It’s time we stopped dismissing Fashion as ‘easy’- it’s cut-throat, competitive and draining

Fashion students shouldn’t have to defend their degree

Whatever you think about the fashion industry, there’s no denying its significance. The global textile and garment industry is currently worth nearly £2412 trillion, it contributes to our global economy and accounts for two percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. According to the British Fashion Council, the fashion industry’s contribution to the British economy is an estimated £26bn – that’s twice the size of the car industry’s and nearly as big as the contribution from housing.  It’s a really important part of the services sector that makes up around four-fifths of the economy – so why do people still refuse to take it seriously?

Fashion Degrees are never easy. They’re highly competitive, the hours are long, the workload is immense and the pressure is always on. But still, people joke about how “pointless”or “easy” it is, or that it’s a “waste of a degree.” Even students who made it through the gruelling process of getting into top schools like London College of Fashion or St Martins will find themselves defending their choices to people who just don’t get it.

I spoke to students and graduates from some of the top Fashion courses in the UK about the misconceptions of their degree.

It’s so competitive

We all know the fashion industry is competitive, which means getting a relevant education can really help. Willie Walters, BA course director at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins told Business of Fashion: “The difference now is that there are so many more people trying for places that, frankly, three quarters of the people that I would have given a place to 20 years ago, I am not able to give places to today.” With the amount of people applying, it’s extremely difficult to secure a place.

Just because it’s not conventionally academic, it’s still mentally draining 

As a Fashion student, you’ll be used to having to defend your choice of degree to friends and family. You’ll often be met with patronising smirks, eye rolls and a sense of superiority from people studying more conventionally academic subjects. “Fashion is often dismissed by a lot of people”, Jo, who studied Fashion and Textiles told me. “Unless people know someone well who has done a similar degree, they don’t think it’s a ‘proper’ subject because it’s not conventionally academic. Just because it’s a different type of work, that doesn’t make it easy.”

The hours are longer than most subjects – 18 hour days aren’t unusual

Because the workload is huge and lots of practical work is involved, fashion students spend most of their days (and nights) working.

During deadline season, 18 hour days aren’t unusual. Sam O’Sullivan, who’s in his third year studying Fashion Design at UWE, often works from 6am until 12am the next morning. He told me: “In a normal week i would say building up to deadlines we easily work up to or above 100 hours”, he told me, “the cleaners normally have to let me in every morning!”

“Every day is a long one. Depending on where I am on my collection, I could be sewing from 6/7:00ish up until when the sewing rooms shut at 9:00pm. Then, I move to the library to work on digital files / sketchbook work till 12:00am.”

Jo told me: “I lived in a house with five other people who studied more conventionally academic subjects, and I definitely spent more time at uni and working at home than they did.”

The work has no cut off point, so there’s always more you can do

It’s not necessarily about set hours for when you should be in uni, but the nature of the type of work they’re doing. Unlike an essay where you have a word count, or revision where you have certain pages to memories – practical work has no real end point.

“No matter how much work you do, there is always extra stuff to be done,” Kat, a London College of Fashion graduate told me. “We really did work ourselves silly, doing all-nighters for every project, not even because we were behind but because there’s always more you can do.”

You’re constantly under pressure 

This mentality of ‘there’s no such thing as too much work’, on top of long hours and the hugely competitive nature of the industry can get quite overwhelming. LCF grad Kat told me: “I think the worst part is that the universities condone us overworking ourselves, because ‘well that’s what the industry is like’ and it feels like if you can’t hack the pressures of university, then you can’t handle the industry you’ve been training to get into.”

“There’s a lot of stress during the course” said Jo,  “even though you’re doing something that you really enjoy, but having a lot of friends on the course is really great as you all understand the pressures and stress and you can you all work together and support each other.”

Sophie, who’s doing an MA in Fashion Design at one of the most competitive fashion schools in London has been under massive pressure. “The tutors can be really mean, they literally scream at their students sometimes,” she told me. “Some of the designers are getting so ill because they barely have time to eat – and the tutors seem to offer nothing but criticism for the sake of criticism a lot of the time.” While she says her tutor isn’t bad, a similar course at the uni has a 20-30 per cent drop out rate, because “people just can’t take the pressure!”

Which in turn means Fashion students become resilient and thick-skinned

Sam feels the pressure is something you just have to accept in the fashion industry. “Our tutors push us to be the best that we can possibly be , which teaches us the way we would be treated in industry to some degree.” To be successful, he feels, is to learn to take critical feedback well, “If you’re thicker skinned you can take things well, and realise that they are helping you.” But this isn’t easy, he admits, “sometimes when people take things too far, it’s hard to not take it to heart. It’s easy to feel down when you put everything into your work to have it knocked down with one nasty comment.”

The course has a lot of hidden costs

Despite funding, the cost of buying your own resources can put huge pressure on Fashion students. “It was extremely expensive,” said Jo, “I would spend hundreds and hundreds on materials and resources to complete the course over the years.” Most students depend on part-time jobs on evenings and weekends to cover costs, which can be a struggle with the heavy workload.

But if you can stick it out, it’s worth the stress

“I’m still not over the hype of studying at one of the best fashion schools in the world,” Sophie told me, “Even walking into the uni, it’s always so inspiring. It’s a massive space and There’s always something going on in the centre of the empty space like an exhibition or drama performance. So the atmosphere is always buzzing and there’s a lot of energy.”

For Sam, all the hard work is completely worth it, “You’ve got to sacrifice a lot to get this far but if you love what you do, the sleepless nights and everything you give up is completely worth it. The opportunities that you’re given at fashion school really prepare you for industry work, especially if you go on to win internships or have your work show cased. I wouldn’t second guess it.”