What to Do
While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I had one of many meetings with my Faculty Advisor. We were both trying to figure out what career I should settle into. I told her about my interest in fashion. Her advice to me was to not go into the fashion industry; to paraphrase, she said it was a “dog-eat-dog-world” industry, one filled with backbiting and jealousy. She didn’t think that my personality would be the best match.
Against her better judgment, I embarked on my fashion career. While I have no regrets, I have come to experience that her words were somewhat true. The fashion industry is filled with people constantly trying to outdo each other, all for the perceived recognition and glamour that comes with it all.
I have seen myself grow as a designer, and as a person. In your own journey, it is important to know that people will criticize your work. This is a part of any area of design. Where fashion is concerned, the criticisms often feel more personal and unconstructive than they might in another area of design.
If this industry is for you, I have some advice to give based on my experience and the wisdom of others who have been kind enough to share with me.
1. Understand design. The principles of art and design translate throughout the design worlds; be it fine arts, graphic design, web, broadcast, etc. Build a solid foundation in art and design, through exploration of these different areas. Understand the principles of gestalt, balance, color, harmony/unity, texture, line, shape, movement, etc. As unrelated as they might seem, you can take these principles with you in the fashion industry.
2. After you have built yourself a solid foundation in design, know your customer. Know what this person likes to wear, what she likes to do, where she works, how much she earns, how much she spends on clothing, etc.
3. After this, do your designs – and be confident in them. Critics will attempt to undermine your work, change your work, and give their input. Be polite, and listen carefully to what they have to say. If this advice is based on sound design principles, then it is worthy of consideration. However, if the advice is based on personal, subjective feelings (for example, simply, “I just don’t like it), then it is time to stand firm to your design convictions and keep moving.
There is often the misconception that good fashion is concrete and definitive. That is definitely not the case. Across the world, from country-to-country and culture-to-culture, good fashion is personal and locally derived. If you know your customer and your target market well, and you have designed for this market, outside advice might very well be irrelevant. According to designer Sylvia Heisel, fashion is all different; for different people and different lifestyles. We are bombarded with the concept that fashion is only what can be found in American or European magazines; but what about the Indian lady who likes shiny saris, the Jamaican dancehall queen who likes bright colors and skimpy getups, the Muslim woman who wants to be covered from head to toe? It is all fashion. It is all relevant. Who you are designing for is more important than a “one size fits all” perception.
So, my advice is to study design, know your market, and hit the sketchpad. Be confident, yet polite, in the face of criticism and go from there. Defend your designs based on sound design principles, and knowledge of your target customer. Learn to differentiate between feedback intended to help you learn and grow as a designer, and unconstructive criticism that gives you no avenues for growth, but is instead intended to stymie your creativity and progress.