The closure of fashion schools and the fact that some knitwear students are left with no machinery to many does not seem like the biggest problem that the world is dealing with right now. What happens though, when you don’t have a laptop outside the university facilities, or a floor large enough to fit your work? When the art school environment, that represents your ticket to class equality, is gone and you have to go back to being left behind?
Ciara Courtney, a final year BA Fashion student at Manchester School of Art, shared with us her thoughts and feelings in lockdown.
Being a fashion student involves sleepless nights, harsh criticism and it also demands a thick skin. No one stands out unless they are truly committed. The life of a fashion student revolves around a studio: eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, amongst piles of fabric, paper, and your peers. Fashion is a financially burdensome degree. At my course, BA Fashion at Manchester School of Art, tutors warned us that most people spend over £3,000 for their final collections. By the time the COVID-19 crisis loomed, the majority of the senior students were well on their way making the final collections for the degree show.
With the outbreak of the virus my art school safety net broke. The place I have been relying on for the last three years was gone, and I was back to where I started, hurrying back to my two-up two-down terrace in Liverpool. Art school meant so much to me. It was the place I spent 6 days a week, from 8 am to 10 at night. It was my routine. It was the place that made me feel equal to my peers. It was the place I could access a PC, an industrial sewing machine, and space.
“With the outbreak of the virus my art school safety net broke.”
Now I am back to the place that I worked so hard to get away from. The living room became my ‘studio’, the place where I Zoom my tutors once or twice a week. The savings for my collection got spent on a laptop, so I can at least try and put together a portfolio. My dreams of a collection seem like something from the distant future.
Every day my Instagram feed is flooded with graduate fashion week content, pushing aesthetic photos of people’s ‘home studios’. The gap between my life and many of my fellow classmates’ lives around the world feels more and more widened. When I started my degree, I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from The Alexander McQueen Sarabande foundation. My mum cried for days when I got it, not just out of pride, but mainly because it gave me the chance to be a bit more equal to my wealthier counterparts. My mum has been holding in so much misplaced guilt for the fact that I wasn’t on the same footing as other students.
“I’m scared that I will be forever catching up with my peers who had the opportunities, both mentally and practically, to make this experience positive, while I am trying to keep my head above the water.”
Being from a working-class background is not just financially tough, it is mentally heavy. The confidence that people from wealthy backgrounds seem to have is ever abundant; especially in such an ego-driven career path like fashion. Coming back home, my reserve of confidence has all but dried up, just like the cash in my bank account. My university has put in a “no detriment policy”, so at least my marks won’t be affected, but my degree experience certainly has. I’m scared that I will be forever catching up with my peers who had the opportunities, both mentally and practically, to make this experience positive, while I am trying to keep my head above the water.