There’s something I have a hard time shut up about, the best time of my life being a fashion design student in NYC. I graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology back in 2014. I want to talk about my experiences, also give a few advices to people who has the same dream like mine.
If you wonder, there are so many girls with fashion designer dreams goes to school, what makes me special? Well I’m not special, and you don’t have to be neither. There are so many people in fashion are more talented, more skilled. But I can always find my place in this competitive world. and you will too. You just have to put your foot down, never lose focus and never stop learning.
It’s the feeling you finally find your place
Have you ever feel like once in your life time you are finally at the right place? That’s how I felt when I started school at FIT.
I wasn’t born in a fashion forward place, wasn’t surrounded by people who tries to be different and get rewarded by that. I alter my uniform and get punished a lot, never thought one day, I came to a place where I fit in, loved and welcomed.
Fashion wasn’t even a clear concept in my head. I didn’t grow up with money, don’t know brand names or even there should be seasonal trends. I know I want to look good in my cousin’s old clothe. I always look for trims, accessories to add on, and my mother often get embarrassed when other people ask is that your daughter walking around in wired clothe. But I know I’m the happiest when I create something by hand, whether I was proved by other people or not, at least I don’t look like them.
So when this weirdo got accepted by one of the top design schools in the world, she honestly don’t know what to expect, Fashion Institute of Technology, where so many famous designer who runs New York Fashion Industry graduated from, accepted….me.
It’s better to do too much than just right
I never do minimum or just right, I tend to always do too much, my personal styling, my design or my life in general. However, my professors liked that. well most of them did. which is the opposite of what I use to.
You can express yourself by your style, my work and be recognized by people who will in the future be in NYC fashion industry. There is no mistakes here comes to fashion, but you have to try.
Most people around you are very encouraging
I’ve been told that people in design school are very competitive and cut throat, well from my experience it’s completely false. People are so nice and encouraging. Professors will do the demo once and give time to practise in class, even though it’s on a very tight schedule, everyone will stop theirs and help you so you can move on to the next.
You need to spend a lot of time after class if you want to do a good job
All the homework are very hands on and there is no way you can make something you proud of with minimum effort, most of us spend all evenings and weekends at school, with huge bags of supply, sometimes have to run several different locations because of classroom schedules.
It is very stressful meeting deadlines
Because the due day will be a critique, your work will be on dress form in front of everyone before class starts, so it’s impossible to slack.
During my final project before graduate my nose even bleed from the stress and all I can think of is my white garment can’t get blood on.
It’s possible to work part time, intern and finish school project on time
when you have no choice you will find a way to do it. I worked at the a family style restaurant at Upper West Side, interned at garment district and went to school in Chelsea at the same time. I was always on my feet, running at restaurant for 10 hours or run all over garment district for errands, or physically cutting sewing garments.
Our school close at 2:30am, I almost always stay till they kick us out, usually finish work around 11pm, goes to school before midnight and finish my work till school closes. Sometimes I take project home after they close school to do some hand-stitch,
I don’t have good lighting in my dorm so I usually goes to the basement area to work, I got kicked out out too when the night guide found me. I keep snacks so when I am about to fall asleep I eat. I sometimes sleep 2 hours, but still keep 1 hour for shower and makeup every morning. I wanted to show up glamorous and feeling like I’m living the NYC fashion designer dream. I never talk about how tired I am or take any day off from school or work, I only have one chance to do this and one chance to make my impression to everyone.
There will be extra expense on materials all the time
The most I spent was $300 just on material for a gown, well it was my graduation project and it was worth it. But every project you will have to spend good amount for fabric, trim, and you constantly have to replace pattern papers, muslins, art supplies, paying for prints on your portfolios, and they add up.
Because I was supporting myself there are countless times I have no money for a hot meal after buying materials, I remember one time I only have coins and I thought I could eat from the vending machine at school for $1, I put in the coins, press the dollar mini donut pack for breakfast and pressed wrong line, so a pack of gum came out…
I got free food from the restaurant I worked for sometimes before they throw them out, I stuffed myself so next meal I don’t have to eat again. But I never regret spending money on the fabric I love.
People here are from different background at all ages
Whatever you do to get through hard times, there are so many girls doing the same thing. If you want to study design after few years of working in other field, but worried you might be too old. Trust me you are not. There are so many people at all ages, from different countries coming to NYC study design. You can always fit in and nobody’s judging.
It is very fun working environment in the classroom
Even though we have limited space and everyone is stressed getting work done, I still always looking forward to working in the classroom. We talk sometimes when we work, share some snacks we have, it’s easy to meet people and often get nice comments about my work so I’m more motivated. I can ask strangers opinions or borrow things if needed. I don’t remember anyone ever being rude or ignoring me.
It’s almost certain you will have other people round working on projects. I learned so much from talking to them and watching them work. It’s also a nice feeling they’re just like you, and there are many of you guys working hard while other people are relaxing or on holidays. You never feel alone being in design school.
There will be difficult people just like anywhere else
Because for most of us, it’s not just a school it’s our life time dream, it’s easy to take things personal. Just because some professor might favor others and no matter how hard you work they don’t notice you or keep criticizing you doesn’t mean you’re not going to learn some of the most valuable things from him. It will prepare you for the real world.
I’ve had professors who’s been hush with me the whole classroom noticed, and I never get a good grade from her for no particular reason. But she also did her job delivering some really important techniques and advices I’m thankful for till today. She replied my thank you email after the course was over, told me that I’m talented, hardworking and most importantly I’m a good person. wish me success and happiness. If need reference let her know.
