Have you ever thought about becoming a fashion designer?

Do you get changed more than once a day…do you love shopping, even when you are not buying anything…perhaps you spend parts of your day just looking a what people are wearing from shoes, bags, jewellery and clothes? If you, you’ve probably wondered what it takes to become a fashion designer.

There are many routes to becoming a fashion designer and there isn't a right or wrong way. Alexander McQueen was an apprentice at a tailor in Savile Row and rumoured to have written a rude word inside the lining of Prince Charles's suit. Paul Smith wanted to be a competitive cyclist but after a bad accident trained at a tailor and then opened his shop. Vivienne Westwood was a teacher before she set up her shop on Kings Road.

The fashion industry is very competitive so I would always advise getting as much training as you can, but always strive to meet new people in the industry and keep in touch too, as you never know who people know, and who they might need in the future.

I did a degree in Fashion design and Technology at Manchester Metropolitian University. I chose this course mainly because I wanted a technology background. I felt this would help me understand how my designs would be made, thus giving me a better understanding when I was designing. It also had a placement year where you could get experience in the industry.

There are many fashion courses around the UK and you just need to pick one that is right for you. Central St Martins and London College of Fashion are highly thought of, as well as Kingston and University of Northumberland. If you do a course without placement time you can always look to do a placement in your holidays. Sometimes you may have to offer to do a placement unpaid, unfortunately it is very competitive and sometimes it's a way of getting your foot in the door.

I would look to get a placement in the type of clothing and level in the market that you would like to work in and keep any contacts you make, whether it is fellow designers, fabric mills or factories, as you never know when you might need these people. If you make yourself useful and efficient you may even get offered a job at the end of your course. This is your opportunity to help the staff at your placement and shine.

There are many jobs in fashion that help the product get into store, so design may not the job you follow; garment technicians and pattern cutters are always in demand and you help the designer create the image that they have drawn into reality. Buyers work with factories or wholesalers to buy the right product, at the right time for the right price, (this can be achieved by working up through a retail store to head office, as you really need to know your customer). Or visual merchandisers, making the product look delicious and hard to resist for the customer. Also merchandisers work with the allocation of the product - which stores get which stock when - and also take into account special offers or press promotions. A hard job but generously rewarded if you are good.

So you are trained with a great portfolio, a sketchbook of ideas and ready for anything, what now? Determination! Approach companies that you want to work for, always make sure your CV and covering letter is tailor made for them and tell them why you are writing, what you can offer and what you like or think you can improve about their company. Make sure your personality shines through.

I would always advise someone to get experience in a supplier, retailer or brand first before going freelance as it is good to gain experience and contacts. Within a company you will work with other departments, just make sure you pay attention to other roles and how yours fits in with them. Also never stop asking questions, this will always help you as you go up the career ladder or decide to go freelance. Freelancing is about keeping up with contacts and giving the best service you can. Good luck!

Helen Welch

Helen's Freelance Alliance profile  l  www.helenwelch.co.uk


2nd June 2011

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