Maybe you’re like me. You always had a vested interest in fashion and once you learned that you could study it, your heart was set. Well, as it turns out, this fairytale is more of a fable. Here’s why, if you asked me about going to fashion school, I’d say “don’t.”
You have the dream and it is presented to you on a pretty platter. You have a golden ticket into the fashion industry as the designer/buyer/media/artist you crave. The offer is incredible, the talks are persuasive and the pressure of securing your spot follows, leading you to sign on the dotted line and hand over your first cheque.
So your excitement continues into your first day. Your expectations are that you’ll be surrounded by creatives, make tons of friends and learn all about the world of fashion. All of the many subjects you have are alluring and full of promise. You’re likely in the heart of a big city and the chance to study what you love fills you with gratitude.
Slowly, that excitement fades as the realities set in. Even though the school is small, admin issues are tantamount. The student life you longed for doesn’t exist and although you’re in the right zip code, the area is suburban and there is no source of inspiration or buzz that hails from the older demographic surrounding you. The friends you thought you’d make don’t exist as the cliques you grew to hate in high school found you in tertiary education as well.
The knowledge you craved is actually consists of about 8 subjects and you soon discover you’ll be using the same textbook over the course of the 3 years. You challenge this, along with the either 2 or 4 assignments required for the year, to get lambasted and told that what you learn is “general” and “based on fashion”. Each subject taught once per week and alas 1.5 hours long. Why, you may ask? Because you’re the only one who purchased textbooks and so it takes hours for the rest of the students to copy down notes from the projector.
A study done by The Business of Fashion questioned whether fashion schools were simply selling dreams to students. They found that support, once the degree had been completed was low, which is true for South Africa as well. However, the study did find that students were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the teaching, study materials, workrooms, buildings and campuses. The same cannot be said for my experience. Lecturers changed several times, with most relying on experience in the industry, rather than qualifications.
Globally, there has been an increase in the request for tertiary education and for fashion specifically. In South Africa, there has been and continues to be a fight by students to gain free education through the “Fees Must Fall” campaign. I can only imagine what impact this will have on the obscene cost of roughly R200k students have to fork out in order to get their fashion degree. This exorbitant amount of money is easily demanded by such private institutions based on the fact that they are knowingly aware that no alternatives exist and that in the current climate of the country, a degree is paramount. What they don’t tell you is that actually, a non-fashion related media or business degree from another institution will get you more opportunities (in terms of commercial fashion degrees).
In the aftermath of attaining your qualification, you face strife in the industry, which is small and competitive. Most fashion related jobs are offered in Cape Town, which would require one to move across the country. South Africa’s textiles and manufacturing industries are sub-par and do not offer design students many opportunities. What you also don’t realise is the sacrifice that you are making in order to obtain your dream: the loss of opportunities. Post-graduate study elsewhere is nearly impossible and I have had the unfortunate witnessing of many graduates go on to work in retail stores, leave fashion completely or stay unemployed.
At the end of the day, I’m happy to have my qualifications in the field that I wanted and am very grateful to my parents for allowing that to happen. However, when you’re considering going to fashion school, think twice and then think of me. I’ve been through the system and have come out saying “don’t”. I think Drake says it best, “You hate the fact that you bought the dream And they sold you one.”