It’s well known that Lesley Mobo got his degree (Fashion Design Womenswear), with honors, at London’s Central Saint Martins. But not many know that while taking his master’s, the same prestigious school sent him his walking papers because he hadn’t been attending classes.
At the time, the Aklan-born Mobo was already working as chief designer of Harrods’ in-house label Jasmine di Milo, the job that became the very reason for his absences.
“Wasn’t that exactly what the school wanted for its students—an experience in an actual work setting?” Mobo said in retrospect.
He barely escaped getting kicked out. He pitched an idea that was eventually sold to a famous American designer. “I believe that’s what saved me,” he said.
Mobo shared this story with a laugh to explain why he’s now setting up a fashion school where “students don’t have to come in every day—as long as they do the projects.”
“I hated [formal] education myself!” said the London-based designer, who eventually earned his master’s in 2004.
In August, Mobo and his partners will welcome the first batch of students of Meridian International (MINT) School of Fashion, an offshoot of the alternative and progressive MINT College in McKinley Hill, Taguig, which specializes in business, arts and technology courses.
Mobo designed the curriculum, a nontraditional teaching program—at least by local standards—which means instruction is not on a blackboard, but is project-based.
MINT’s are degree programs, and year one is devoted to what Mobo calls the “diagnostic stage,” where instructors will determine the student’s strengths and passions, which will point to his/her major or specialization.
MINT will run traditional fashion programs such as women’s and men’s wear, as well as photography and makeup, but also social media for fashion, digital fashion, and the like —outgrowths and needs of the current job market.
The school won’t be teaching technical skills like cutting or sewing, Mobo clarified, reacting to the hubbub created by the news of his school, since another fashion designer, Jojie Lloren, also recently set up one, called FAB Creatives.
MINT is complementary to Lloren’s and other existing technical fashion schools here, Mobo said. (Mobo gave a lecture at FAB on this visit.)
MINT wants to focus on helping with students’ ideas for business and startups, not just for design but also for new retail concepts.
“We want to teach them to work from the ground up, like an incubator, to train them to be competitive on the international scene,” he said.
“Otherwise, it’s all very boring. It’s all fashion shows. No one’s really coming up with a new retail experience… I noticed here, young people want to get into fashion because they want to dress up stars and celebrities, gustong sumikat. They want to get into fashion only because of the popularity and profile of fashion. We want to screen people so we get the startups we want to fund,” something similar to what the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund does, he added.
For its scholarship grant program, MINT is partnering with Red Charity Gala to raise funds for scholarships for talented and deserving students, not just those based in the cities but also those from the barrios and provinces.
This Mobo feels strongly about since, as he likes to remind people, he also comes from the province. “I want talented people, not just those na may pera lang,” he said.
Mobo knows it’s a highly ambitious proposition. But he has been in countless, seemingly insurmountable positions before. It was sheer ambition that propelled him to where he is today.
His is an oft-repeated story that doesn’t lose its impact with each retelling.
He left the country years ago, crushed after winning in a local design tilt where he would have represented the country abroad, but was later disqualified on a technicality.
His family pooled its meager resources to send him to the United Kingdom to chase his dreams.
Apart from Harrods, his impressive resumé includes collaborations with Uniqlo, Diesel and Absolut, as well as having had his namesake label.
After his father passed away three years ago, an episode that had a profound effect on him, Mobo began coming home more often to spend time with his mother, scaling back on his lucrative consultancy work with private equities.
“I really like spending time with my family, that’s why I’m here every two months. Now I just want to do work with a good purpose.”
While he won’t be teaching in the classroom, Mobo will mentor students on threshing out their ideas.
“We don’t want to focus on the profile of the faculty, because what we want to sell is the concept,” he said, while conceding it was also necessary to lend his name to raise the school’s profile. “We want to bring in people from abroad because they have some specialties that we don’t have here. This will all depend on what kind of students we’ll get, and what we’ll need.”
Mobo has no official job title at MINT, which he prefers. “[Titles] are not forward-looking,” he said with a grimace.
MINT College was set up in 2011, and its creative and nontraditional teaching method has been a trailblazer since it hooks up students with industry professionals even while they’re still in school.
With the fashion school, which starts in August, MINT executive vice president Hendrik Kiamzon said Mobo is the “perfect partner” owing to his vast experience in global fashion.
“These kids now, you’ve got to bring the goods, have the street cred, when you’re teaching them,” Kiamzon said.
Owing to the current climate in global fashion retail, Mobo believes it’s crucial to have a teaching institution with a concept as liberal as MINT’s.
“Fashion right now wants new ideas all the time, experimentation, innovation. This is what we need, nothing rigid,” he said.
MINT College is at 1030 Campus Avenue, 2/F CIP Building, McKinley Hill, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Call 5519655/51, 0995-1416411, 0929-5774222. E-mail