Insider: What are the Challenges of studying Fashion Design?

Choosing to study fashion design at a tertiary level is a huge decision. One which you should not take lightly. If you want to make it in the fashion industry, there are amazing opportunities waiting there for you. However, you may also like to be aware of the challenges which you will inevitably face whilst studying, so I have compiled a list of things you will need to be prepared for if you choose fashion as your career path. I am a second year student in Australia studying fashion design at a reputable university, and I am undertaking a two year course in fashion design and technology.

  • Your work is probably going to be rejected at least once (probably more.)

You need to be able to face the fact that not everyone is going to love what you do. It doesn’t matter if you have put your blood, sweat and tears into a piece – your teachers/peers may simply just not accept/like it. This is something that will initially be hard to face. However, as you gain experience, you will also gain an ability to not let this affect you emotionally.

  • You will need to make Fashion Design your main (and only) priority.

Throughout my first semester at university, I was able to work two days a week on average in hospitality. In my second year of my course, I was required to undertake a work placement in a fashion design studio with a designer. Completing my work placement meant that I was unable to continue my part time work – as my work-placement was crucial to my study and I would not pass my course if I did not undertake a minimum of 40 hours. I have heard stories of fashion teachers telling students to “quit their part time jobs” if they want to graduate. I have also personally witnessed a teacher telling a student to “dump their girlfriends/boyfriends” if they want to finish this course. I am not saying this is wrong – as yes fashion is very competitive and if you want to make it you have to take it seriously. However I just want to convey to you that you have to be prepared to sacrifice other aspects of your life if you really want to succeed.

  • People cry at uni all the time.

I am serious. All the time. My peers have told me when they walk into the bathrooms they “hear people crying” all the time. You might end up crying, your friends might cry, and let me tell you these people are not weak or sensitive in any sense of the word. The people who are my peers at university are all very strong-willed hard-workers. But as quoted by Anita in iD Australia, a third year Fashion Design student. “It’s really normal to sit at your sewing machine crying.” There are a lot of expectations when it comes to studying fashion design – and you have got to be prepared to fail in some way or another. You just have make sure that you pick yourself back up again and keep trying.

  • You will probably stay awake all night to meet deadlines.

A year and a half into my course and I don’t think I know anyone that hasn’t pulled at least one ‘all-nighter’ so far. The majority of my peers have stayed up for a whole night on multiple occasions. I personally know that there have been probably 7-10 times over my course where I have done this, and heading to the 24 hour computer lab is a regular occurrence for many students. If you plan to study fashion design, be prepared to be working last minute, this is a creative course and you are going to be forced to string out as many ideas onto the page as possible on a regular basis. This may seem like an enjoyable task, but if you want to be presenting your best work – you have to be working systematically, and consistently pushing yourself and your creative abilities if you want any chance at getting sleep for the nights when deadlines start approaching.

  • You will need to be completely adaptable and willing to try new things. Scary new things.

The fact is, if you are enrolling to study fashion design, you most likely don’t know much about what you are about to experience. I have been thrown into the deep end on countless occasions – the other day I had to work out how to use this enormous printer that prints full scale Lectra patterns (I mean MASSIVE) on my own and that thing is expensive and terrifying, and if I broke it I hate to think of what consequences I would have faced. Jumping on new machines and trying to work them out on your own can be really daunting and intimidating (also potentially dangerous), so make sure if you don’t know what you are doing you wait and ask for help. I have always had trouble/been a bit timid with buttonhole machines as they are loud and punch holes in your work (would you believe). So make sure you tie your hair back and wear glasses and know the safety requirements of the machinery you are about to use, so that you keep yourself safe when you are in production!

  • There is going to be people at uni that are much better than you.

I was completely intimidated in my first year because everyone around me seemed so talented and creative. If you have come to study fashion design straight out of high school, you will find that there are a lot of mature aged students with more life experience than you, and may have a lot more skills to bring to the table than you do. If I have any advice it is don’t let this intimidate you – learn from them and watch how they do it. When you look around and see other people’s beautiful work – admire it, but don’t put yourself down because yours doesn’t look so good. In fashion design one of the most important things to do is to work with your own aesthetic, make sure your designs are true to you, and do not let other people get you down because your work is unique and hopefully one day that will be recognized.

  • You need to work out who you are as a designer

This may seem obvious but it’s a lot easier to say this than do. I feel like this hit me towards the end of second semester in my first year, and I am really glad it did. When you are at uni, it is probably one of the best times to be working on your professional portfolio that you will be presenting to industry in order to get jobs when you graduate. You need to be creating work that sits well with your personal aesthetic so that your folio displays who you are and who you want to be to potential employers. It is important to do your best to show off your personal style when you are at uni (although people don’t actually care if you rock up in trackies when it is all getting too much). But in my opinion if you are a fashion student and do want to get noticed, it is good to try and dress to your personal aesthetic and to show who you are through your clothing because this is a way in which people will start to understand you and how you want to portray yourself as a designer.

  • You will discover there is way more to fashion design than just sewing and sketching.

I personally came from a background where I did have come basic domestic sewing knowledge, however I had never used any form of industrial sewing machine before. I was extremely lucky to scrape into the course as I did not create my folio through any school related course, I had to scrape together the work that I had done for personal purposes and collate this into a folio for course entry. This was a huge challenge and I recommend if you want to get into a fashion design course you do take a sewing class and you create your folio through a school/external course as I found it extremely challenging to do this on my own. This also made it challenging when I entered the course as I discovered most people there already knew a lot more than I did about how to create and present a design folio. I recommend you do take a course prior to commencement to make the highest quality entry folio that you can, and you will therefore be more prepared for the assessments when you get there. There is way more to fashion design than just sketching and sewing, and you will have to learn how to fill out heaps of paperwork such as design specifications and pattern specifications. Basically there is a lot of unexpected numbers and paperwork that they don’t seem to mention when you read articles and documentaries on fashion design. In my course we also learn a lot about computer aided-design and we use computer pattern making software to produce industry standard patterns. I recommend that you are good with using computers if you are planning on becoming a fashion student.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please feel free to contribute below, this article is intended to prepare you for studying fashion design and in no means do I intend to deter you from doing so if this is what you want to do with your life. I encourage all of you who believe you have what it takes to go ahead and study fashion because altogether I have loved every minute of it and it is a really rewarding industry to be a part of and I wish you all the best for your future careers in fashion! 

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