So if you do it with your heart and appreciation, everyone would know. Never let difficult people bring you down, learn what you can from them. It’s important to never have the victim mentality, it gets you nowhere.
You will meet people who sees the best in you and influence you on everything you do in life
I can’t tell you enough how important it is to have people believe in you and see great potential in you. Professor, classmates or even just random student you met in class. You have chance to meet them everyday.
Once my classmate I barely know told me that she likes my style and actually looking forward to see my outfits everyday. I was so motivated to dress up and pay more attention to trends and accessories after that.
Once my professor said at the first class that I’m a good draper, I thought good ideas just came up after that, but in reality I probably just spent a lot more time to come up with the good ideas, because I believe I can have them.
Technical practice is the main focus
I see it all the time when people are there to express their creativity rather than learning the techniques. I’m not saying you should’t push your creativity, it is something you think about all the time anyways. But at school it’s much more important to be sharp at knowing how the pattern works, how garment fits, how to use a software to solve problems… it is a great opportunity to practise, ask questions and get good at your skill.
Once you start working, you will not be designing at your first job, not your second job, you can win all kinds of awards for being creative but still lose your job because you don’t know how web PLM works. You focus on what can get you a job in fashion so you have a chance to go further. The foundation is the most important thing.
My first job after school is in production, what I learned at school wasn’t really that helpful, but since I learned about print design, when the graphic designer quit, I offered to help and got to work with the head graphic designer and learned so much from him. I stayed late to finish the graphic work, also as a practise for myself but not only he appreciated my work and work ethic, he also became my strong reference after. The experience and work in my portfolio sure helped me getting my second job as an assistant designer.
Keep a design journal of your ideas and never go anywhere without
It’s silly I love going to Macy’s Herald square to sketch design ideas at their Starbucks, because they play runway music and I love the feeling of being in the fashion world. you will have the ideas from a moment you will never have again, and if you don’t capture it, it’s gone. you will be amazed looking back how good those are. Sometimes you can take it to job interviews and it’s a great way for interviewer to know you really passionate about fashion.
The most important platform of networking is here
There are lots of people goes to parties or events hoping to network, it is good to do so but chances are small, because you talk to them once, maybe got them on social media and keep in touch for a while, but you’re not likely to be the one they think about once there’s job opportunity opens up. They probably think about people they go to school with or worked with first.
But here, you meet people who will be in the fashion industry in the future and they see your work on daily bases, it’s most likely you guys help each other out in the job market. Fashion is such competitive and stressful environment, nobody want to fight alone, everyone want to have people they like and trust working side by side.
Professors also have great connection and could be a strong reference, especially the ones from famous design school, they usually work for big brands before they start teaching. My professor referred me to internships before and also write me reference letter on Linkedin which could be seen by all the potential employers.
So it’s important to do your best, never late or call in sick, be nice and helpful to others at school.
Pay attention to fabric and trim stores, you will need to go later
For school project, we often have to source fabric swatches and trims in garment district. There are free swatch places you can go for school project, like Mood Fabric, B&J, Elegant Fabric… and trim places like M&J, Beads World, Pacific Tim… Pay attention what they carry, don’t do the minimum just to get the project done. When you start interning or working, you will go there all the time. It will save you a lot of time and comes to work, time is everything.
Go visit shops whenever you can, stay connected with the market
NYC is a great place to see fashion retails of all price range, now matter what you passionate about, it’s good to visit as many stores as you can, go to 5th Ave, Soho, Tribeca, these are the places i go later shop for work. It’s so helpful to see trends, touch the material and see the construction of garments. Chatting with the sales also can get you good informations
Build your social media focusing on fashion
There are so many social influencers based in NYC, some of them started when they were fashion design students and now they’re extremely successful. Maybe you’re not interested in that life style and rather use your social media post pictures of your food, your dog or Boomrangs with friends. Well, I still think it’s good to at least have a public instagram account, even just to show employers. It’s different than your portfolio, it shows that you’re involved with fashion everyday.
Social media has became such an important part of fashion marketing and trend research platform, I remember seeing my designer checking candidates’ instagram in the process of hiring. It’s a great opportunity do build it in NYC and you probably dress up everyday anyways. I wish I’ve thought about it earlier honestly.
School has great source for fashion, great exhibitions
FIT has amazing library with fashion resources both digital and prints, you can stay there and feeling like you’re in a whole different world. Most books published in the past are so inspiring and so hard to find elsewhere. Students got access to trend services and software tutorial sites normally companies have to pay lots of money for.
FIT has its own museum which is free for student and public, the exhibition changes every few months and they’re amazing. We also have fashion shows end of each semester and the winners will get their garment displayed in the lobby and windows. Those are some of the best designs I’ve ever seen in real life.
You can get by without a personal Mac
I had an old mac, it runs very slow and all the software on my computer are not compatible with the ones on school computer anymore. I used the computer at school the whole time and I was ok, actually it helped me focus and I get chance to ask other students when I had questions. So you won’t need to buy a Mac just for school.
You can do it and you definitely should
This was my award winning project when I graduated. I don’t have any experience making clothe before I started school, I didn’t even know you have to make paper pattern first before you cut the fabric. From learning to thread the machine to actually making evening gown, I grew so much everyday and can never image life any other way.
Once you decide to do it, you will find it’s not that out of reach and you don’t have to be good at everything just to have a chance. School is for you to learn everything. But you will have to be fearless, hard working and willing to sacrifice. You will have this once in a life time opportunity to meet people who’s on top of the game and everyone is hungry. You will grow so much and forever thankful to have this part of your life.
Good luck and let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be talking about my first internship, first job experiences in the future. Hope you visit again.