There is a lot of mystery surrounding the world of fashion. Until I started studying fashion design at uni in 2017, I was pretty oblivious to a lot of it myself. So even though I am stopping after two years to pursue a different course, I thought I would give you my honest experience on what studying fashion is really like. This is however my experience at Heriot-Watt University, so it might be different in other universities. But what I say applies to most fashion courses.
As for most university courses, there are certain entry requirements for fashion design. Some courses will require you to have taken certain subjects in your school exams, some unis expecting better grades than others. But the most important part of your application is your portfolio. Every fashion course I know requires one.
My portfolio was very mediocre. Having been in the French school system, I didn’t really have the opportunity to lean on anyone for help or advice. I genuinely did not know what a portfolio really was until starting university. From my five UCAS choices, four requested I upload my portfolio online. They all rejected my application suggesting I do a foundation year. Luckily, the year I applied was also the first year that Heriot-Watt started inviting applicants for interviews to present their portfolios.
I encourage anyone who’s wanting to apply to a course requiring a portfolio to take the time and find ressources to help you make it. Portfolios are a way for universities to see how you work and think, and more importantly if you would be a good fit for the uni. And although my portfolio wasn’t what it should have been, my interviewer gave me a chance because she saw potential in my work. So make sure your portfolio portrays your work and who you are creatively. And don’t worry if it isn’t perfect, no one’s portfolio is.
If you want to study fashion design, you should know that it can cost a lot of money – on top of the actual course fees. Depending on what university you go to and your living situation, you will have a ceratin amount of costs. But as a fashion student especially, you will be spending a lot of money on supplies: sketchbooks, pencils, glue, scissors, pins, garment bags, etc. Fabrics can be very expensive. And depending on how many garments you are making and what quality you want, you can end up spending quite a lot of money. When making their final collections in 4th Year, students spend hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.
To slightly lessen costs for students, many fashion courses have what we called “consumable fees”. These were spread out over four years of the course and covered most materials we would use in the workshop: paper, card, thread, bobbins, toile fabric and more. This does come out cheaper than having to buy all your own materials.
Having a job is a good way to cope with these extra costs. However, the work load increases a lot every year so you will not be able to work as much as the years go by. Universities even suggest not having a job at all in 4th year. That is of course not realistic and not everyone can afford to rely on family for financial support. My advice would be to work as much as you can over the summer and the holidays to give you some leverage. During the semester, you can probably squeeze in one or two shifts (depending on how long they are) per week. Just be careful not to burn yourself out. If you don’t think you would be able to work during the semester but also can’t afford not to, look into taking a year off to work and earn enough money to get you through it.
There is a lot that goes into designing garments. The courses are a mix of theory and practice, although the more you progress, the more practice there is. Design isn’t just coming up with an idea and making it into reality. It is about problem-solving, market research, trend forecasting but more importantly what clients will expect and need. However, the major part of my course was sewing. As the years go on, you have more garments to make, hence need to spend more time making them. Many people, myself included, found ourselves sewing at home, so I really recommend having your own sewing machine because you probably won’t be able to finish all your sewing in uni.
But what do you actually do? From working on a brief, gathering primary and secondary research, establishing the mood of the collection, developing hundreds of designs that match all the criteria of the brief and incorporate the research, perfecting patterns for the chosen designs, cutting out fabrics, spending tens of hours sewing and pricking your fingers with needles to make the toiles, adjusting the patterns to then cut the final fabric and nervously sew your final garments, to finally organising photoshoots for your collection and presenting all your work in different formats, there are many steps that require a lot of time and energy. You might not like all the steps (I hated pattern drafting) but having an understanding for them will be a major advantage in later jobs, where you will more than likely be working with a team instead of alone.
Another important aspect of most “creative” courses is that it is mostly self-taught. You will be taught some things and have some theory, but most of the time you have to figure things out yourself. This can be very difficult if, like me, you haven’t done a college course or anything similar before-hand. I know I relied on friends to show me the ropes, and I read books, watched tutorials and videos. Fashion design courses are so much work, yet students barely get any recognition. If you tell someone you are studying fashion design, chances are they will get this weird look on their faces. Your final work does not show the tears, blood and sweat that have gone into it – literally! So before you choose this path, do know that you will have to work your ass off without it necessarely being acknowledged.
Contrary to popular belief, there are many jobs you can do with a fashion design degree. People will go on to have their own labels, their own runway shows, maybe even at Fashion Week. However, that is only the case for a handful of people. Most students will go into design jobs at different labels and companies, all over the world.
Take a moment to look around you. Whatever you’re sitting on, the screen you are reading this on, the clothes you are wearing. Almost everything around has one thing in common: design. Every t-shirt, every pair of socks or jeans you see on the high street, every man-made object you use, was designed. Designers are everywhere and will always be needed.
You might not end up with your dream job straight out of uni. But a fashion design degree opens up many doors for different careers that aren’t necessarely related to fashion. This course will teach you time management, working under pressure, doing many tasks at once, problem-solving, critical thinking, and much more. All these are valuable skills you can use in most domains of your life. So take different opportunities, even if they aren’t exactly what you want to do, and use them as a step-stool to reach your goals and your dream job.
The fashion industry has a bad reputation, for good reasons. But things are slowly changing for the better. However, it is a very slow process. So I ask of you, please focus on the good aspects of this industry and make it better. Make ethical and sustainable choices. Even though they may seem small, they will make a difference in the long run.
Studying fashion design takes so much work, but can be very rewarding. Just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. If you are passionate about it, you will be able to get through the hard times to get to where you want to be. And sometimes, achieving your goals can happen without walking the “traditional” route. Your goals might change or you might find a new path that will bring you to where you want to be, so embrace all the opportunities you can get.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them down below or contact me here. If you want to see some of my uni work, check out my instagram! Thank you so much if you’ve read this far. I hope you have a lovely Sunday.