What Is The Future Of Our Fashion Graduates?

With the vast increase in student fees all university education is seemingly pricing poor students out of the running.  I’m not sure students are actually means tested at point of entry and they don’t start paying loans back until they earn a certain amount.

Even so fee rises have been hotly debated as pushing financially challenged students out of  the running. But let’s be honest here, education has become a money making exercise and is rarely about the real cost of that education.

When I started my degree I already knew what I wanted to do. My degree was simply a way of me honing my skills and getting into a fashion mindset after years doing historical costume. The grade didn’t matter.

I made sure I had backup funding because the £3400 a year maintenance grant wasn’t going to go very far, and I was lucky to be attending before the fees went up. That being said, it’s been four years since I finished at Uni and I haven’t paid back a penny of my loan. Why? Because I don’t earn enough. I probably never will.

Fashion Law recently highlighted the problem of the high cost of fashion degrees. Of course, it centralises on study in London – as if that was the be all and end all of a fashion education (it isn’t in case you were wondering). But the industry would tell you otherwise. It’s because it’s an elitist industry to try to get into. And if you’re studying in London you need to have the backup funding to match it before you even consider the cost of your fees.

Outside London courses can’t afford to be as picky with their talent and many students attending ‘cheaper’ courses won’t see it through to employment because sometimes universities simply have to take people who may know the theory of how to design on paper but don’t want it enough to pursue it to fruition. Even so, many of the London colleges don’t teach sewing. They teach outsourcing. Which are a few of the reasons I didn’t go to London.

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A rare breed -Alexander McQueen began life in council flat and left school with one O-level (source)

You might think that natural talent will just win through in the end. But in a time of a grossly oversubscribed arts sector, you may not be able to shout loud enough no matter how good you are. Of course this doesn’t stop the fashion elite borrowing their inspiration from the cheap seats.

Regardless of the place of education, the reality is that many fashion graduates won’t even get started in the industry once they finish their studies. Take that from someone who knows. Many will have been put off by the course, others broken by the internships. Many will just become another cog in a larger wheel of the industry that churns out cheap copies on the high street. Basically you have to really want it, no matter what the cost.

Many will never realise their McQueen based dreams. And that’s okay because that’s how it works. At the top of the pyramid you want only the best of the best. But is it talent at the top, or those with the most funding? Look at our favourite celebrity designers. Most don’t have an ounce of skill between them and yet they are making profits collaborating with high end umbrella companies.

Genuinely talented fashionistas won’t see the difference between a £30,000 bill and a £50,000 bill. The pounds and pence may be different, the natural talent is the same. Historically creativity thrives on hardship. But in fashion nowadays, you’ll only be able to study if you come from a family who can support you all the way and put a roof over your head.

But the struggle doesn’t end with graduation. There are years of giving your time in return for experience and second jobs to contend with. Hopefully you will get somewhere but there just isn’t room enough for everyone to get noticed. Being recognised enough to earn a wage you can live on, is only a start of the battle.

Currently you need to be earning over £21,000 before paying back your loan. The average starting wage for a UK graduate is apparently £25000. If you whittle that down to the Arts sector, your wages are expected to average less than £19000 and you may never earn more. It’s an industry without funds despite the consumers obsession with clothes. The love of the job should replace that missing meal a day.

The impression on the ground is that fashion is wallowing in cash, gold and luxurious fabrics. But it isn’t. That end of the market is a very small tip of a massive iceberg which trickles down to businesses using slave labour in the third world and free graduates to populate its back offices. Lower down some simply end up working in alterations shops for barely the minimum wage.

And what about the real talent who chose not to get in debt? Where do they go? Who can say. Most of the real talent I see in the industry are hobbyists. Those with a day job crafting on the side and often producing work far superior to their paid industry competitors. Those that are running their own businesses propped up by the working tax credit. They are the ones to watch but they may never be heard.

For all things Falcieri Designs check out my website at www.falcieridesigns.co.uk

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