I can only compare it to spending years working on¬¬ a jigsaw puzzle, only to realise that the final piece simply isn’t there. It is debilitating, infuriating and disorientating all at once.
Fashion, of course, is not an easy place to find employment in. Despite the fact that the industry generates more 25 billion pounds per annum for the UK economy, and that the UK boasts globally renowned art, design and fashion schools, it is widely regarded as frivolous.
So, even choosing to do a degree in the subject will raise more than a few disapproving eyebrows.
For me, fashion has been not just a vocation but my life.
From an extremely young age, I had more than a girlish interest in clothes and their designs. The colours, the way they hung on people, the way they could appear to transform personality were of endless fascination.
I chose my high school, Davison in Worthing, because of its extraordinary textiles department. I distinctly recall how excited I became as I saw the students work, their designs, their stitch samples and of course the clothing they had made.
I carried on my love of textiles and chose it as one of my subjects for GCSEs.
Clothing, its design, and manufacture eclipsed all other subjects. I would sit in maths classes ignoring what the teacher was saying about quadratic equations as I diligently got on with my textiles homework.
Inevitably after finishing school, I enrolled in the fashion textiles BTEC course at Northbrook College. I went onto complete with top grades and received ‘best designer award’. After this college course, I stayed on at Northbrook and started my degree studying ‘BA Fashion Design’.
Studying for my degree I learned about design, trend forecasting, sewing, pattern cutting and the use of Photoshop and Illustrator. The support I got from the University’s teachers and technicians was second to none. Our final module in the degree focused on creating an attractive portfolio, writing a CV and cover letters and applying for jobs.
I went on to finish the course, gained a first-class honours degree, showcased my collection at Graduate Fashion and had my work published in magazines such as Disorder and 9349. Now was the time to take all that experience into the workplace. And a job in fashion was what all this hard work, this fascination that bordered on monomania had been about. I felt ready and thoroughly prepared.
I had not been prepared for just how tough finding a job would be. As that first summer passed I began to fear that I would never be able to pursue my dream. Then, thanks to a tutor, I was pointed in the direction of VetiGraph Fashion Digital.
To my surprise and delight, they offered me a job. And that’s when I was shocked to discover that despite all my years of interest, love and hard work and the devotion of my tutors and professors, I was lacking in a skill that is now central to the industry. For reasons, it is hard to fathom I had not been taught about the essential CAD and PLM software used in pattern cutting, grading, and product lifecycle management.
I had ideas, flair and the best degree I could have gotten, but no real way of implementing any of this. VetiGraph took pity on me. Perhaps because the hole in my knowledge was not unique to me or even my University, but is in fact so widespread it borders on scandalous.
There are 30 universities in the UK that run fashion design courses but not nearly enough of them are teaching CAD skills that would offer their students a real prospect of employment after they graduate.
The hard facts are these. The fashion industry is overwhelmed by the number of graduates applying for design roles. This is making it increasingly tough for alumni to gain a position in fashion as the industry is simply oversupplied. According to the most recent data collected by Graduate Prospects, only one in seven fashion design graduates lands a design role.
This means talented fashion graduates eventually leave the industry they love or remain unemployed. However, this is not the full story. The fashion and manufacturing industry is rapidly developing in the UK. The need for CAD solutions is increasing.
Here at VetiGraph, we are constantly being contacted by our customers about potential candidates for digital pattern cutting and grading roles. Job sites such as ‘Fashion workie’ and ‘Fashion United’ are bursting with jobs that require these skills. So, it is not that fashion doesn’t have jobs. It is that thousands of talented young people are not being taught the skills necessary to get those jobs. It is an infuriating irony. Especially in an industry that generates such huge sums for the British economy.
I now am the Operations Manager at VetiGraph. My roles include giving support to our customers using the software skills I sadly was not taught at University.
We at VetiGraph are so concerned about this paucity of knowledge we now run short CAD courses in Leicester and London. We have even teamed up my Alma mater Northbrook College… Our aim is to try and advise course leaders to include digital pattern cutting and grading in the curriculum.
I was lucky the day I got that shock. My present employer saw the potential in me and decided to give me a chance, and trained me in the art of digital pattern cutting. Unfortunately, most employers don’t have either the time, inclination or resources to take the chance VetiGraph Fashion Digital took with me. So my advice to students who are looking to study fashion design is to find a course that teaches technical fashion and digital pattern cutting and grading. My advice to Universities and art colleges is to start teaching this as a matter of extreme urgency.
As I discovered, love will only get you so far. And luck, as they say, is a fickle mistress.
Laura James is the Operations Manager at VetiGraph fashion digital solutions limited and is based in the Brighton office.
ABOUT VETIGRAPH and STYLEPACK
VetiGraph Fashion Digital Solutions Ltd is the distributor of VETIGRAPH CAD/CAM software products in the UK and the developer of the STYLEPACK PLM Solution. With 25 years’ experience in developing computer-aided design/manufacturing (CAD/CAM) and PLM solutions for the fashion, apparel, home furnishing and other related industries, VETIGRAPH UK offers a range of software and hardware products and services to encompass all the sectors involved in cutting soft materials.