Further education

Becoming a Professional Fashion Designer

Become a Professional Fashion Designer

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Fashion is a "glamorous" industry that many find attractive, resulting in much competition for places on fashion courses. Before applying, research the type of course that will suit you best. The aim of a university course is to make your training as relevant as possible to a job in the fashion industry, so the correct course choice at this stage is vital. It is no longer as simple as choosing to study "fashion"; courses with similar-sounding titles vary considerably. Fashion design and garment construction dominate many degree courses, but fashion illustration and promotion are also often key areas. The following list demonstrates the variety of fashion-degree courses offered:

Costume Design

• Fashion Accessories

• Fashion Brand Promotion and Journalism

• Fashion Design

• Fashion Design with Business Studies

• Fashion Design with Retail Management

• Fashion Enterprise

• Fashion Promotion and Illustration

• Fashion Photography

• Fashion Knitwear

• Product Development for the Fashion Industry

When you have narrowed your field, a good starting point is to search the Internet for possible study locations. Most institutions offer a prospectus that you can order online or by telephone. Prospectuses and brochures are the marketing tools that universities and colleges use to sell their courses to you. They provide a wealth of information about course outlines, educational procedures, university location and success rates. Many prospectuses also include student opinions about what it is like to study at the university, and information about social activities and nightlife. Some cities hold annual careers fairs in large exhibition centres, packed with stands from major institutions offering art and design courses. Visiting such an event is an ideal opportunity to talk to members of staff and collect prospectuses.

The next step, and probably the most important in the decision-making process, is to visit the institutions that you are interested in. Attend their open days, taking the following checklist with you on the visit and noting the answers to help you decide on your future.

• What is it like to be a student at the institution? •What is the structure of the course?

•What proportion of the course is dedicated to written work and contextual studies?

• Is there up-to-date machinery, technology and facilities?

•What are the studio and workshop hours?

• Are the staff team skilled and inspiring?

• What is the student-to-staff ratio?

• Are there links with other departments?

• Are there links with industry?

• Are study visits organized to major cities at home and abroad?

• Where is the degree show held?

• What have previous graduates from the institution achieved?

• Which key elements will the interviewer be looking for in a portfolio?

• How many candidates applied last year?

• Do 1 like the location and atmosphere of the institution? Is its surrounding area somewhere I would enjoy living? Is there student accommodation? What are the opportunities for socializing?

With all your queries answered and the decision made, it is time for your university selection interview. Try not think of this as a terrifying ordeal, but as an opportunity to impress. Practise your interview technique beforehand. Ask a tutor to set up mock interviews, or get your family to test you with suitable questions. Interviewing differs greatly from one institution to another. Some review portfolios before deciding whether to interview a student, while others ask you to bring your portfolio to the interview and dedicate time to the questioning and answering process. Questions vary, too, so prepare answers on a wide range of subjects. Remember that questions arc not meant to trick you, but are asked to discover more about you. The interview is not an examination, so there are no right or wrong answers. Before making a selection, the interviewer wants to learn about your personality and your commitment. The following list shows a small range of questions that you may be asked at interview:

•Why have you chosen this course?

• Why do you want to study in ... (name of town or city)?

•Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

• Have you completed any work experience?

• Which is your strongest piece of work and why? •Which fashion designers do you admire?

• Which fashion illustrators inspire you?

• What do you like/dislike about the fashion industry? •Which is your favourite high-street retailer?

• Which television programmes do you enjoy watching? •What are you reading at the moment?

• What is your favourite piece of clothing and why?

• Which magazines do you read?

• What was the last exhibition you saw?

• What do you like best about your personality?

• Do you have any weaknesses?

• What is your greatest achievement to date?

Another issue for students attending a fashion-based interview is what to wear. Selecting the right outfit is difficult if you are worried about the scrutiny of the interviewer. It is fair to say that the i titer viewer's main objective is to scrutinize your work rather than your dress, but a little effort in this area will not go unnoticed. Choose something you feel comfortable wearing—your clothes should reflect your personality. Don't try to be someone you are not just to impress. It can be a good idea to wear a garment or accessory that you have made yourself to underline your creativity.

Most importantly when attending interviews at this level, remain calm and confident. Think about the questions carefully and answer with considered sentences. Your main aim is to make the interviewer think ihey would be making a mistake if they were to reject you. Believe in yourself and others will believe in you.

the big wide world

Many students embark on their education as a clear route to a career, while for others it is more of a personal challenge—they enjoy a subject, such as fashion, and want to develop their work as far as possible. After many years of study, and probably a great deal of expense, you are no longer a student but a graduate ready to enter the big wide world. At this stage, you will probably ask yourself: "Mow do I decide what to do next?"

There will be many others in a similar position when you leave the safety of the study environment. Most courses showcase graduate work in annual, specialized graduate exhibitions attended by members of the fashion industry and the press. This is a wonderful opportunity for graduates to network and establish contacts for possible future employment. It is also a chance to receive feedback about your work and observe the work of others. Fashion scouts visit these events to hunt for emerging talent, so label your work clearly with your name and contact details. Printing memorable postcards or business cards for possible employers to take away is worthwhile to try to ensure you make a lasting impression.

A degree course is not the only route to a career in fashion illustration. Many people become self-taught illustrators or attend night classes to gain extra artistic skills to build a suitable portfolio. To succeed in this way, you need to be committed and passionate about your future. You should network actively and sell yourself, as you will not have the support of an educational establishment. This is probably a slightly tougher journey, but not an impossible one if you are dedicated.

Many jobs in the creative field are not advertised, but found through personal contacts, networking or by approaching an employer directly with a curriculum vitae. If you are seeking employment, you need to sell yourself. Just like in the university selection interview, encourage employers to think they will be making a mistake if they do not hire you. Conduct a thorough and organized search for an appropriate job vacancy, attending careers fairs and consulting websites, national, regional and local newspapers, industry-specific journals and publications, job centres and, most importantly, specialist fashion-recruitment agencies. listed on page 199 are some useful addresses giving information on finding employment.

Self-employment, or freelancing, is another avenue to explore. Many fashion illustrators work on a freelance basis, being employed for a specific job then moving on to the next when that is complete. For an illustrator, this is an excellent way to build a diverse portfolio with a varied range of clients. You need to be highly motivated to work in this way, and may require an agent to help promote your skills.

Postgraduate study is an opportunity to further your education, Many graduates return to college or university to continue studying the subject ihey enjoy, or to gain higher-level training and qualifications to increase their employment opportunities. This is a costly process so, before applying, find out about any available funding such as scholarships. Postgraduate study can be undertaken at any time. Some employers may fund your study on a part-time basis if your new qualifications and skills will also be advantageous to them.

Graduate Fashion Week Stands
A stand at London Graduate Fashion week-an annual event showcasing the work of fashion graduates.

Residencies offer an income and work space in return for producing a work of art that meets a particular brief. Clients can range from schools, hospitals, galleries and community spaces to industrial and commercial settings. Becoming a resident at an appropriate location is an excellent way to gain experience and enhance your development as an artist.

Taking time out to travel in between graduating and joining the workforce can also be a valuable learning experience, giving you inspiration and confidence. Travel with a camera, sketchbook and diary to record different cultures and lifestyles. When you return to the job market, you will be competing against a new set of graduates, so use your travelling observations to demonstrate the connection between this experience and your work.

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