The Fashion Industry as a Post-Graduate

My ‘fashion’ journey began in 2014 when I started studying fashion atelier at the University of Creative Arts, Rochester, UK. It was a demanding course, but I got such enjoyment from constructing garments by hand; using patterns I had spent hundreds of hours designing and tweaking.

I eventually graduated in 2017 with 1st class honours. It was an amazing three years, working with some incredibly talented people. And best of all, it only cost £30,000, plus interest – bargain!

But it was now time to enter the world of ‘grown-ups’, and the gruelling process of job applications and online competency tests was the new norm. However, it was blindingly obvious that there was an over-supply of entry-level fashion grads, and that the big fashion brands had hundreds, if not thousands of applicants for each role. Therefore, I had no option but to turn to the world of unpaid internships.

I eventually found myself working as a pattern cutter in a London warehouse, where I would create patterns based on design sketches. There were at least 15 other graduates, who, like me, were unpaid and desperate to put their degree to good use.

The reality of the situation was clearer when the owner went on holiday for a week. I learned that every member of staff was unpaid; which included the individual who had responsibility for running the business whilst the owner was away.

But it wasn’t all bad, because now I had actual work experience on my CV – and that’s all I wanted to achieve, right? And it wasn’t long before I found myself a studio assistant role in North London.

I accepted the role without knowing it was minimum wage and zero hours. But minimum wage is a significant improvement on zero-wage. Therefore, naturally, my thought process was, ‘TAKE IT’, without giving it a second thought.

If you’re not familiar with the term zero-hours, it’s effectively a permanent unknown of how many hours you will work in any given week. It means your employer can text you at 9pm to say there is no work tomorrow, despite telling you otherwise, a few hours earlier.

In the most extreme of cases, it was receiving a call at 8.30am, saying “Stephanie, I’m so sorry but there has been a change of circumstances and I have no work for you today”. The fact I was 90 minutes through a 2-hour commute, was my problem. This was undoubtedly my post-graduation low point.

Despite this, the next few years steadily improved, and I managed to find a role as a garment technologist. It was a larger business, with around 20 employees, and I’d finally shaken off the grad ‘tag’. It was where I learned to use Gerber, which is effectively a digital pattern cutting software. The money still sucked, but the people were nice, and that makes all the difference.

I eventually moved on from the garment tech world and found a dedicated pattern cutting roles in Central London. The money finally improved, and it felt (almost) in line with other professions. And naturally, as you progress, people start treating you a little nicer – so it’s not all doom and gloom.

But my reality as a fashion grad was to work unpaid internships for a significant length of time and be brainwashed into thinking you are one of the lucky ones! And when the prospect of a paid job arises, it’s going to be long hours, at minimum wage, with very little prospect of career progression.

However, the amazing thing about designing and sewing is that you can find your own niche product and go it alone. It’s just important to remember your worth, stay positive and and not let anyone take advantage of you.

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