Representing the creative future

Are we tired of the big cities?

The dream of making it in a fashion capital is bursting as creatives make mental health their priority

Decentralized work in the arts has seemed impossible for years, but in the COVID-19 reality, living and working in the city is no longer the requirement. The fastest-growing economies in the UK are now places like Liverpool, Birmingham, and Manchester. Many are seeing a rising number of under 30s moving there for cheaper rents and more creative stability. As the development of digital fashion and circular design comes to the forefront of the industry, many traditional fashion capitals like London, Paris, and New York are being usurped by the likes of Copenhagen, Berlin, and São Paulo as the field widens. For others, moving away from London has allowed them to rediscover their roots and look deeper into the purpose of the clothing they create, leaving many creatives to ask themselves about living in the city: what’s the point?

Capitals are serving as the holy grail of the fashion and art scene crushing the voices outside of it. This has come at a cost to students and creatives who rely on metropolises to make a mark. Although fashion is notorious for offering internships and freelance work that does not pay month to month, many have justified the costs for a place in the lands of opportunities.

Through a survey of over 800 responses from our readers on the pros and cons of leaving a fashion capital, over a third said they will not be returning to a big city after the pandemic.

The pandemic has shown that many roles are equally easy to perform from home, offering up a new route for decentralizing fashion to a whole generation of would-be designers, journalists, and image-makers. As systematic problems in the arts such as racial disparity and capitalist exploitation were brought more prominently to the light through the pandemic, so did creatives get more disillusioned with city life. Through a survey of over 800 responses from our readers on the pros and cons of leaving a fashion capital, over a third said they will not be returning to a big city after the pandemic.

Over the course of multiple lockdowns this past year, students and graduates have found that living in London’s tiny cramped apartments as they isolated had rubbed off some of the London “sparkle”. As the home has become more than just a sleeping space, with eternal Zoom meetings and personal projects, other factors like more space, being closer to nature, and separating the workspace from downtime have become more important. The disconnect from society during the pandemic has meant that personal factors are more important than a location that previously offered the opportunity of events and jobs. While the UK vaccine timeline looks optimistic, for many the prospect of returning is far from rosy.

For some, the insular culture of the fashion industries in big cities has meant that even with university degrees and internships under their belts, it hasn’t been easy finding a job in the industry, especially during the pandemic.

One of the key take-aways from moving back home is that it has given creatives back their time to reflect. Responses have varied from, “I value my time and my process much more,” to deeper reflections on the meaning of creating fashion, “I have to ask myself bigger questions. A dress for me can be satisfying – but is it the same for the world?” It can be overwhelming to work in a city where every day brings on new challenges. For some, the insular culture of the fashion industries in big cities has meant that even with university degrees and internships under their belts, it hasn’t been easy finding a job in the industry, especially during the pandemic. This has left some graduates disheartened, while others are creating their own communities online that encourage openness and diversity.

For those at the start of their degree and those who love the drive of the city teaming with like-minded thinkers, moving back home can feel like a step back. Some respondents said that being around family can be distracting and that they are “stressed from not being able to use the right equipment and without inspiration because it came from living my life, not the internet/books”. Emma Hope Allwood, former Head of Fashion and current creative consultant at Dazed Digital joined the conversation as felt the same before she moved out of London last year during the pandemic to focus on her consultancy work: “I couldn’t wait to get to London at 18 and never liked going ‘home’ to the small town much because I immediately reverted into an angsty teen. But this year I’ve experienced being out of the city in such a way that’s been so restorative. I also know I need and crave the parts of life that the city brings.”

“From experience, I can say that assuming you need to go to a school in a big city, you are misguided.” – Emma Davidson, Denza Fashion

After Brexit, many are moving across Europe back home to be closer to their families. This has also shifted the job market, with recruitment agencies aware that brands are now offering remote and flexible roles. Emma Davidson from Denza Fashion, an international recruitment company for design and studio-based roles, contributed to share that most recruiters are prioritising talent over study location: “From experience, I can say that assuming you need to go to a school in a big city, you are misguided. Seeing the CVs and portfolios of thousands of designers with successful careers, I know talent can be grown anywhere. In pooling graduate talent, I search EVERYWHERE as the industry needs so many different skills and talents. Also, worth noting, outside of the UK not only can the cost of living be cheaper, but course fees are around 1400 euros per year.”

The Mental Health Foundation UK has shown in its reports on mental health during the COVID-19, being able to visit green spaces helped 42% of the population maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, certain elements of working in a workspace or university studio amongst like-minded individuals cannot be undervalued. One of the many issues that students and creatives were faced with during the pandemic was the lack of physical spaces for collaboration, a vital part of work in the capitals. In a recent survey of 145,000 workers worldwide by Leesman, 28% said that they were unable to collaborate on creative ideas while working digitally. While students and creatives may not be the ‘traditional office workers’, their creative abilities are tantamount, if not of absolute importance in their field. One of our respondents highlighted how they are feeling “isolated, not feeling connected to my practice/goals/artistic community (a crucial aspect)”. Many have adapted well though and have found that coming up with new ideas and inspiration has been easier in a less stressful environment like the city.

In a recent survey of 145,000 workers worldwide by Leesman, 28% said that they were unable to collaborate on creative ideas while working digitally.

With technology moving forward and a new route through an antiquated system, perhaps fashion will see the rise of home working and living away from the capitals as a breath of fresh air for an industry of overworked young people in cramped spaces. Unfortunately, as fast as fashion moves with the trends, it does not do well with structural changes to the way it works. Will this be the future of creative work or only a passing trend? Young people affected by the changes will be instrumental in showing that just because ‘this was the way this has been done’ does not mean that the train tracks cannot be switched without the whole industry getting derailed.

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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