In my life as a Tutor and Programme Leader in Fashion Design, I’ve often been asked the question of how important a good education actually is. I have only one answer to that: very! But what is great fashion education? What should you look for?
A good fashion school will prepare you with the necessary skills, knowledge and working processes, which you will use when you start working. It will be structured in a way, where each brick being laid builds on top of the previous one according to the level you’re at. At the beginning it will most likely start with some basic drawing and easy pattern cutting, and towards the end culminate in your own fashion collection presented as a portfolio or fashion show. This is relatively standard, and I reckon that most schools – regardless of the quality – will have structured their course this way.
But this is also where the similarities end, and below are written 5 key points to answer the question of what is great fashion education. They separate the waters of good and poor education and help navigate in an environment with endless offers.
Needless to say, the quality of the teaching is very important. I’ve always found that the best tutors in fashion were at the same time also working professionals, who had part of their everyday life inside the industry. Luckily this is relatively normal in schools of a high standard, where many of the tutors are Visiting Lectures. This means that they’re only there part time.
Sharing snippets of their own experience will be a huge benefit to the student, who will gain insight into the fashion world. The tutors can offer inside knowledge of how the fashion industry works, which will give an idea of what lies ahead. I’ve seen great results of students learning from a motivating and talented teacher, and when it’s part of a bigger program, the learning is extensive.
But of course, no matter where you study, you will most likely come across both excellent and less great teachers. Being a teacher doesn’t only come down to skills and knowledge, but also the human side of it plays a big part, as teaching is interaction between people. Therefore, no matter where you choose to study, there is no guarantee of who you will meet, but, if you choose a good school, there’s at least a guarantee that the tutors are professionally prepared to fill the role.
Having good facilities will allow you to express your ideas in different ways. Some of the facilities that are necessary for fashion design studies are pattern cutting rooms with sewing machines, irons and mannequins as well as tables for drawing. A lot of good schools furthermore offer photo studies with cameras, IT facilities with computers and advanced programs, print studios, knitting machines etc. Very often the bigger institutions with more students have more facilities, and this is a huge benefit.
Looking into the facilities is a good piece of advice, when having to decide on a school. Most of the equipment is expensive, and not something you will have at home. You will only find them in the industry, and therefore not have a chance to try working with them before landing your first job – unless you do so at school.
When you start studying, it will be hard to know, exactly what your first job and the ones following will be like, and of course you can’t prepare to know and master everything. But, as a rule of thumb, the more you know, the better you’re prepared.
Environment is everything around the studying, and here I think about both the physical space as well as the people in it. Together these two components create the environment. A supporting study environment will allow your creativity to blossom, and the best in you to come out. It will be a channel for creativity and a way to express yourself. Feeling like ‘you’re in the right place’ is the best fundament for starting to grow, as you will feel happy and motivated to do so.
The classmates you meet also play a huge part of your experience, and who they are, and the environment they create come a bit down to what the school aspires to and inspires to be. It’s a unique possibility of being with like-minded people, and I vividly remember my own experience of joining a fashion school with people, I thought were really cool. It just felt fantastic! It’s a journey of creation and expression, and you will most likely make long-lasting friendships.
Here I would strongly recommend visiting the institution to have a first-hand feel of the place and its students. In this situation, you can’t measure what is good and bad in a linear way, as you’re more looking at situations with different types of mood and vibe. It’s a big decision, and having actually seen the place is a good idea.
What a really good school also does is setting the standard very high, as it knows what’s expected in the industry. This is one of the two points, where I’ve noticed the biggest difference. I’ve seen the work of students that was so poor that you wouldn’t know, they had had any training at all, and this is very unlucky, when you have studied for years or at least a certain period.
Depending on where you go to work, your illustration skills don’t perhaps need to be outstanding, but as a fashion designer you need to know the basics. If you don’t, you’ll never get a job. If your illustration style is outdated and looks like something from 20 years ago, your chances are again very little in succeeding at an international level. Therefore, when you choose a school, make sure the level is high enough to match your future expectations of a work place.
5/ Career Service
The other crucial part of a good school is that it will help you land your first internship or job. Good schools have Career Services/Career Departments and when the big brands (which young aspiring fashion designers dream about) look for new designers, they contact the best schools. I’ve never heard of a young designer landing a job with one of the big brands without the help and support of the school. The reason is that without knowing you, employers will have a clear idea of what level you’re at, when they know where you’re studying/have studied. This is very important after graduating. If you start your working career with getting a good job, this is a very good start.
I firmly believe that a good education is an investment for life, and if you have the possibility of studying in a fantastic school, I would definitely recommend it. At the same time, I do realize that not everybody has the opportunity of joining a high-ranking fashion school, and the purpose of this article was not to kill those peoples’ hope – rather the opposite. Today, with the Internet, there are many alternative ways of learning, and The Fashion Crowd, for instance, is one of them.
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Image is of Adam Katz Sinding of Le 21ème giving a lecture on street photography during Kiev Fashion Days.