I want to be a fashion designer. How do I get started? What should I know and how will I find out? Should I go to school or try to get a job? Do I want to start my own company? So many questions in my head, where do I start and where will I end up? Sound like you? I remember the feeling exactly like that myself!
I’ve learned a lot about the industry since I began and I’m still finding out there is always more to know. I’ve worked for giant manufacturers and I’ve made one of a kind pieces for private clientele. I’ve had my own label and my own store. I’ve sold other peoples clothes. I’ve been unemployed and I’ve had great jobs that I’ve left for even better ones. I’ve realized that it’s an industry where art is joined and, in fact, led by commerce. Some people have made it in a very short time with no training and others have graduated from university with degrees before climbing their career ladders. I started in fine arts, then fashion design and am now the chairperson and teacher at a fashion design program.
Where are your answers? After witnessing both success and failure, I believe that most importantly you must first discover if a career in fashion is really what you want to do! Start by getting involved in this industry. Your local mall probably has someone on staff that’s involved in fashion show production and fashion promotion. Make an appointment and let them know what you’re interested in and volunteer to help on the next project. This is a great introduction to the glitz and glamour side of the business, however, you will still need to get a broader picture.
Look for a store in your neighbourhood that makes and sells its own clothes and see if you can meet the owner and a designer (often one in the same). Try to talk your way into a tour of their studio or factory or ask for the opportunity to see what a typical day is like. Ask as many questions as you can from as many people as possible: this will help you gain a real sense of the industry. Ask about the hours they work, how long it took them to get their own store, if they went to school, what were their greatest hurdles, what is the toughest part of the job.you get the picture. Some may be too busy preparing for a show or new clothing line, but don’t be discouraged. You really should make every effort to get a feel for the business-I assure you it’s not all catwalks and photoshoots.
If you still want to be a fashion designer, then dig in some more. Go to your local fabric store and see if they offer any lessons, or try buying some fabric and making something for yourself. Contact your local community college to see what courses or programs they offer in fashion. Check to see if they have any visiting professionals that are willing to give a workshop or talk at your school. I know the International Academy of Design in Toronto offers an intensive two-week summer studio, perhaps your local school has something similiar. Check out books on fashion design at your local library. Don’t forget the Internet: it is a wealth of fashion information waiting to be tapped into.
Alana Berry and Alexander Labayen, both former students of Toronto’s International Academy of Design, have taken somewhat different approaches to world of fashion design.
Before studying fashion, Alana pursued a career in business and feels it is the best thing she could have done. “When I look at the big picture now, I realize it’s not just about being creative: fashion is also a business. If I didn’t have a strong understanding of business, it would all be just a hobby.”
…and her partner, Diana Calma
Once she realized that fashion was calling out to her, she enrolled at the Toronto International Academy of Design. When asked about her experience there, Alana says, “I know that some people have been very successful with little formal training, but I would never pass up what I learned at the Academy-not to mention, that’s where I met my partner, Diana. Developing a strong network of contacts in this industry is very important.”
When Alana left school she almost immediately formed, ‘Alana Berry,’ her own fashion company and label. She has teamed up with one of her former Academy classmates, Diana Calma, and is designing elegant custom-tailored formalwear for her clients. Alana believes owning your own company can be very rewarding if you’re prepared for “long hours and hard work!”
Three designs from Alanaberry’s ladies formalwear collection
Instead of immediately heading out on his own, Alex Labayen decided to apprentice with one of Canada’s hottest new labels, ‘Misura by Joeffer Caoc’. By the way, keep your eye on Joeffer as he has already won the Canadian Designer of the Year award three times, including 1999.
Some sketches to develop ideas
Alex feels that becoming an intern has been a valuable stepping stone to one day going out on his own. His experiences at Misura have already taught him some of the subtler aspects of fashion, “You have to remember it’s not for you, the clothes I mean, you just can’t design what you like – you have to adapt to what other people want.”
Alex has realized that, “People have reasons why they purchase what they do. You have to know what makes people tick, what influences their choices, you really have to learn how to observe what is happening around you and be aware of the past and develop your own ideas of the future.”
Working as an apprentice has become an extension of school. Alex says, “I have fun, but it’s long hours and hard work (sounds familiar). I’ve been able to learn about the business side of the industry, things like production, distribution, custom laws, sourcing and marketing. I think this is a great route I’ve taken because I can learn from someone else’s mistakes, learn the ropes, make great contacts and eventually go out on my own better prepared than ever!”