Fashion, Features

“You know who you are and what you bring to the table”: Fashion design interns share their experiences behind the industry curtain

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Featured image: Jessie Tan at Motoguo Studios, Kuala Lumpur

The media portrays the fashion industry as a ruthless beast, a consuming entity that swallows individuals whole. But how true is this tale? To answer this question we look to Manchester’s Fashion Institute (MFI) students, fresh off their placements and having peeled back the industry’s glamorous facade to gain invaluable insights into its intricate operations and creative processes.

Following Andrea Iguodala, Jessie Tan, and Ben Ewart, returning to Manchester for their final year in BA Fashion Design and Technology, their placement journey takes us around the world from London through Europe all the way to Malaysia. Iguodala worked at Karl Lagerfeld before moving on to PVH’s Calvin Klein. Tan took on roles at MotoguoFeben, and Masha Popova. And finally Ewart set up camp at Puma for the year.

Andrea Iguodala and the team at her farewell party at the Calvin Klein Headquarters, in Amsterdam.

More than 2,000 students at Manchester Met express an interest in applying for a sandwich placement year according to MMU Careers, with 40% of MFI second year students securing one of these opportunities. From brands we all know and love to LVMH’s next-gen designers, the burning question now is: how did they secure their placements?

Despite their calling in fashion, their design internship stories aren’t a one shoe fits all. Securing his placement as a Sportswear Design Intern for Puma’s Sportstyle Core team, Ewart went through Manchester Met’s placement team channel to find and apply for the job. Having a longstanding relationship with the Puma brand, MFI students continue this placement legacy each year at their headquarters in Nuremberg, Germany.

Sharing his application process, Ewart shares: “Puma did a talk at MFI as two of their previous interns were from MFI as well. It was a pretty straightforward [application] process going through the Placement Team, it kind of just came to me.”

LinkedIn was Iguodala’s best friend in securing her role, poring over numerous ads and connections, she secured her Amsterdam placements as a Pattern and Fit intern at Karl Lagerfeld before switching to Calvin Klein as an Accessories Design Intern.

Tan on the other hand, had a more direct approach, emailing the brands she was interested in directly to secure her design internships: “Jumping around definitely kept things fresh for me, but I would’ve loved to stay longer at each brand, particularly Motoguo.”

The preconceived notion of design interns may derive from the lines of Andrea Sach’s coffee runs and dressing to the nines, as seen in the cult fashion favourite, The Devil Wears Prada. However, for Iguodala, Tan, and Ewart the reality was far different, as each recognised how much their work contributed to the brand.

With Puma’s global reputation as a pioneer in sportswear, Ewart spent his time liaising with companies worldwide, assisting the Sportstyle Core team with releasing their designs: “My dream placement was like the Devil Wears Prada, but by the end when you understand the company, how it works and get the hang of things, you could really get stuck into designing.”

Each brand offers a unique work experience, with Iguodala gaining the opportunity to assist in developing bags, from sketch to final production at Calvin Klein. She was guided through each step in exploring a whole new field. Looking back on the experience, Iguodala says: “You know who you are, and you know what you bring to the table.”

At London-based Feben, Tan oversaw the brand’s prints and at Masha Popova, she was directly involved in researching the concept and experimenting with chemical dyes for their signature denim motifs. “During my time at small brands, you kind of grow with them which becomes a learning process for them and for you, where you feed off of each other, like a learning companion”, shares Tan.

Within both places, she was heavily involved in all aspects of design and production including photoshoots, London Fashion Week and preparing for the Paris showrooms. Tan recalls: “I thought going to Paris would just be work, and suddenly you’re having dinner with people you don’t immediately recognise who are huge in their career. It’s surreal that this is who you’re working with.”

Navigating these roles wasn’t an easy feat for the placement students. They had to match their capabilities to their responsibilities in the whirlwind realm of fashion. However, it was their open-minded approach to accepting these opportunities that played a significant role in fitting into their new lifestyle. 

The fashion industry is recognised as highly competitive, with only 54% of UK fashion graduates going on to a career in fashion or fashion design, according to Business of Fashion. Within this competitive field the MFI students did not have the liberty to sift through their options, but it was through having experienced this process which compelled them to secure each of their placements. Juggling their roles as students, with financial, experiential and language barriers as well as the legal requirements that come with moving abroad, proved their resilience in curating successful placement years for each of them to look back on.

Making lifelong connections within the industry, both her and Tan, felt the significance of each placement in the progression of their careers through the year. Neither of them could have imagined how the year would unfold. From attending The OSKARLS, going to events with Usain Bolt and dressing Jorja Smith backstage, in retrospect they had quite an experience; Miranda Priestly’s trailer was definitely different! Making the most of their years in industry was a recipe of putting themselves out there, asking the right questions and thoroughly reading the job application.

“It’s fun to see where life can take you, that you never would’ve envisioned until you get there, because I didn’t think I would even get the internships I got, but truly the sky is your limit”, says Iguodala.

Ready for your leap into the fashion world? Find out more about placement opportunities at Manchester Fashion Institute.

About the author / 

Haripraba Thavanendran

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