We all know that making decisions before or during your university course can be very challenging for a young person. The opportunities might be overwhelming and the fear of making the wrong choice just sits in the back of your head. As a strong supporter and participator in fashion education, we at KORLEKIE contacted three graduated designers who have established their own brands, asking them about their university experience. The lovely designers we talked to were Clarissa Henry from GDSBRAND, Wesley Hartwell from SELF FULFILLING PROPHECY/DISMANTLE STUDIO and Aimee Belle Johnson from Immoral London.
1. Please state your name, where you studied, what was the program you graduated from and what is the name of your current brand?
Wesley Hartwell (WH):
MA Menswear University of Westminster (2018-2020)
BA Psychology University of Adelaide (Australia) 1990-1995
For around 10 years I have a creative and brand direction studio called SELF FULFILLING PROPHECY.
I am also now launching a design and creative studio called DISMANTLE STUDIO as a collaboration with Catherine Hudson.
2. Please explain what did you learn during university that was most helpful as a starting fashion designer?
The most helpful things I learnt at university was in production. Managing everything from casting, location hunting, organising of shoots and the overall organisation of a campaign or brand.
Learning as many practical and theoretical skills as possible is very useful as a base knowledge and helps you interact with other industry professionals throughout the fashion process. even if you are not able to master each individual process, it’s important to know how things are done, so when you specialise in one area, you have an overview of the entire process.
Learning how to think critically about the context of fashion and how fashion is put to use in peoples lives to communicate to others and perform identities, the social role of fashion, this helps to devise original and unique creative concepts, which can inform not only garments but every aspect of your design and communication strategies. This skill translates to many practical uses in the fashion industry and gives you a unique voice, rather than a narrow view of just designing something or creating an aesthetic due to personal taste.
During my final year at university, I received the most practical advice about being a fashion designer in the industry. Most notably I was giving advice on networking, social media presence, manufacturing future collections, loaning pieces. All of this information has been invaluable to me when starting on my own. Having freelance designers and brand owners as tutors was an amazing resource.
3. Did you have opportunities to network with others?
Yes, we had a ton of industry guests as well as a 3 month period to undergo internships and work placements.
You can network and find digital communities as well as physical and making connections with people of mutual respect is key.
During my final year, I was introduced to a marketing student by a tutor who recognised the similarities in our ethos’. This resulted in us collaborating for a photoshoot, where her input with styling, direction and photography is great.
During my final year, I also got the opportunity, alongside the rest of my year, to present the early stages of my collection to other students and tutors. This gave me the opportunity to network with a number of other fashion students, as well as recruiting 3 younger students to intern for me.
Overall though, there was a lack of collaborative opportunities at my university, with no team projects in the second or third year. Students were not restricted to find people to collaborate with for their final collections, but I believe a short presentation would have been helpful to teach students how to approach collaborators, as the wording in these situations is very important.
The university studio environment was a great one for honest feedback from tutors and other students, something that I greatly miss since working alone.
4. How important would you consider networking is for furthering your career? Please explain.
Networking is really important just based on the fact that word of mouth is one of the most powerful tools of promotion. The network you have around you can expose you to new opportunities, especially in an industry like the fashion industry.
I believe networking is an important tool in the fashion industry, but it is something that should be recognised can be a barrier if you don’t have the access to people to network with. I think its key to focus on areas of fashion you are interested in and be immersed in that world as much as possible, that way you can try to find your own routes and networking opportunities. Finding a likeminded person or group of people I believe it is the most valuable networking rather than just getting 100 business cards at an industry event. Work hard on your craft and practice and be comfortable talking to people about theirs, in a kind and respectful way.
Networking is such a huge part of being a freelance fashion designer/small brand owner, whether that be with stylists, store owners or other artists. I can see it is a fundamental part of my career if I am wanting to grow and have more presence, although it can be a hard balance between this and the more creative and manual sides of my day to day jobs.
5. What other useful opportunities have the educational program offered to you?
The resources that university offered are extremely helpful, from the library, archives, photo studios and equipment. It really makes a difference when you have all of these things at your fingertips.
Opening up the opportunity for further study, although people rarely ask what class of degree I achieved, working hard and maximising your results allows you to go on to postgraduate education.
