Evie Holness

Do you need to go to uni to work in fashion?

A degree from Parsons, Central Saint Martins or Antwerp ideally, is the dream destination for so many aspiring designers and creatives - but do you really need a degree to succeed in fashion?

The late Vivienne Westwood dropped out after one term at The Harrow School of Art, now known as The University of Westminster. Arguably one of the greatest British designers of all time, she created exquisite garments that made history and changed the face of fashion forever. Westwood largely pioneered the Punk movement and created the opportunity for a number of other subcultures to express themselves through the daring nature of her designs. Vivienne’s use of tight silhouettes, safety pins, latex, bondage as well as an excessive and unrestrained use of tartan shocked the UK population. Her designs did not come from her being bound by an old establishment and following someone else’s curriculum. 

There are obvious benefits to university; the skills you can develop, the ability or maybe the better word is ‘opportunity’ to collaborate, the knowledge and network offered by the teachers and the discipline of having to complete assignment after assignment. But perhaps three years spent in the industry would give you the same – maybe even more. Six months doing odd jobs in a local tailor could teach you more about pattern cutting than any of the classes you got at uni. There’s no doubt that discipline and time management can be  difficult to achieve on your own. The set up of traditional education tells you exactly what to do and when to do it, and usually how. Sometimes projects can drag on for days, weeks, and even months if the motivation isn’t there. However, when your project is due, you knuckle down, fight the resistance and get the work done. Without university, young creatives can get lost in a no-man’s land of unfinished work and ideas filling the pages of notebooks yet never bringing them to life. University can alleviate this by teaching you the skills of fighting creative blocks and challenges and  completing the work despite it feeling difficult. But it’s an expensive way to learn and you have to question: surely you could learn on your own if you set your mind to it?

There are many incredible young designers making waves in the industry, who are denied a place at university - their ideas extraordinary - but not quite fitting the desired profile of their chosen courses. I spoke with a young designer, Sam Macer who was rejected from all his courses but his final foundation project blew up on Instagram and kick started a career in fashion despite his lack of a degree. Walking into his studio, in East London on the outskirts of Shoreditch, I was blown away by his creations. Collages, sketches, scrapbooks piled on top of sofas, half-finished dresses hanging over the bannisters and jackets draped over doorways (it felt like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia) which are clearly the workings of a great artist – one who’d been told he wasn't good enough to study at university. 

He explained that a drawback of not going to university was the lack of opportunity for scholarships, funding and mentorship programs that are more widely available within the education system. Sam has had to fund all of his collections alone and hasn’t found a mentor to help him which has made bringing his creations into existence harder than some of his peers who did receive funding and guidance through education. But he also felt that not going to university had given him the opportunity to focus solely on what he wanted to do – while some of his peers who did end up on their desired courses seemed to be made to jump through unnecessary hoops to follow the curriculum – and were losing motivation.

Regardless, going to university - or not - is a personal decision and one that everyone has to make themselves. But don’t be fooled into thinking it is the only way to break into the fashion industry. 


Back to articles