Design yourself a catwalk-ready career

There are many ways into the fashion industry, says Amy McLellan

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The Independent Online

Know your FROW from SS14, your LFW from LBD? Can you spot a Matthew Williamson signature print at 50 paces?

Do you instinctively “get” the latest trends, be it slouchy shorts or low block heels, but then style it up by adding your own unique twist? If so, maybe it’s time to convert your passion for fashion into a career by signing up for a BA in fashion at one of more than 30-plus universities and arts colleges in the UK.

In doing so, you would be joining an industry that, at the high end, shows no sign of recessionary pressures and is one of the bright spots in the UK economy – there’s a very good reason that the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics included a segment on fashion. London remains a global fashion capital and, according to the British Fashion Council, the industry is worth £21bn to the UK economy, supporting 816,000 jobs, while sales of UK designer clothing have been rising by around 20 per cent a year for the last decade.

The first step is to research the different fashion colleges and assess how they match your interests and strengths. Many offer the opportunity to specialise at undergraduate level. At Central Saint Martins, for example, there are courses in knitwear, menswear and womenswear while the London College of Fashion, which like CSM is part of the University of the Arts London, offers programmes in bespoke tailoring, fashion contour (that’s underwear to the layman), sportswear and footwear. Courses are three years and annual fees are typically £9,000.

And because the creative flair of the atelier is part of a highly lucrative commercial machine, there are also courses to be found in fashion marketing, fashion public relations, fashion journalism, and fashion buying and merchandising.

This year has seen London welcome a new fashion school, Regent’s School of Fashion & Design, on upmarket Marylebone High Street.

The newcomer was created when the private and not-for-profit Regent's University, London acquired the London campus of American InterContinental University in April.

The new school offers three BA programmes: fashion marketing, fashion and design, plus a course which combines the two disciplines. The private college, with annual fees of £14,200, offers a student staff ratio of less than 15 to one and personal tutorial support.

The focus is on delivering degrees with a practical focus, with students attending exhibitions and trade shows, enjoying visits from industry advisers and applying for student internships.

The design-led programmes are very competitive, so you’re going to need a good tally of Ucas points (about 240-300), including qualifications in art or design, plus a portfolio showcasing your creative abilities: drawing and illustration, your approach to research, sketchbooks and some samples of garment making. You won’t be expected to have put together a collection, but interviewers will be looking at your passion and creative potential.

“We want to see people who are interested in developing themselves as creative people,” says Steven Dell, course leader at UCA Epsom, which has over 485 applications for 100 places, with students taught in groups of no more than 30. “So that’s having a wider interest in exhibitions and galleries, art and creativity.”

While fashion is at the cutting-edge of design and technology, using stateof- the-art fabrics and computer-aided manufacture, many of the skills that underpin the industry are seriously old-school: drawing, pattern-cutting and embroidery. The courses teach these skills as well as helping to guide students’ development as a creative person, pushing them out of their comfort zone and encouraging experimentation.

“They really go on a journey over the three years,” says Dell.

Students are also prepared for life post-graduation, when they enter the highly competitive world of international fashion. Most courses include industry placements, to develop skills and build contacts, as well as covering aspects of career planning including how to build a portfolio, self-promotion and effective use of social media.

At Nottingham Trent University, there’s an emphasis on working with industry, with students having the opportunity to apply for paid internships at Abercrombie & Fitch USA, Old Navy USA and George at Asda.

Graduate prospects are helped by the reputation of the British fashion schools and their almuni. Past students at UCA include Karen Millen, Zandra Rhodes and Kathryn Sargent, the first female tailor on Savile Row, and Dell’s graduates have landed the kind of roles fashion wannabes dream about, such as design director at Ralph Lauren or studio manager for Henry Holland. But fashion isn’t just about luxury brands, with many going on to work in high street fashion at the likes of River Island, Reiss and French Connection.