Fashion, Education and Finding a Job.

December 8, 2013
The latest debate raging over at Fashion156 got me thinking about fashion and the prospect of finding a job in such a competitive industry over-saturated with graduates. My two cents?
This time last Summer I was penning press releases and photographing some of the most exquisite Spring Summer knitwear known to man at Carolyn Massey‘s Hackney-based studio in London. Oh, and constantly having to explain myself  as to just why I’d spend my Summer undertaking an unpaid fashion internship when it’s Film Studies and German I’m usually nerding over at college.
Truth is, I’d done my research prior to making university applications, having asked several fashion professionals and grads of fashion-related degree courses what was the best path to a career in the industry. Some (British-based grads) told me to save spending unimaginable sums of money on makeshift vocational courses like “Fashion Communications”, “Fashion Journalism” etc.; advice I’m glad I heeded having later heard from an American friend who spent her first year at London College of Fashion (LCF) – their final project consisted solely of composing an 800-word article on a current fashion trend! 
Others recommended pursuing a general undergrad course such as English or Media/Communications to gain those coveted yet so difficultly defined “transferable skills” and time to think about just what it was I wanted to do post-education. 
fd79d stevenlawlessgraduatecollection
^ From the NCAD alumnus Steven Lawless‘ graduate collection
Then there was the odd counsel from one particular fashion journalist and freelance editor who recommended I study for a Law degree so as to ensure I’d be well versed in copyright law and capable of defending my own writing from the abusive power of crooked editors of mags and newspapers.
Now, I’ve not yet managed to actually secure a job in fashion (and even if I were to be offered one, it wouldn’t make perfect sense to leave a degree course having just completed my penultimate year) so, technically, any one of you would be fully justified in deeming it redundant but consider that opting for a general Arts/Humanities degree hasn’t prevented me from landing a part-time job in an indie boutique (the, now, sadly defunct Circus), interning with one of London’s most respected menswear designers, being offered opportunities to write for national press and it’s also not stopped me from relishing all the fun stuff either – the parties, the shows etc. which also proffer the chance to network with like-minded fashion amateurs and professionals alike.
Yes, this blog has made all that and more possible for me, but the point is – fashion just isn’t an industry that looks primarily to your third-level qualifications in order to grant you access to its upper echelons. Consider Tavi, a suburban schoolgirl who’s sat front row at major fashion weeks and is in the process of writing a book. Think, too, about some of fashion’s major players: André Leon Talley (who holds a Masters in French Studies), Nicola Formichetti (who started out studying music and architecture) and, of course, Anna Wintour (who didn’t bother with college at all, granted her network of contacts was golden).
What you need seems, at least to me, to be talent, contacts, balls and some way/one to pay the rent when you’re trying to make that all-important break. Questioning the validity of current fashion-related courses and the manner in which they are structured (that is to say, not providing students with requisite skills) seems to me to be almost entirely redundant. Fashion, just like any other creative industry, gives precedence to experience over formal qualifications and priority to personality and talent over academic prowess. 
No one graduating with a degree in English expects to automatically become an acclaimed author having completed their course. So why should it be any different for fashion? A diploma/degree equips and educates, but it is not some kind of master key to the competitive job market.

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  • Mat July 22, 2011 at 10:59 am

    i think it's contacts and enthusiasm that are the main points for me, being in a similar position as i've just graduated.i did my work ex at fashion places are i learnt some great stuff but the amount of networking to be done was untrue. i did fashion promotion, which on the surface sounds a bit meh but it was so interesting and really something i did want to study. we did photography, trend prediction, marketing, strategies, styling (wasn't that bothered about that bit), communications, advertising. it was a mixed bag and it's enhanced my graphic, brand awareness and advertising/marketing skills 10 fold. hopefully i can take these skills somewhere soon

  • xS July 22, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Nail. On. Head. I started out in the City doing a massively dull editing job (after doing a degree in French), but blogged/wrote in the evenings, and eventually networked myself in. Key points: be really nice to everyone (everyone remembers the lovely ones and the nasty ones), and enthusiasm, creativity, initiative and intuition will get you everywhere.Twitter is the key for networking at the moment; it's a great leveller for contacting people you might not know. But go and meet them – everyone likes a real person behind the avatar.Only snags – there's so little money in media, and even in my position, I don't spend the majority of my time writing/honing articles. Once you're in though, you're in.

  • xS July 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

    I forgot to add – it's worth the struggle; I bloody love what I do, which isn;t what 95% of people say about their jobs.

  • Arsheen July 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Good points Cillian. I think a lot of people who end up doing styling or merchandising courses for example, would better spend their money putting it into supporting themselves while they work for free or very little as an assistant,or buying essentials like steamers/kit bags. Like any start-up business, where you're self employed or a sole trader providing a service, you need to have some capital to start off. So if you have a day job to pay the rent or savings, I feel they're better off investing that money into yourself. Most employers in the creative industries don't look twice at your Education section on the CV. You need to be a hard worker, be organised, have a passion, and willing to put in a lot of hours and sometimes money in the beginning to start reaping the benefits later. You definitely don't learn styling in the classroom. In fact I think doing something altogether different in college like Film or Journalism or PR helps inform you better when you do end up working in fashion. That's my two cents 😉

  • Cillian July 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Mat: I hope you didn't I was entirely undermining courses like Fashion Promotion. It's just that I've heard from some friends that some of the fashion-focused degree courses aren't to the same standard as some more traditional degree pathways – that's to say in terms of work-load and standards expected etc.All the best with the job hunt!Seb:Thanks for contributing your advice! Means a lot coming from someone who's already established themselves.Arsheen:Thank you! Some great tips.C.

  • L. July 30, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    I came to the same conclusion about a year ago… at first I was kind of shocked to discover that what matters was contacts (+ your "courage to make the most of them"…) but fashion is all about competitiveness… proactiveness, hard work and dull work experience also help.A friend of mine says that if you work hard, one day karma will come back to you… ps: a like the advice of stdying Law… law is important on every field.

  • Zoë August 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    My friend studied at the LCF of fashion and her reports of the place don't fare too well. Fast forward five years and she's in glasgow studying avant garde art. I'm studying art history, with a view to break into the arts world somehow. It is really down to volunteering, a lot of unpaid work, and some not so glamorous service work to pay the bills. Right now I'm blogging as a hobby but it's a useful way to showcase your editing and writing skills, and at some stage i'll hope to utilise them. For now its less Rossetti and more waitressing. I watch your progress with a mixture of curiosity, interest and envy!