Anna Wintour‘s bubble-bursting advice to fashion students last week, got me thinking about the huge gap between fashion aspirants and the fashion industry, especially in India which is booming at this very moment. Old is making way for the new, sensibilities are shifting and fashion schools are churning out ‘designers’ by the dozen. But nobody is talking about the intense journey ahead from student to professional.
I graduated from design school 6 years ago, since then I’ve done everything from designing clothes, to jewellery to coffee machines – I’ve worked with the best in the business, absorbed everything they have to offer and learned things that no school or career counsellor will tell you. Though I’m still ‘learning’, I’d like to share some life lessons I’ve picked up along the way. Here are 10 things you should know about before you get into the fashion game (and a few completely irrelevant gifs to lighten the mood):
Films like ‘Fashion’ have represented a topical (almost false) image, leaving audiences misinformed about the true workings of the industry. A lot of people believe that all fashion people do is wear fancy clothes, hang out on the VIP list and party till our livers explode. What nobody knows is, before the parties come months of hard work, sleepless nights and tears (a lot of tears). When I worked as a design assistant, I wore only functional clothes (Dior can’t survive Noida workshops), slept not more that 3 hours a night and had my first break of the season only once the last outfit came off the runway.
In an industry that does not stop reinventing itself, its crucial that you move at par (or faster). An awesome design is of no use if you can’t create it or worse sell it. To make it possible you need access to the right people – suppliers, manufacturers, sales agents, retailers, stylists and magazines. At the same time, leeching onto the ‘right people’ will not get you very far. I’ve seen so many young fashion students trying to climb up the ladder without working for it. What do they achieve? An opportunity to remain an underdog for life.
Every country is overloaded commercially driven schools offering an easy degree in fashion design. It should come as no surprise that we have hundreds of mediocre fashion students passing out each year. How do you set yourself apart from the herd? Take your time in school to find that one thing you’re good at and become an expert at it. It could be anything – construction, illustration, print design, surface ornamentation, there are so many career options. Simply put, you don’t have to own a label to be a fashion designer. With the current boom, design houses are desperately looking for experts for their teams and unfortunately schools aren’t producing any.
Balenciaga- Ovoid volumes, Chanel – Tweed, Valentino – Red, Manish Arora – Colourplay, Sabyasachi – India Reinterpreted, these are the first things that immediately associate you with respective labels a.k.a Identity. Take your time in school to figure out your identity – collect things that you’re drawn towards, note common traits in your work and find what your signature style is.
Starting a label is the easy part – Sustaining it is what kills you. A fashion house needs to be constantly pumped with money in order to survive – especially in the first five years of business. The more you succeed the more money you need. Starting a label fresh out of school is the most stupid thing you can do to your career(unless you have an infinite cash pool, shrewd business acumen and the best consultants backing you). If you truly want your own label: 1.start saving ASAP 2.work for an established house 3.learn the ropes of the industry 4. Once you have enough experience and capital, dive in headfirst!
Identity and Reinvention are the Yin & Yan of fashion design. You have to maintain a fine balance upgrading your ideas each season while holding onto your identity. Don’t be hung up on old collections, consistently compete with yourself and go ahead and create something wonderful and new!
There is no such thing as ‘fashion ka jalwa’. Putting up a runway show with a dramatic ‘showstopper’ doesn’t automatically guarantee fame and success. A fashion show is nothing more than an expensive way to present your collection to retailers. The actual sales depend on pre and post show planning. You have to start small, work steady, build a strong clientele and take your line to the runway only when your company is ready to grow.
Design schools tend to overwhelm you with project work. In an attempt to meet deadlines students forget to design and spew out one sterile project after another. What they don’t realize is that at the end of 4 years they will have nothing substantial to show for themselves when they approach the industry. Don’t ditch your projects but don’t miss out on creating something exceptional while you’re at it. Bonus Tip: Pick a school based on their relationship with the industry, See point 2. Super useful when you graduate!
Project overload, tight deadlines, stiff competition, empty wallets and last minute disasters all come hand in hand with a career in fashion design. Your work will take over your life (mostly in the beginning of your career). The first thing my fashion teacher said to us in class, “You want to be a fashion designer? Say goodbye to your family, friends and lovers!” The only way you can prevent yourself from going crazy is to live a healthy and disciplined life.
I have learnt a lot from my first boss. He lived by the mantra, “Work hard and be true to yourself. If you’re honest in your work, it shows and people appreciate you for it”. Arrive on time, create quality designs, stick to deadlines, say what you really think and don’t undervalue your work – you’ll go a long way.
To sum it up, yes, the fashion industry is a brutally difficult place to be BUT nothing beats the feeling of seeing your ideas come to life and be appreciated. If this post hasn’t deterred you from wanting to be a fashion designer, good on ya! Use what you’ve just read and go ahead and make magic. We can’t wait to see what you create!
PS: Are you in fashion or trying to get into it? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences and answer questions.