo Cantoni tells about the ins and outs of the program, the collaboration with Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and tips to sign up.

The MSc in Digital Fashion Communication was created in 2018. What made USI decide to launch this master program?

"Several considerations suggested going in this direction: both from the market as well as from within USI. From the market: there was a growing need from the fashion sector to employ people able to navigate the digital transformation, especially when it comes to communication, marketing and eCommerce. We analyzed hundreds of open positions at the time, studying which competences and know-how was requested. On the other hand, no academic program was available at the time fully focused on this issue, able to prepare the next generation of fashion communication managers."

"From within: our Institute of Digital Technologies for Communication had several opportunities to interact with the fashion domain, and we started to consider enlarging our research, development and teaching activities to focus on such sectors. Moreover, our extensive experience in the tourism domain helped us to approach fashion, they have several traits in common – both are experience economies, both are deeply connected with communication, both have close links with heritage and art. Hence, after a preparation of about two years, we launched the program."

Photo: Lorenzo Cantoni

The Digital Fashion Communication master is a double degree Master. Can you please tell something more about why it is a double degree, and what does it mean?

"It means that, when a student successfully passes all exams and other activities – e.g.: thesis and internship – receives two degrees, one from each partner university. In each diploma, the fact that it is awarded in collaboration with the other university is clearly indicated. In fact, due to the peculiarity of the French model, which distinguishes the two Master years into M1 and M2, after successfully finishing the first year, students also receive the M1 diploma from Paris1."

Together with Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne you offer the master. Why did you choose to collaborate with another school?

"There were several reasons. The extensive coverage by Parisian colleagues of cultural issues, their large network, and the role of Paris in the Fashion world have been major reasons for us to collaborate with them. Moreover, in those years Paris1 was starting a collaboration with the Institut Français de la Mode for a PhD program."

"Last, but not least, we already had several collaboration experiences with our colleagues in Paris, which made the launch of a new initiative much easier. Beside this collaboration, we have a quite structured collaboration also with the ISEM Fashion Business School of Madrid, which is part of the Navarra University."

What is the focus area in this Master? What will students learn and do throughout the years?

"As indicated in its very title, the Master focuses on the overlapping areas between the following three domains: Digital, Fashion and Communication. If we consider the courses with a focus on Digital & Communication, we could mention, for instance: Online Communication Design; Digital Challenges in Marketing and Big Data; Information Management and Retrieval; Usability and Digital Analytics; e-Commerce and Cyber Security; Augmented and Virtual Reality."

"Among the courses mostly focused on Communication & Fashion there are: Fashion Communication; Visual Fashion Communication; Argumentation in Fashion Communication; Intercultural Communication; Communication Law; Brand Management."

"Further courses provide a long-term view on Fashion and its several relationships with other domains: Examples are: Heritage, Tourism, and Fashion; Fashion Industry: A Global Perspective; Social History of Fashion and Custom."

"The issues of corporate social responsibility and sustainability within fashion are emerging ones: we decided to walk the talk having two courses on these topics already in the first semester."

"In every semester there is a course titled Digital Fashion Communication (DFC), which is taught either by the Master coordinator, dr. Nadzeya Kalbaska, or by myself: they provide a kind of fil rouge and help students understand how the different courses do fit with each other. They are: DFC: An Introduction; DFC: Conversations with Industry Experts; DFC: Social Media Communication and Fashion Blogging; DFC Lab. Study tours, elective courses and the Master thesis complete the offer. The teaching modality is highly interactive, and students work frequently in groups to develop common projects, which very often also involve industry partners."

Photo by: USI

In how many years can you finish the Master?

"The Master is a full time program, and lasts two years."

Can the program be followed online or is it taught physically at the school campus?

"Students have to attend courses in presence: the first two semesters in Lugano (Switzerland) and the third semester in Paris (France). It’s a great opportunity for them to meet each other and create their first professional network, to collaborate in a highly international environment, to enjoy the Italian and French languages and cultures, which are so fundamental in the global Fashion panorama."

"In the fourth semester, students can stay wherever they like: they are supposed to write the thesis and to do their internship. There is only one course, which is offered completely online: the DFC Lab. When lockdowns required so, we moved everything online without losing any single class hour. However, the living in-campus experience is a major plus of our program."

Can everybody sign up for the courses or do you need a certain background?

"We accept students from a wide variety of backgrounds: this is a further added value for the class: while doing group-work students learn how to look at the same object from different perspectives, and how to collaborate with colleagues with different backgrounds. The most represented backgrounds are communication, languages and social sciences; economics and management; and fashion."

How are the applications going so far?

"We had in mind a class of about 25 students, with a rich variety of study backgrounds and national origins, made of students deeply interested in the newest digital fashion communication trends, while at the same time passionate with fashion as part of culture. From the very first year we have been able to select 25 talented applicants, and we could keep this number throughout the years. This year, we have in class 34 new students, from 14 different nationalities. In fact, we received many more applications: this year we accepted about one student out of three or four applicants."

What else do we need to know about USI and its MSc Digital Fashion Communication?

"Only the first two cohorts have (almost completely) graduated, hence we do not have a long series of employment data. However, based on the available experience, all students have found immediately a job/internship in positions where they can apply what they have learned throughout their studies with us. "

Do you have any tips for future students who want to sign up for the Master program?

"Considering the high number of applications we are receiving, I would encourage them to prepare outstanding CVs and application letters, so they can stand out and be admitted."

Fashion Education
Università della Svizzera Italiana
Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne