From the Insiders Part 1 – Apparel Designer

Welcome to the first part of my series of interviews of industry professionals, From the Insiders. . To start, I’ll be speaking to a fashion designer about her vast experience in the industry, what she’s learnt, and any top tips to help others who may need it.

Firstly, please can you talk to me about work history and past experience?

I always had an interest in fashion and design, and studied Art Design and Textiles at college. Once I finished that course I was keen to continue learning, so went to university to study Fashion Design & Technology for four years, (including one industry year). Studying fashion in more detail taught me so many different skills, from life drawing to garment construction. My degree also included a placement year which was my first foray into the industry, I got a position at a streetwear brand and did everything from reception work to working with the design team, it was an invaluable time and I made friends for life.

Post university, I had the chance to go back to the company I spent my placement year with, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite the role I was looking for so I accepted a position with a family company on the merchandising side of the business. After being there for a while I expressed my interest in working back in design, and they were extremely accommodating to my needs, and offered me the opportunity to work on outerwear – I was so excited! I eventually left to work for a more corporate company, something I hadn’t had much of a chance to do so before.

Working at this brand was amazing, it was a high profile name, which meant there was plenty of resources to train internally, and to travel. I would have stayed there forever, but the company was bought out and I was unable to relocate.

After working for a few companies I then decided to try my hand at going freelance; fortunately I was able to get a long term contracted role with a high street brand, where a friend and colleague of mine worked as another designer. We were given a lot of freedom to work as we pleased, and dealt with many senior members of the business – it was another role I learnt a lot on. I was eventually offered a permanent position which I was considering, but in that time the company fell through, in the current climate and demise of the industry things can be unpredictable! 

I continued shorter term roles, and found another position which gave me a lot of creative freedom, they were setting up a new boyswear line and I was in charge of all branding, clothing, prints – I even worked on photoshoots. Most recently I’ve been working for a pyjama company, but still have my fingers in many pies on the side! It’s important to keep challenging yourself.

What’s your favourite thing about being a designer?

I’ve worked on a lot of boyswear, and it’s what I always have the most fun with. Menswear is really different, at the moment it’s quite clean and minimalist, whereas with boys clothes it’s all about graphics, fun, personality, colour, fun different fabric techniques. Also, I’ve worked on a number of logos for companies, and it’s made me think about other careers I could consider!

And what other roles do you think you could use your skills for?

I definitely think I could look into advertising! They use a lot of photoshop and illustrator which I have a lot of experience in, but they do look at things differently, I’m considering doing a course in it, I want to give myself an edge as much as possible. I’d also look at TV motion pictures, they always need someone to hand draw images when they first start the production. Also in TV, I’d be interested in costume design or theatrical costume drawing. I feel lucky there’s so much I could take on.

What’s been a real career high for you?

I would say working at the big sports corporate company was a standout time because I got to do so much! It was the chance to look at branding and graphics more, had a big friendly atmosphere,  and more opportunities. I was a part of the narrative for one of the worlds biggest brands, and was constantly challenged! It was great, and I would still be there if they hadn’t moved!

And what’s something you would have done differently?

It sounds boring – but I would have worked in more corporate companies, partially for the pension! While smaller companies often mean you can do a lot more, boring stuff like pensions and healthcare can also be more important. I also would have kept the door open to try a broader range of roles over the years – I highly recommend having a sideline of jobs/contacts you can turn to if needs be, especially when contracting, you have less security and limited rights if your roles so it’s important to do that. Recruiters are invaluable contacts, so make sure you build a strong relationship with yours – they want to help you!

Thinking about someone just entering the industry, what tips would you give them?

Try and gain as much experience as possible, we’re lucky we live in a time where social media is our own free portfolio! Utilise sites like instagram and Linkedin to connect with people, show yourself off and truly sell yourself when looking for a new opportunity, what makes you better than anyone else? It’s a very competitive and savage industry, and it isn’t always an easy ride. Also if you really can’t find the right role or internship in a particular field, but there’s another relevant position at a company you love – go for that? Once you have an ‘in’ with a company it will help you a lot in future.

And finally, what are your top tips for how to act in a job interview?

Be confident from the moment you walk in, first impressions are so important. Make sure you know what you’re talking about, and know your own work! An interview with a corporate company is a completely different experience to a smaller business, so whichever one you’re doing – practise practise practise! Have a think about the questions they may ask and prepare your answers. Finally, it is so important to have a portfolio. Even if they’ve already had it sent to them, bring it with you. I would recommend having it all on an iPad, this shows you’re confidently computer literate. This is your chance to let your work speak for you – and you want to make the best impression.