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In a previous post, I talked about why you don’t need to go fashion school to become a designer and alternate ways that you can get those skills. But I also mentioned at the beginning of that same post that if you have the time and money to go, you should. And I DO stand behind that. Here’s why:
If you saw my last blog, you're probably like, “OK, she just said don’t go to fashion school. Now, she’s saying I should go. What the what?”
But in that blog, I did mention that I do support higher education and taking that route if you have the financial means and time because there are all kinds of benefits to a fashion design school.
Here are 5 benefits to going to fashion school:
1. Learn the foundations of design.
There are lots of people who feel like “I have great ideas. I’m creative. I’m stylish. I’m going to be a fashion designer.” But there’s more to it than that.
A fashion school starts you off with the basics including how to construct a garment and the ‘why’ behind design. And the principles of good design. And that’s not something you just know. Even the best designers today didn’t just know how to design well.
Besides practice, a good teacher helped guide most of them to understanding and knowing what good design looks like. It’s not just about making something beautiful, and a design program will teach you more than just aesthetic design skills.
2. Learning from a variety of instructors
When I was in school, there were a few instructors that I had more than once, but for the most part, I had different instructors for every course. And it was great because each teacher taught me something different. Not just because they were teaching different courses but because their work and life experiences were different, and they brought that to class with them.
Diversity, as we’ve seen in the past year and a half is important, and it’s not just ethnicity that brings diversity. It’s also about experiences. And we all benefit from that. Someone may have a totally different answer to the same question, but it may resonate more with the person asking. Or one person may not have an answer to your question because they’ve never experienced it, but someone else does because they have.
And being able to share that knowledge is one of my favorite benefits of being part of a fashion institution. And as a faculty member, I can say that the sharing goes both ways. I learn as much from my students as they do from me.
3. Networking with other designers.
When you’re in school, you are living a shared experience with many other creatives. And that’s pretty powerful! Not only are you surrounded by people who know exactly what you are going through, but more importantly, you’re surrounded by people who have the same goals and dreams as you do, understand how important getting your degree is, can help build your confidence when you’re feeling down, and hold you accountable for finishing your projects.
I also tell my students who want to establish their brands that this is a great opportunity to find someone to collaborate with or your business partner.
Think about all the things you need to start your brand: a graphic designer for your logos, packaging, apparel graphics; a fashion business person who can help you with merchandising or the retail math; a fashion marketing person who can help you market your collection or your business. They’re all right there! You don’t have to scour LinkedIn or go to industry parties to find people. And the best part is that everyone is on the same level, so most likely everyone will have the same level of hunger and excitement to see a new business succeed and grow.
This one is two fold. First, the resources you have access to while you’re in school: industry tools like WGSN, magazines, internships with prominent fashion companies, industrial machinery (including things like knitting machines or metal working machines for jewelry), discounted access to things like laser cutting or 3d printing, free access to computer labs, student discounts.
More than likely, on your own, you’ll either have to pay or you won’t have access to any of them at all. And those are just some of the things I’ve taken advantage of as an Adjunct at FIT. And I know there’s way more!
Then, once you leave school, there are resources to help you get a job, and depending on what school you’ve gone to, the name goes a long way. I know that past students have told me that it was a big deal to have the Fashion Institute of Technology on their resume. It definitely opened several doors.
For example, a friend and I did a fashion show many years ago, and the person who helped us get the room for the show didn’t go to FIT but had always wanted to. My friend mentioned that she was an alum, and the whole conversation changed after that. We were able to secure a room in Times Square for our show for a discounted price that, I'm sure, we would have NEVER gotten had she not been FIT alumni.
5. Credibility in the industry.
This is especially important if you want to work for an existing fashion brand. One of the many things fashion companies look for when they’re hiring is a degree from an art school. That may change considering that many other industries are moving away from requiring their employees to have graduated from a higher education institution, but I haven’t seen that trend in the fashion industry.
That’s not to say you would never be able to get a job in corporate if you don’t have a fashion degree, but it’s definitely a lot harder. And for an industry that’s already notoriously difficult to break into, if your dream is to work in corporate, a degree will certainly make that journey a little easier.
This is obviously different if you are starting a brand, but there is some sense of credibility when you have an Associates or Bachelor's degree. Having said that, many of the newer, emerging and successful brands out today are owned by self taught designers. But anything you can do to bring more validity to your brand upfront is always helpful.
While I have had LOTS to say about my student loans and the expense that came with going to college, the people, the lessons, the time I spent there is invaluable and a time that I will never forget.
So can you become a fashion designer without going to fashion design school?
Yes, you absolutely can. But if you have the opportunity to attend a design school (or any higher education university or college), I would very much suggest you consider it. You won’t regret the experience.