Catwalk to workforce: graduate fashion week gets practical

This year’s event aims to prepare young people for work in the industry with advice on job interviews and business plans

With graduate fashion week opening in London on Sunday, expect the usual front-page grabbing designs – voluminous neon trousers, fur gimp masks and tents worn as dresses – from the latest generation of young talent. But this year the four-day event also has something different, with a focus on getting these graduates into the fashion workforce after their moment in the spotlight.

There are around a million young unemployed people aged 16 to 24 and graduate fashion week is attempting to prevent that figure increasing. It has introduced a job zone, where participating graduates can find advice about everything from interviews to writing a business plan, and has added awards beyond design, for disciplines such as media and marketing.

“Not all graduates are going to be designers,” said Rob Templeton, chair of GFW since 2011. “We wanted to show the different options available.”

Set up in 1991 by designer Jeff Banks, the event has helped launch successful names including Stella McCartney and Christopher Bailey in its 22-year history. This is the sort of career trajectory dreamed of by most of the 5,500 design graduates emerging from BA courses this year. Templeton is there to bring them down to earth. “Young designers think they only want to work for a brand in Milan or London but the reality is very few people succeed in doing that,” he said. “There are lucrative jobs to pursue – pattern-cutting is a great skill that’s in demand.”

While the next McCartney may be more likely to come from renowned MA courses at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art, both of which have their own shows, GFW provides a space for colleges outside London. Bournemouth, Bath Spa, Kingston, Manchester and Northampton are among the universities participating, with Kingston seen as a particularly good course. They will be joined for the first time by international colleges including Parsons, the American design college that counts Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan among its alumni.

With representatives of Abercrombie & Fitch and Ralph Lauren attending last year, the international reach of GFW is increasing and Chinese suppliers are expected this time. The focus is on developing the event from a day out for members of the public – although they can still buy tickets for the shows – to a place to do business.

This is something insiders approve of. Alice Smith, a partner in recruitment consultants Smith & Pye, which has worked with brands from Gap to Louis Vuitton, attends GFW regularly to find new talent. “It’s been a public event and it needs to be industry-facing,” she said. “A new team are working to turn that around.”

But while 62 people have been hired by GFW sponsor George since last year, a good number of those have been internships and placements, and Smith said she rarely places someone in a job straight out of college.

As in many industries now, internships, often unpaid, have become essential to getting a paid job in fashion. Emily Button, a Bath Spa design graduate who showed her final collection at GFW last year, said the images of her collection on the runway provided an “amazing talking point” in interviews but ultimately it is work experience that counts. She is now coming to the end of a year-long paid internship at Roland Mouret. Previous internships at MaxMara and Jasper Garvida – completed while at college – helped her get there. “It’s about anything that will give you the edge,” she said. “Those experiences put me in a better position to get a better internship when I graduated.”

Templeton added: “Graduates who have done internships are 50%-60% more likely to get a job. We’re trying to instigate that across more colleges so it’s more a part of courses.” He has plans for workshops to support graduates throughout the year and mentoring programmes online. “We want to make graduate fashion week a home for students and the industry,” he said. “Things like this can make a real difference and we can show other industries new approaches in the process.” © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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