For the love of fashion

In the fashion industry, success is never guaranteed. Rosie Manins talks to two aspiring Dunedin designers about their prospects.

Emily Scott
Emily Scott
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 experiences.

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...
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 Awards.

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 industry.''

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 it.''

Tansy Morris
Tansy Morris
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...
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 hard.''

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 design competitions.

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.

Add a Comment