I didn’t go to fashion school.
In some way, I always felt like I didn’t deserve to call myself a designer because I didn’t have a degree from Parsons on the wall of my studio. Like there was no amount of work or learning I could do to make up for the lack of that piece of paper.
In the beginning, I didn’t have a network of people with industry connections in my iPhone contacts, nor did anyone notable follow me on social media.
My resume was void of any internships from fashion houses.
But what I did have was sheer determination, an open mind, and insatiable curiosity.
I credit a willingness to look outside traditional education sources combined with a stroke of rebellious nature as the source of my belief system that consisted more Youtube and Google than classroom and lecture.
While I’m not against fashion school–I would have gone if given the opportunity–I believe that your desire to learn will overcome a lack of opportunity.
Disclaimer: this isn’t an essay on how far you can get with pure hard work because we all know there are a million words on that topic already.
I simply want to share the belief system that led me to do a lot of the initial manual labour required to bring my collection to life on my own.
Some may think this is an ineffective strategy (I had moments where I also questioned this choice) but bear with me.
After making the choice to start my business, I thought I would spend a few months learning manual patternmaking.
My lack of schooling became even more apparent during this time because I actually believed I could learn such a complex skill in only a few months.
If making a dress is like building a house, then the pattern is the concrete foundation. Nothing can be built if the foundation fails its purpose.
It wasn’t long before I realized I would have to fully immerse myself in it until I was comfortable and capable of drafting dresses I deemed good enough to sell.
There was no skimming the surface–you either knew it or you didn’t.
This ended up taking three years.
Three years of countless yards of muslin, enough paper to make me promise myself I would plant a few trees to make up for my consumption, and many isolated hours on my cutting table.
Business experts would probably say this was the most inefficient path to take, but I had to know what I was making–inside and out.
A part of me also thought I could drown all the self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy/imposter syndrome with sheer knowledge.
This was only half true.
Feeling discouraged in the midst of yet another failed pattern, I decided to get to the root of why I chose to do this when I could easily hire this out to someone who could do it in 1/4 of the time.
I started researching patternmaking companies, but it felt like cheating.
How could I create a recipe with no knowledge of how each ingredient contributed to the end result? How could I serve a meal without ever tasting it myself?
I wasn’t opposed to hiring someone, I was just opposed to hiring when it was my white flag of surrender.
I refused to give up the reins out of desperation.
I would hire it out when I no longer had the time to do it, not because I didn’t have the skills.
I needed to know WHY the pattern looked that way, or why the fabric felt and draped and moved that way. By understanding the way the pattern works, I gained an understanding of the body wearing it.
I couldn’t skip understanding.
The dress I offer is the root of my purpose, the foundation of what I want to offer the world. It doesn’t matter how much money I put into marketing if my product fails.
I felt that I had to know each layer of what I was making intimately.
In conclusion, if you’re in the midst of learning a new skill, don’t give up! If you’re willing to put in the work and the failures, understanding and expertise will meet you halfway.