Written by Faze contributor James Fowler, Chair of Fashion Design at the International Academy of Design in Toronto
I want to be a fashion designer. How do I get started? What should I know and how will I find out? Should I go to school or try to get a job? Do I want to start my own company? So many questions in my head! Where do I start and where will I end up? Sound like you? I remember feeling exactly like that myself!
I’ve learned a lot about the industry since I began and I’m still finding out there is always more to know. I’ve worked for giant manufacturers and I’ve made one-of-a-kind pieces for private clientele. I’ve had my own label and my own store. I’ve sold other peoples clothes. I’ve been unemployed and I’ve had great jobs that I’ve left for even better ones. I’ve realized that it’s an industry where art is joined and, in fact, led by commerce. Some people have made it in a very short time with no training and others have graduated from university with degrees before climbing their career ladders. I started in fine arts, then fashion design, and am now the chairperson and teacher in a fashion design program.
Where are the answers? After witnessing both success and failure, I believe that most importantly you must first discover if a career in fashion is really what you want to do! Start by getting involved in the industry. Your local mall probably has someone on staff that’s involved in fashion show production and fashion promotion. Make an appointment and let them know what you’re interested in and volunteer to help on the next project. This is a great introduction to the glitz and glamour side of the business; however, you will still need to get a broader picture.
Look for a store in your neighbourhood that makes and sells its own clothes and see if you can meet the owner or a designer (often one in the same). Try to talk your way into a tour of their studio or factory or ask for the opportunity to see what a typical day is like. Ask as many questions as you can from as many people as possible; this will help you gain a real sense of the industry. Ask about the hours they work, how long it took them to go into business for themselves, if they went to school, what were their greatest hurdles, what is the toughest part of the job… you get the picture. Some people may be too busy preparing for a show or a new clothing line, but don’t be discouraged. You really should make every effort to get a feel for the business—I assure you it’s not all catwalks and photoshoots.
If you still want to be a fashion designer, then do more digging. Go to your local fabric store and ask if they offer lessons. Buy fabric and make something. Contact your local community college to see what courses or programs they offer in fashion. Check to see if they have any visiting professionals that are willing to give a workshop or talk at your school. The International Academy of Design in Toronto offers an intensive two-week summer studio; perhaps your local school has something similiar. Check out books on fashion design at your local library. Don’t forget the internet—it is a wealth of fashion information waiting to be tapped.
Alana Berry and Alexander Labayen, both former students of Toronto’s International Academy of Design, have taken somewhat different approaches to the world of fashion design.
Before studying fashion, Alana pursued a career in business and feels it is the best thing she could have done. “When I look at the big picture now, I realize it’s not just about being creative; fashion is also a business. If I didn’t have a strong understanding of business, it would all be just a hobby.”
Fashion designer Alana Berry and her partner, Diana Calma
Once she realized that fashion was her calling, she enrolled at the Toronto International Academy of Design. When asked about her experience there, Alana says, “I know that some people have been very successful with little formal training, but I would never pass up what I learned at the Academy, not to mention, that’s where I met my partner, Diana. Developing a strong network of contacts in this industry is very important.”
When Alana left school she almost immediately formed her own fashion company and label. She has teamed up with one of her former Academy classmates, Diana Calma and is designing elegant custom-tailored formal wear for her clients. Alana believes owning your own company can be very rewarding if you’re prepared for “long hours and hard work!”
Three designs from Alana Berry’s ladies formal wear collection
Instead of immediately heading out on his own, Alex Labayen decided to apprentice with one of Canada’s hottest new labels, “Misura by Jeffery Caoc”. Keep your eye on Jeffery, as he has already won the Canadian Designer of the Year award three times.
The above illustrations are (above) drafts and (b) sketches as part of his required class assignments
Alex feels that becoming an intern has been a valuable stepping stone to one day going out on his own. His experiences at Misura have already taught him some of the subtler aspects of fashion: “You have to remember it’s not for you, the clothes I mean, you just can’t design what you like—you have to adapt to what other people want.”
Alex has realized that, “People have reasons why they purchase what they do. You have to know what makes people tick, what influences their choices; you really have to learn how to observe what is happening around you and be aware of the past and develop your own ideas of the future.”
Working as an apprentice has become an extension of school. Alex says, “I have fun, but it’s long hours and hard work. I’ve been able to learn about the business side of the industry—things like production, distribution, custom laws, sourcing, and marketing. I think this is a great route I’ve taken because I can learn from someone else’s mistakes, learn the ropes, make great contacts, and eventually go out on my own better prepared than ever!”