Plus, today marks a kind of special point in history. Two years ago today marked the first time I was ever unemployed. I have had a job since I was a teenager, and always moved to the next job with no break in between. I was laid off (everyone was) and instead of looking for something new I started looking at what my next chapter could be. It was the closing of a door.
Fast forward, one year ago today was my first day of school at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Amazing coincidence really, as this was a brand new door of my life that was opening.
And today, one year later, certainly didn't disappoint. I went into my dream job this morning and finished one of the hardest sewing projects I have ever done, and then took it to a New York fashion week casting call for plus sized models. Several pieces I constructed will be on the runway (designed by Chromat of course). Literally, I am living my dreams. I could never have imagined I'd be here a year ago, or especially two years ago. It's proof that you can change everything at anytime in your life.
So with that introduction, may I present:
What I Learned in the Last Year
It was a full, fast, and intense year with so much learning and growing, both technically and personally.
I came to FIT with the goal of learning the basics of making clothing. I wanted official sewing lessons. I wanted to learn how to drape and pattern. I needed technique. Looking back on the year, I know I got the education I was seeking. I am very proud of the work I put into this short 9 month program!
First semester I felt fully immersed in the technical skills I set out to gather. It was a no-nonsense semester. It was a thrilling kickstart into the fashion world.
Second semester was difficult for me, but not necessarily because of the curriculum. I began to see that there were people in my personal life who were taking over too many of my thoughts and emotions. From there, I became extra sensitive to students and teachers at school who spread negativity or built themselves up by tearing others down.
Despite that, I learned a TON, and am inspired to list out the top experiences and quirks from this school year.
I’m a digital girl. Through the years I have gone almost paperless, save for some sketching and list making. In school, or at least at FIT, it’s impossible to do. Physical note writing is hard to beat when you are in a classroom situation. I went back to a paper planner for my assignments because it was still the easiest way to see all my assignments in one place. Still, I found many things in the education system that are very far behind when it comes to technology.
Pattern making is taught old-school. You use a ton of paper and it is pretty tedious. It is a concept which basics could so easily be completed by a computer program that it is crazy to me that there is no digital pattern making education to complement the hand-drawn work. I feel like learning the long way has major value, but I wish I could have also seen what new technologies are out there.
Additionally, FIT focuses on hand-done illustration almost exclusively. I was flabbergasted that more emphasis was not placed on digital illustration. And even then, the percentage of education spent on drawing croquis (the technical name for drawings of clothing on a figure) is disproportionate to what you will actually do in the industry as a fashion designer. As an intern I have done zero drawings like this.
A beautiful portfolio may help you get hired, but unless you are a fashion illustrator, these skills aren't important in the long run.
Some More Random Facts, According to Me:
It doesn't matter how clean the FIT women’s bathrooms are at the start of the day, they will always be disgusting by 3pm. And I mean every single women’s bathroom on campus. The toilet paper they use is literally not even 1-ply. I would be interested in a study to determine whether they are actually saving money by buying it because you waste so much in order to get a proper usable amount. Yes, I have thought about this in detail.
5 classes in one semester is the perfect amount to make sure you can get everything done and put everything you have into it (I had 5 classes 1st semester. I had 7 classes 2nd semester).
That said, EVERY class is important. There are no blowoff classes. If you think a class is a blowoff, it's because the teacher isn't doing their job or you aren't looking at it hard enough. There was a class that I heard a number of students complain about; it was called Faces and Places in Fashion, and each week a different person from the industry would come speak to our class. In my opinion this was the *most* important class, as this was a way to make connections in the industry before graduation, which is key in finding opportunities. I walked away from this class with half a dozen connections in the industry who are actual influencers. I had several internship offers through them, and even got to tour the wardrobe of the tv show Sneaky Pete because of it.
It is okay to fail. It is okay to fail a test or a project or a class. It does not make YOU a failure. FIT is one of the top 3 fashion schools in the WORLD. If you fail a project it really is okay. I didn’t complete my pattern making final and it devastated me. However, by failing to complete this assignment, it didn’t mean that I learned any less than if I had the time to complete it.
It reminds me of something my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Lundt, told me once. I had gotten a 65% on a test and was upset. But he told me "this means you understood over half of the material! This is difficult stuff." That really stuck with me to this day, and is totally applicable today.
School and fashion programs have terrible interface design. The student intranet (MyFIT), PLM ( a program for creating tech packs to inform manufacturers how to make your garments), and Blackboard are all amazingly non-intuitive and obviously cobbled together continually. The Blackboard app hasn’t been updated in several years, which is an eternity in app design. I get it though, because money isn't usually there to update these interfaces. Most schools don't have a budget to update these systems.
Basting may seem like a waste of time. It's not.
Pin the crap out of everything before you sew it. It makes a difference. I never pinned much stuff because I didn’t realize how much it helps in garment construction. My mom has been sewing for a jillion years so she never pinned things the way I have found is necessary for clothing. Growing up, I learned to sew from my mom so I just did what she did, except I didn't have the experience she did.
The type of thread you use matters. If you are dying a piece, use the same material of thread as your fabric, unless you want it to dye differently. If you sew a thick material, you need stronger thread.
An invisible zipper foot on an industrial machine is MAGIC.
Don't be afraid to rip out stitches and do something again if it isn't perfect. Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 or 10 times to get it right.
Having a good sewing machine repair place is so important. I thought there was something wrong with the way I was sewing, but it turns out my machines all needed tune-ups.
I am also on the lookout for an industrial machine for my home studio. It makes a huge difference in how you sew.
Sometimes you should ask fellow students questions about how something is constructed or why the sewing machine isn’t working. Sometimes the students know more than the teachers. HOWEVER..It’s usually better to ask the the teacher first.
If you think you are too good for the school, you probably aren't.
Fashion students have huge egos.
The students who act like they know everything are the least likely to help you.
There are still mean girls. Some of them are boys.
If you spend a lot of time making fun of other people, you might be a mean girl.
There’s no advantage to being an asshole.
Being a good teacher demands empathy and listening skills. Never assume you know someone's question before they ask it.
Just because you have achieved success as a designer in the industry does not mean you are a good teacher. Teaching, like anything, takes practice. Listen to feedback from students.
Fashion teachers also can have big egos.
Most of the teachers at FIT are great but I did have a couple of really bad ones. Know the difference between bad teaching and bad student work ethic.
On the Experience as a Whole:
Being in your 30s and being in your 20s are very different.
People act like high fashion and costume design are very different. They aren't.
Fashion is very subjective.
Some people work for charities to elevate their own status, not because they want to help people.
Chipotle isn't as good in New York as it is in Colorado.
Sometimes people need validation. Give it.
Sometimes you need validation. Seek it.
Sometimes the things that are most important to learn aren't the ones you get grades for.
We are all learning every day. Assuming that you know it all is dangerous. I don't care what schools you've been to and who you have worked with, there is always more to learn.
In the end, this experience was what I needed to take me to the next level. I am already setting new goals for this year, knowing I can always improve in every aspect. As with anything, learning goes on after formal schooling, and I would argue that you can learn MORE in your first year post degree than you did in your college curriculum.
In 3 months at my internship, I have learned almost as much as in a full semester of coursework, and much more of it is real-world applicable.
It was an intense year, but it's the start of something beautiful for me. I am absolutely thrilled at seeing where the fashion world and New York takes me.