Words for my Student Self

Be prepared for awful candid photos and the probability you will forever judge me from here on in as unprofessional... Hindsight is a beautiful thing. However, I also try to live with no regrets so this post isn't so much what I'd do different, as I'm very proud of where I am today; more like light-hearted words of wisdom to myself, and potentially young designers seeking advice. I often hear my interns complaining about certain elements of their course or pressures of third year, and the short response I have to that is: "You haven't experienced anything yet..."


1. You DO Have Time

Let's get the worst photo out of the way shall we. This is unfortunately me, in my first year of university the night before a deadline. Beyond the breeze block cell of a student room; myself and my friend pulled an all-nighter to finalise our portfolio submission. 

There's something frustrating about young students (my former self included) who complain they're too busy and don't have time for X, Y and Z. Well, you do. I have a new found level of empathy for my tutors who were at a wits end with some extreme cases. Ultimately you are paying the fees for your course and you are in control of your future, but it's time to cut the excuses and clock the hours.  

2. You will cringe

Recently I dug out my student portfolios and my questionable level of taste had me wincing in my head about what my peers must have thought.

Conceptually my pieces have always been strong but I felt I never fully realised my design ideas or reached their potential, and the only person cringing down further down the line will be you. Often I would be cramming in last minute designs and have developed something so much better than my current work, yet without the time to persue it. 


3. Internships are Invaluable

I argued I didn't have time in my third year at university to hold down an internship amongst the development of my final collection, I did. Of course the internship would have had to be part time, but I certainly could have managed it within my schedule and more importantly with the support of my student funding. Instead I found myself graduating with the need for further experience with no security of student housing or maintenance loan to fall back on. Thousands of pounds later, I landed a job which didn't pay enough to cover the costs that built up scrambling around at internships. And although an educational system at university teaches you the basics, nothing will fully prepare you for the industry - so get involved at your earliest opportunity.

 Enjoying the sunshine on my lunch break whilst interning at haute couturier: Suzie Turner. 

Enjoying the sunshine on my lunch break whilst interning at haute couturier: Suzie Turner. 

4. Attitude prevails

I am a firm believer and often tell my interns that attitude prevails over anything else. See my (upcoming) interview advice blog post, but a good attitude often outshines egotistical skill. Everyone has a lapse, and even through the times of procrastination my commitment to the profession and curiosity towards the craft kept me persevering. I like to think of myself as an 'optimistic realist' and I think this is so important in any creative or entrepreneurial venture. You will have to dust yourself off time and time again after a fail, but keep that positive attitude and you will achieve what you set out to do. 

5. Document everything

You should really be taught this during your studies anyway, but sometimes the effort of organising a professional photoshoot seemed too much and often became a lesser priority for me, especially if it was an optional requirement for work submission (naughty). But going this extra mile can often lead to resourceful and creative outcomes with exciting collaborations being had along the way. 


6. Focus on Your Personal Best


There was a lot of unspoken pressure at my university to be selected for Graduate Fashion Week, whether it was pressure from the tutors or amongst peers, it was present. I maintained a mantra throughout my third year that whatever the outcome, as long as I was proud of my work and pushed myself to the best of my ability, it wouldn't matter.

The night before we (as a year) were due to start construction on our collections I was told by my tutor to start again as my theme had become too personal which blocked my creativity. I was set back by two months worth of work. It's important to know I am the kind of person who rebels if I am told I can't do something, so I came back the next day with a file full of new research and a fresh concept. 

Three months later my collection walked down the catwalk at Graduate Fashion Week and minus one of the outfits, I was very, very proud of the work I had produced. 


This applies to me even now. In terms of observational studies, I'm great, I can draw you the most realistic apple you've seen, but I was kindly reminded throughout my university experience that my fashion illustrations - for want of a better word - were shit. You are encouraged as a designer to maintain a sketchbook and this is unbelievably valuable advice. I am going to publish sketchbook work and pages in future blog posts, but recently I have really dedicated my time to improving my hand at drawing faces (pesky, bloody faces). Within four days there was a difference. I strongly believe anyone can draw, it just takes time, practice and dedication. Conveying your designs and visually communicating your ideas is an absolutely integral part of being a fashion designer - so keep it up!

 Sketchbook work from a second year summer project. 

Sketchbook work from a second year summer project. 

8. Maintain side Projects

However erm... crap the outcome may be, maintaining a side project can also maintain your enthusiasm for the craft. Often as artists or creatives we spend too long investing time into one project that we need to step back and re-approach with a fresh set of eyes. Whenever my enthusiasm took a lull I would keep my hand at the work by developing something new on the side to inject that enthusiasm back into me. (See questionable "Scoliosis Jumper" below). It may never lead to anything that you choose to take forward, but it gives your mind a break on the current, whilst still focusing on your skill. Even now my 'side projects' include this blog and the Digital Pattern Library when my mind needs a rest from working intensely on upcoming collections. 

Ultimately however cliché it sounds, just have fun. You chose your career path or course for a reason and stresses in the creative industry cause everyone to have low or doubtful moments, but the reasons we love what we do always outweigh the bad.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing.

Alexandra Jane WallComment