Representing the creative future

Why are students leaving fashion education?

The potential of losing a generation of designers in relation to graduates and independent brands is widely discussed, but what about those at the start of their education?

In a survey conducted by 1 Granary 42%, from a pool of 782, have postponed their plans to begin fashion studies in 2020, and potentially, indefinitely. The reasons submitted for this varied from visa-related, financial, family, mental and physical health concerns, to the fear of racism.

The industry is no doubt over-saturated with many more graduates than jobs available even pre-pandemic. The recent trend to dismantle the glamour perceived by having “made it” means many are already thinking pragmatically before embarking on this career path. So, on the one hand, it could be suggested that ending up with less future fashion graduates isn’t the worst result. However, reading through the experiences of individuals, and noticing it is not truly a choice in most cases, makes it hard to hold on to this sentiment. The ideal outcome, when aiming to expose the reality, is not to turn people away but to see a change. As a fashion designer, Éliane Vergès, points out, “A lot of procedures in fashion haven’t changed in over 50 years! Which is so incredibly ironic, with fashion being one of the fastest-changing industries on the planet.”

Art subjects have long been more accessible for the privileged, and COVID-19 seems to be widening this class gap. “With the economic uncertainty the risks are just too high,” one anonymous respondent admitted. We frequently hear the rhetoric that having “fewer resources should make you more creative.” Is this just another way of glamorising the struggling artist? What happens if you are working, or caring for someone, full-time? What if you can’t get a visa to study or live where fashion jobs exist? The dialogue implying that “if you are passionate enough you will find a way” suggests not making it is more a personal failure than a misfortune at the hands of a flawed system. This is not to say it is impossible, or commendable, to overcome adversity and enter the industry. But with nearly half of those surveyed changing their path, we have to reflect on what is lost and why.

Rufus Seagrim

“If you are poor and study fashion you will struggle. Now, this seems like it’s even more apparent.”

Rufus Seagrim, CSM textiles student, is currently under lockdown with his 92- year old granny, who lives alone. “Although she’s very capable, she still requires a fair bit of help around the house, cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping, ensuring she’s doing enough exercise, taking her for walks in the surrounding fields. My studies have definitely taken a back seat.” He has found the situation, understandably, mentally draining, “my granny tends to proudly proclaim to her friends: ‘He’s studying textiles at St Martin’s and is busy working away upstairs.’ I am in fact not working upstairs. I am most probably lying down or sitting at my desk eating, sleeping, and watching videos.” Although tutors have been supportive, his plans to study fashion print next year at CSM are now being reconsidered, given the current experience of working from home and fearing that the measures will continue. “There are some really keen beans at CSM, who seem to have produced several garments, which is incredible, considering the circumstances, but does make me feel a bit inadequate. I have been reminded by a lot of my friends that to just survive a pandemic is enough. I feel I am only just keeping my head above the water.”

“Now, I realized that no fashion week or internship is more precious than a simple weekend with friends and family.”

CSM fashion design student, A., was interning for a brand in Paris during her placement year. However, had to return home to live with a friend in Warsaw due to an anorexia relapse. Now, under lockdown, A. is left with a difficult choice as she is unable to return to campus in August due to her health, and taking another year out is not an option financially. “If you are poor and study fashion you will struggle. Now, this seems like it’s even more apparent.” She is considering the possibility of working on her final collection from home. Fashion and arts courses boast practical facilities that cannot be replicated digitally, yet, reportedly art students will be the last students to return to campuses physically. UAL fashion design student Chen Chen echoes A.’s concerns stating that online courses are not compatible with fashion design students. A. shared, “I do not have the luxury of my own room or a house with parents… Without access to workshops or technicians’ help, it is like a dream shattered.” Her priorities have shifted for the time being, “Now, I realized that no fashion week or internship is more precious than a simple weekend with friends and family.”

Éliane Vergès

Going forwards, the reality of class divide, geographic inequality, and mental health should be a part of the “work hard, dream big” conversation.

International students make up a significant proportion of the fashion student body, with certain capitals holding greater prospects for graduates. There is little information for the ones who planned to move abroad to study, with travel bans still in place. Additionally, international students pay higher fees and many saw their financial situations changing overnight. FIT graduate, Éliane Vergès, has been working in New York on a student visa for the past three years saving for a master at CSM. Due to the pandemic, she was forced to leave her job and move back home to Montreal. The travel ban and her finances mean that applying to CSM is no longer an option. Despite this, she remains positive and is considering online courses, “It’s not every day that the whole world stops and forces you to be inside, so we might as well use it to our advantage, whatever that means for each and every one of us.” Not everyone shares this optimism, with several anonymous respondents stating they are unsure if/when they will financially recover and others stating “fear of racism as a Chinese student in the UK” has discouraged them.

Chen Chen

We have learnt when planning for the future to aim high, the sky’s our limit and limitations exist only in our mind. That true passion conquers all. It’s in the films we consume, the poetry, the music, the cheesy wall quotes, and the motivational talks. When life hits harder than expected, and the plans we think define our worth are less tangible than ever, we are left with the pre-existing issues that we can’t continue to ignore. When talking about arts and fashion education, it is convenient to pretend the starting line is an equal one. Going forwards, the reality of class divide, geographic inequality, and mental health should be a part of the “work hard, dream big” conversation.

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.

Buy Now