When Stephen Smith was young, he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker, but with A-levels in science, he found he couldn’t get a place at the film schools he was interested in. Instead of giving up, he found an unconventional solution.
“I found a university where I wanted to do film and I convinced the course leader that if I started doing chemistry in year one, and his course at the same time, that he would then let me on to his programme.” Unsurprisingly, with this kind of drive, Smith made it work and was soon studying for the film degree he’d wanted from the start. “I see that as being quite entrepreneurial,” he says, looking back. “The idea of finding solutions around problems was there pretty early on.”
Smith built an initial career in film production before joining academia, which has been his focus for the past 30 years and has most recently led to him co-founding fashion academy JCA in London alongside fashion designer Jimmy Choo.
The academy opened its doors in 2021, and while its courses are accredited by the University of West London, its approach is different from a typical university in a number of key ways. Most significantly is an emphasis on teaching design practice in tandem with how to run a design business. “Our approach was to create an academy that has only one single focus and that is supporting a specific outcome, which is that of an independent fashion designer,” explains Smith.