#101 – A Guide to Choosing a Fashion School & Balancing Student Life

Are you thinking about studying Fashion Design? Considering how to get a foot into this crazy industry? Designer Direction writer and prolific blogger Hannah McArdle shares some advice on choosing your prospective fashion school and offers tips for the studying fashionista.

AUT Rookie Show - Photo by Elliot NgConsider your school
Do your homework and research the different Universities and Colleges that have a fashion programme both in New Zealand and abroad. Look at who have been their successful graduates and what they are up to now, the culture, the expectations, the focus and the entry requirements. Don’t be afraid to ask lot’s of questions of your prospective educator, after all it is your future that you are placing in their hands and you want to be confident with the choice that you make. Ex-students can give you a true evaluation of how they found the course so ask for testimonials either written or if you can swing it a phone number or email address would be great! [Editor: A list of fashion educators based in New Zealand will be up on site shortly]

Extra cherries on top
Investigate and see if your school offers a student exchange programme with other universities around the world. Most exchange programmes are for one semester to one year in the second year of study. I studied abroad at Ryerson University in Toronto and it was an amazing experience! I learned so many new things and brought back truckloads of inspiration for my final year collection, made friends for life and also gained wealth of experience.Jes Chang interviewed for Asia Downunder - Photo by Sueanne EaThe application & pulling together your portfolio
All schools will require a portfolio of work as part of the application process – this is your chance to sell yourself! Show off! Make sure you stick to the guidelines they give you and show all of your different skills and experience in the design field. A well rounded approach is a good one and although your enrolling in a fashion programme if you have done art, merchandising, graphic design or digital design projects include them. Above all make sure your portfolio is clear and easy to read with a cohesive format that shows your character and design handwriting.
For inspiration and handy tips on pulling together your portfolio, check out Amandas #101 Guide on creating a fashion portfolio here.

What classes do I take?
When the time comes to choose classes and electives start by asking yourself; What is my biggest passion in this industry? What areas of skill development do I most need?

Working working working.... Photo by Elliot NgMake the hard calls and push yourself. Like most tertiary education you are probably going to be working a million jobs and balancing money like juggling balls so choose courses that are most geared towards your end goal. Find out what your school’s specialist classes are and make the most of your time and their facilities by checking out those courses. Add a kooky or weird elective for inspiration.

Staying on the ball
Its so easy for the focus of your life to be getting assignments done and presented well, but you need to stay in tune with what is happening in the wider industry. You need to undestand international trends and where they have come from, you need to know who are making headlines and what the word on the street is. In a global economy trend analysis is key to a designers reputation and sales.

AUT students admiring the work of Jan Wong - Photo by Hannah McArdleConsider the folowing;

  • Religiously monitor what your international competition is doing – Look at their design development, their marketing strategy and other creative endeavours. How do these all work together to form a cohesive and competitive brand?
  • What street style looks are hitting the internet from the other side of the globe and from your own neighbourhood?
  • What issues and thoughts are causing a stir in the blogging world?
  • How is the fashion industry locally and internationally perceived in local and international mainstream media?

Balancing study, work and play
Look after yourself! If this industry is going to be your life it’s a good time to develop good habits –start by planning! Here is a handy checklist I have compiled;

  • Spoools! Photo by Suanne EaBreak your year down by months/weeks/days – Colour code in terms of assignments/key events/family birthday’s and other “your life will be over if you miss this” type events.
  • Plan deadlines and the times to revisit/revise your work and allow enough time to make any necessary changes before due dates – it’s like proofreading for design.
  • Diet! This means fruit, veges and yes, exercise. Caffienated drinks are not a major food group and should be reserved for “only sometimes”. It’s basic, but pack your lunch – you’ll save money and are less likely to pop out for a quick crappy snack. Develop your own routine but make sure it’s balanced and healthy!

Character and attitude
Be prepared to do whatever it takes. This is the attitude that will take you to the next level creatively and will determine the quality of your final product.

Listen to your tutors, ask your peers their opinion and then make decisions. Take on board wise words from those who have “gone before” but never ever steer away from your creative vision. Always go with your gut feeling but understand your decisions and where they come from. In short stay true to your creative vision.

Dark Room Takeover COV - James Dobson (Jimmy D) & Vicky ChanNetwork, Network, Network!
It is about who you know. This is everyone from the dean of your school to the PR agents that represent your favourite designer to the operations team that keep your studio running. Alot of your work may be individual assignments but it will be a team of people that you will rely on so make good impressions. In the wider fashion world always be looking to get to know those working in the industry and listen to their stories – How did they get to where they are now? What sort of similar opportunities are available to you?

And always remember that only 80% of jobs are advertised – word of mouth is a powerful tool when it comes to hearing about vacancies.

Live the dream and LIVE WITH PASSION
Continually surround yourself with situations and people that inspire you. Place yourself in environments where you can draw mega inspiration and learn new things. Become involved in collaborative projects. Connect with a creative community. Dream massive dreams and then make them a reality. Live life!

Photography Credits: Hannah McArdle, Tux Hika, Sueanne Ea and Elliott Ng.

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