Completing a degree shows potential employers your dedication and a commitment to finishing a task.
Becoming friends and colleagues with your university classmates, who move in different directions sometimes inside or divergent from the industry but bring a wealth of perspectives and points of view, I really enjoyed learning a lot about different cultures and the way those cultures impact the perspective of my friends. This is an important skill as you progress in the industry and ensure you are designing respectfully with a wide range of perspectives, cultures and viewpoints in mind.
During my second year, we had an industry-based project, where a competition was carried out by ASOS. This was an amazing opportunity that resulted in me winning a paid internship with the brand, as well as the whole class receiving feedback from senior designers at ASOS.
6. Did the university program help you with setting up your own brand? How?
The program helped me with branding and marketing strategy. One to one sessions with tutors were also helpful as we thoroughly went through the brand’s image.
I think this depends on what is meant by ‘BRAND’ building a brand is not necessarily related to fashion, and there are a great many ways to define and set up a ‘brand’ I don’t think that the courses I have completed were particularly focussed on the many nuances of brand building, as that is a very specialist marketing subject.
Similarly setting up a ‘brand’ may refer to running a successful business centred around a unique fashion creative concept – The business side of fashion Is something quite different from the creative side, and the skills necessary for a sole trader, in setting up and running a business (maybe what you mean by setting up own brand) is completely different from those in many other facets and roles in the fashion industry, so I am not sure that that kind of vocational business skills is something I learned in a degree.
However what I think more valuable brand building are the skills specifically related to fashion – that makes setting up your own brand successful – my MA was very focussed on developing a unique point of view and perspective, that had a relevant underpinning in terms of research, concept development, expression of ideas through the development of various outcomes, garments as well as visuals, so in this case, I can say YES the MA Menswear course academic outcomes can be instrumental in helping you forge the core values of a brand in the context of the fashion industry and a firm foundation of running your own brand in that context.
My tutors helped me set up my own brand by offering me costing sheets, release forms and countless pieces of advice that I refer back to often.
As well as this my university has an Entrepreneurship and Enterprise programme, who I am booked in to have a meeting with soon.
7. What do you wish you knew before starting university?
A few things, I wish that I knew it would be more self-directed and based on independent learning. I also wish I knew how useful student loan could have been if I had invested it in the right things.
Understand the difference between an academic outcome and what your own goals are and find a middle ground compromise if necessary or apply yourself 100% to the academic outcome or change courses. Really look into your course and modules you are doing – don’t assume their outcomes, as this is what will determine your academic success. I have changed courses several times over my career including partially completing BArch (Architecture), BSc (Hons) History and MSc Marketing. None of which suited me.
Before starting university, I wish that I knew which questions to ask in order to get the most information out of my tutors.
8. What kind of advice would you give to students who are studying/graduating in a post-COVID world?
The advice I would give is to make sure they seek a healthy learning environment. Not being on campus can affect your studies in a tremendous way so it’s so important to find somewhere you can learn and study. I would also advise on staying connected to your peers and tutors as much as possible, it’s easy to feel alone studying in these current times!
I am not sure that we are post-COVID, now, or will be in in the near future, as the risks of pandemics and all the potential for seismic changes in the global fabrics have just been highlighted by the recent health crisis, I don’t think to treat this as a passing moment. I think post-COVID would be a short-sighted way of thinking of the world and maybe not helpful. Being a participant in global culture and helping shape and reflect the zeitgeist is the role of the fashion designer, it’s very exciting and can be a very positive role. Many of the world’s industries and systems have been rocked by COVID and this provides innumerable opportunities for change in the industry itself, as well as in the creative reflection of society through our wardrobes. Now is the time to be optimistic and flexible, and bring all the wonderful dreams and visions to life. Be ready willing and open to all kinds of changes in the future, and treat them as opportunities to create positive change through your work.
For students, I would say utilise all resources available to you, such as fellow designers, the library, the equipment etc. Don’t overthink what you are designing, trust your instincts and make the most of this time to develop your ideas to their full potential.
For graduates, I would say utilise social media as a visual CV to showcase your work and reach out to other creatives to collaborate or simply ask questions.