All dressed up, nowhere to go

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By Caroline Choi

When achieving a degree is not enough, students opt got hands-on experience. For Ryerson fashion design students, it’s compulsory.

They must finish a 600-hour work study program to graduate from their program.

“As soon as they start their work study, they gain maturity,” said John Freeman, a Ryerson fashion professor. “They see that what they did in class is directly applicable to their field in the workplace. It is very fulfilling and very practical.”

For many fashion students, their work study is a way to gain connections and network with people in the industry. “Many students make connections and then get directly or indirectly hired from that,” said Freeman.

Katherine Gleason, a fourth-year fashion student, said, “You get a lot of exposure to the industry. You see the good and bad, and everything you like and dislike. You’re almost forced to.”

Fashion may seem alluring, but for the students it’s an industry of hard work, commitment and competition.

“The industry is not glamorous. It doesn’t pay well. You start off with a lot of menial stuff,” said Gleason. “You’re not going to graduate and get a glamorous job at Holt Renfrew as a new designer. You have to start at the bottom.”

In an unpredictable field where instability is commonplace, working up the ladder is not easy.

“I like fashion and I want to enjoy a good working environment,” said Gleason. “I don’t want a job in a bad working environment, but it’s a hard industry and you can’t be choosy.”

One reason students can’t be choosy about there they work is that fashion is competitive. “The job markets in creative fields have always been difficult,” she said.

Justine Lytwyne, another graduating student, said, “Among classmates it can be competitive because there aren’t a lot of jobs and everyone is looking for work.”

For first-year student Wendy Campbell, the competition is the hardest thing she has to deal with. “There’s a lot of people that are competitive, aggressive and very ambitious,” said Campbell. “That can be very intimidating.”

With so much competition between new Canadian designers, some fashion students turn to organizations that help promote young designers. The Toronto Fashion Incubator at 325 Adelaide St. W. is one of the centres that help promote young Canadian fashion designers. For a fee, students can rent studio space, and have access to facilities including business consultations, the resource centre and guest speakers.

Claudia Bishop, of the Incubator, said, “After their three-year term, we hope they have emerged enough to go out on their own. We are a stepping stone up to their future.”

In the fashion workplace, there is no guarantee of success as in independent designer, especially when money is tight.

Glynis Tao, a third-year fashion student, said, “I’m considering going [to the Incubator], but right now, financially, it’s holding me back.”


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