Name: Caroline Cummings University: Nottingham Trent University Subject Studied: BA (Hons) Textile Design Current Job Title: Print, Color and Concept Design Intern Company: LOFT, Ann Inc.
Creative degrees are often challenging both creatively and personally. How were you challenged by your degree course and how did you feel by the end of it?
Creative degrees are always challenging because everything constantly has to come from you, I think it gets difficult because you constantly have to be ‘on’ - you can’t leave your work at the library and have a night off. You always have to be inspired and bring something new, which can be exhausting. You pour your heart and soul into a project, so when something goes wrong or your tutors don't like it, it’s really hard. It’s such a personal thing, so in final year it basically becomes your life! But that means that you're passionate about it, it makes it so much more interesting and enjoyable, despite all the late nights. In final year, the pressure is suddenly amped up, you realise you have to make it count and the thought of not having a job lined up afterwards is terrifying, you don't want to let everyone or yourself down. But I think it’s important to not focus on what you're doing after uni too much, focus on your degree and give it your all, jobs and opportunities will come along but you only get to do final year once. There was a competitiveness between the students, but all-in-all I think I got lucky with my year group, we were close and acted as a great support network for each other. Yes, you are all competing for the same jobs but you are all going through the same things, you all need each other and that support, you need other people’s perspectives and advice and, quite often, just someone to vent to! By the end of uni, you do come away with a huge feeling of pride, emotions and disbelief that you actually pulled it off - it makes all of the stress and tears worth it when you're at your degree show and it has all come together.
How did you end up in your current role? What are your main responsibilities?
I was lucky that my university had such good connections with the industry and pushed for us to think about life after your degree. They have been working with Ann Inc. for around five or six years now with their International Internship programme. They ran a competition within our course, that was open to all disciplines within textile design. We had to design a mini collection of swatches for each of Ann Inc. brands, Ann Taylor, Loft and Lou&Grey. We had to create a concept board and color palette, samples and fashion visualisations. From there, it was narrowed down to interviews with HR and then a Skype interview with the senior designers in New York. My role is to help the Print, Color and Concept team at Loft. Each season starts off with around 9 different concepts, so I help to source and pull inspirational images, researching trends and developing color palettes as well as helping to create a print collection that reflects each concept and the season. It’s an amazing role to be in straight out of university, working within a brand, seeing how the senior designers work and how each department working together teaches you a lot about the fashion industry as a whole. Being in New York is a surreal experience, it’s always something which I wanted to do but never expected to get this young. The company are really encouraging of new talent and want you to learn and grow as much as possible, you definitely feel like more than ‘just an intern’. It can be challenging as suddenly you aren't designing for you anymore, you have to think about the customer and the brand. It doesn't matter what you like anymore - it's all about what ‘she’ will like, which can be difficult to get your head around. Your role as an intern is in general to help and assist everyone, you are people's first point of call if they need help with something. There isn't a lot of designing involved at this level, which can be a bit frustrating at times - you want to show them what you can do and want them to trust you with more - but as an intern, it’s just not realistic that you will get to do a lot of that. However, you are still involved in making design decisions. I feel lucky that my bosses actually value my opinion and there is more to my position than photocopying! But by listening to design meetings and seeing how they develop a collection reminds you of how little you know straight out of university compared to someone who's been at a company for ten years! And it’s important to remember that, your time will come eventually.
What was it about textiles and the world of fashion that caught your focus the most?
I had always loved to create, I loved painting and drawing and making things. Fashion was always something which I had been also been equally interested in, I constantly read Vogue and Elle and looked at all of the shows online. However I knew I wasn't going to be a fashion designer, designing and making clothes did not come naturally to me. It wasn't until I was doing A-Level Art that I realised I could put my love of drawing and painting together with fashion and create textiles, I could create beautiful patterns and use amazing fabrics that were for fashion, but I didn’t have to worry about sewing a sleeve on right! I think it was the idea of creating something beautiful that people can actually use which caught my focus.
What previous work experience do you feel was relevant and helpful to get the role?
My first ever work experience when I was 16 was with two local fashion designers in Belfast, as well as helping backstage during Belfast Fashion Week. Although these were only small and local, that was the start of things. They gave me confidence in pushing myself and putting myself out there to larger companies. I did a lot of different types of internships from then on, all in different areas of textiles and fashion. I interned at a print studio in London, an events company during fashion week, and various designers in London and New York. Some of them I hated, and some of them I loved. Each internship you do, no matter how small, gives you that extra push and drive. It teaches you something you never knew before, and allows you to see whether or not that part of the industry was for you. I think getting experience in as many different areas you can is important, it allows you to see the bigger picture and the industry as a whole, from the beginnings of the design process, to the fashion shows, to it being sold in stores. Once you start interning and meeting other interns, you realise how much competition there is, so each work experience you do is something else to add to your CV and another reason for a company to hire you. It shows you have determination and are proactive. It’s also a great way to make connections, the fashion industry is a very small world so your reputation is important. You never know who could be working at a company you are applying to, so it’s always important to make a good impression during your internships, even if it’s not for you.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I would love to still be working in the industry. Which area exactly, I’m still not sure - maybe it’s design or editing or trend forecasting. I know I definitely want to keep getting experience in as many different areas as I can, but who knows!
If you could give one piece of advice to anyone trying to get into a similar role of yours, what would it be?
Grasp every opportunity that comes your way, don't be afraid to put yourself out there and have confidence in yourself. Opportunities are there, you just have to go out and find them. Companies aren't going to come to you. Apply to anything that interests you, aim high! If you have a favourite brand or company you admire, then contact them, apply and ask for opportunities. Don't doubt yourself, someone's got to work there so why can’t it be you?