In the fashion industry, success is never guaranteed.
Rosie Manins talks to two aspiring Dunedin designers about
Emily Scott is pursuing a future in fashion for the love of it.
The 22-year-old recently graduated from Otago Polytechnic
with a degree in fashion design but is realistic about the
challenges of establishing her own clothing label.
''That is the ultimate goal - in the vast future. I wouldn't
be doing it if I didn't love it because it is so hard.''
First, Scott hopes to work as an intern or assistant to an
established designer, in order to gain the experience and
insight required to run her own business. So the return on
her investment in fashion will initially be modest, and the
creative vision will predominantly be someone else's. But it
will be a start.
''It can be hard with a student loan. Sometimes it's not paid
[work] and you just hope it leads to something,'' she says.
Even so, intern and assistant positions are not easy to come
by, as graduates vie for limited vacancies.
Scott says the best designers to work for run businesses
small enough for you to be more than just another face on the
production line, but large enough to offer varied
Then there is the challenge of maintaining some sense of your
own style while working for someone else, she says.
Scott considers herself one of the lucky ones, due to her
success in a recent fashion competition.
Emily Scott hopes her daring designs will translate into
commercial success. Photo by Shantelle Cockroft-Gerken.
She won the inaugural Australian Graduates Fashion Week
last November, securing more than $10,000 and other prizes that
will help launch her on a fashion career.
Competitions are an important platform for aspiring
designers, she says.
''I was lucky enough to get into the competition side of
things, otherwise I honestly don't know what I would have
done. If you do well it helps to get your name out there and
your foot in the door.''
Scott says everyone pursuing fashion at Otago Polytechnic
School of Design aims to be involved in iD Dunedin Fashion
Week - particularly the iD International Emerging Designer
Some graduates unable or unwilling to work for other
designers complete further tertiary education or pursue jobs
in fashion-related fields such as retail or magazine styling.
Those determined to be self-employed designers often study
business, she says.
''You have to have a really strong understanding of the
To compete with cheap mass-produced clothing, designers have
to offer value by other measures: in the quality of their
patterns, fabric and workmanship.
Scott says ultimately designers must stay true to their
unique ''look'' and point of difference while keeping in mind
those who will buy and wear garments.
''It can be brutal: people do judge you if you put yourself
out there and designing is quite personal. You have to detach
yourself from that because in the end it's just clothes.
''But if you try to do something just because you think other
people will like it, you will never get anywhere - you do it
because you love it and if you didn't love it you couldn't do
Tansy Morris is in the perfect position at present - learning
on the job as a full-time employee at House of Kavina.
The 23-year-old fashion design graduate has a passion for
special-occasion wear and hopes one day to produce bridal and
evening dresses under her own label.
She started at House of Kavina, which specialises in bridal
wear, during a work experience stint while studying at Otago
Polytechnic, then progressed to working in the store every
Saturday and is now a permanent member of staff.
Morris says she is privileged to observe her colleagues -
long-time sewers and designers - in action.
''I pick up so much from them, and they help explain what and
why they are doing things. I would definitely recommend it, I
know how lucky I am to get such a great overview of how the
whole system works - I think that's been crucial.''
She also manages to put in a few hours at home creating
garments, mostly extravagant dresses, for friends and family.
She is making her future sister-in-law's wedding gown.
Morris says she has always been ''very real'' about the
prospects of a career in fashion.
Emerging Dunedin fashion designer Tansy Morris says she has
a long way to go before establishing her own boutique.
Photo by Craig Baxter.
At high school she excelled in science and started a
bachelor of science degree at the University of Otago.
But a friend convinced her to change course after many
science lectures spent hand-sewing.
Morris says she enrolled in the polytechnic's school of
design thinking if her ''fantasy'' of being a fashion
designer did not play out, she could become a teacher or
complete postgraduate study in ''something else''.
''I thought if the worst comes to the worst this will just
give me an edge in retail, so I was very open about my
prospects. There was always the dream that I would have my
own label and manage to make it, but I was conscious to never
really set my heart on it just in case, because it's so
For Morris, as with many graduates, money is the biggest
issue when starting out.
But even if she had the money to open a boutique tomorrow,
managing a business would be tricky without help from
experienced professionals, she says.
''There is a huge amount of business sense you need to make
something work. I worked at a shop in the Octagon for years
and was friends with the owners so I got to see what went
into running it.
''It made me realise that you can't just make something and
expect it to sell. The fantasy seems easy: that you will sew
something, it won't take very long, it will work the first
time and everybody will want it. But it doesn't work like
that at all.''
Like Scott, Morris recognises the value in entering fashion
She is one of three polytechnic graduates selected to
showcase a collection in next month's iD Dunedin Fashion
Show, which she says will be a great help .
In a year's time she hopes to have made more progress as a
designer of dresses to order.
''If just one person sees something I've done and asks me to
make something for them, and if that goes well and they tell
their friends, then hopefully something good will come of all
that. If I could make a dress on the side every few months
that would be amazing, and hopefully that would progress to
having my own label and boutique down the line.''
In an ideal world, Morris says she will have her own bridal
and evening wear stores in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin -
where she would be based - but says that might be ''30 years
down the track''.
She is banking on the fact women will spend a little more
money on something special, a one-off dress which makes them
''look and feel beautiful''.
iD Dunedin Fashion Week starts on Sunday, March 10 and runs
to Sunday, March 17 with events daily. The iD International
Emerging Designer Awards Show is on Thursday, March 14. The
iD Dunedin Fashion Show is on Friday, March 15 and Saturday,
March 16. www.idfashion.co.nz.