Are Degrees A Waste Of Time?

Recently HighSnobiety asked ‘What’s the point in studying fashion design?

There was a time when creative qualifications were less desirable than the talent of the artist. These days degrees are about taking people without much basic talent and turning them into earning designers. And everyone seems to need one.

That said, fashion design has changed a lot. It used to be a very passionate and individual interpretation of the world. These days all you need is CAD software and some contacts and you can pay someone else to churn out generic high street clothing and give yourself the mantel of ‘fashion designer’. We are now teaching industry not art.

I did study fashion. But in a more round about way. I signed up at 35, having spent a number of years at the well known ‘university of life’, working in London and also being a freelance self taught costume designer.

I went to Uni for two reasons. Firstly, because I never had and I wanted the experience. And secondly because I wanted to take my self taught skills in historical costume and turn them into acceptable fashion retail standard manufacture skills that would enable me to be better at what I did.

And whilst to a certain extent these were valid reasons for going, I could have condensed the industry applicable skills I learned into 6 months rather than the 3 years it took.

Because I already knew I would be starting my own business, and because I was already set in my ways, telling me I must work a certain way and use AppleMac’s to do it wasn’t going to cut it.

You see, fashion courses don’t teach the creativity of being a designer. For the most part they can’t. If it’s in you, you can do that bit. University teaches you rules and standards and what you are expected to be able to do and in the right order. The expectation is that you will go out into the world and jump on the coat tails of an established designer and fit into their way of working. They teach a different kind of design – they teach you to enter a system and fit into it.

Barbara Casasola

Had you been apprenticed on your own merits, which is what used to happen, a fashion house would (or should) have taught you that anyway. The hermetically sealed environment of the university classroom (with no grading in place to enforce work experience placements) means you need not ever leave the classroom to get your degree.

I didn’t bother with work placements, largely because I didn’t know anyone I could sofa surf with for 3 months in London over the summer, and because I was trying to set up and nurture my own brand label so that once Uni was over I could launch my business. Which is what I did. But University wasn’t interested in that.

If you have natural talent, you will to a greater or lesser extent succeed at what you want to do. University cannot teach you the natural talent of being a great clothing designer who does more than conjure up generic designs on a computer. It can teach you the technology and ability to understand how to construct and process, but if you can already create garments that make a name for you in the industry university will not help you with that.

The problem is that by enforcing the idea that creative people need degrees behind them to prove they are talented, genuinely creative people are then forced to enter a system that is of no real benefit to them. The introduction of fees and changes to the university system mean that they are fundamentally businesses, not places of learning. And that is why we churn out so many people who cannot possibly find work in the creative industry. It is a money making exercise. It is why so many people leave their study field and never enter the industry. Universities don’t see a need to follow you after you graduate. They have made their money, they have done their bit.

All that matters now is that you are earning the prerequisite income to start repaying the loan. And it doesn’t matter whether that is in your chosen field or not.

By taking creative roles and giving them academic kudos university teaches you to obey the rules. Artists are about breaking them.

For all things Falcieri Designs check out my website at


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