Naomi Purvis questions whether design degrees are making fashion an exclusive career.

With results day behind us many young people will be planning to start university in September, some of them with their hearts set on becoming a fashion designer. However, it may seem that hard work and determination isn’t all you need to succeed in the fashion industry.

The thing nobody tells you about studying fashion design is the deeper you get into in the course, the deeper your bank account sinks into to your overdraft.  One vital detail that’s left out of the course induction or university handbook is the reality that many courses won’t pay for anything when it comes to equipment and materials. Everything comes at an extra cost, posing the question of whether studying fashion is something left exclusively for those from wealthier backgrounds and higher incomes?


With countless expenses on equipment, portfolios, frequent trips to fabric shops and not to mention the extortionate cost of printing, it’s no surprise that studying a fashion degree costs a lot more than you might expect.  Add together three or four years of studying and you almost dread to think about how much you’ve spent on printing things over and over each week for group feedback sessions.

Looking at a graduate collection you first think of the work that’s gone into making it, but the hidden cost is somewhat unthought of. After all, it’s just clothes, isn’t it? Surely fabric doesn’t cost that much?  In reality that’s just the start, it’s the work leading up to that final collection that really adds up.  It’s key to remember that the work you see at the end, whether it be a final collection or a portfolio, is only the finished product.  To reach that point takes years of hard work and determination, but along with that comes a wealth of trial, error and perfectionism – all of which comes with a cost.


Although the overall cost may seem daunting, if fashion design is something you are passionate about then you’ll find a way to make it work. Determination is the key to succeed in any aspect of life that may seem difficult or challenging and a fashion degree is no different.  It’s important to focus on the future and have a goal in mind for where you want your fashion degree to take you.

Consider perspective: a three- to four-year course will go by quickly, so make the most of every opportunity you’re given.  If your course includes an optional placement year then don’t think twice about it.  Fashion is a highly competitive industry and any work experience you can get will be beneficial to your CV.  Look at getting a part-time job at weekends or during university holidays as a way of earning some extra cash.

It’s also important to think logically and consider who you are as a designer and not spend money on things you don’t need.  For example, if you’re designing a collection to be sold within retail you’re less likely to need to buy expensive fabrics used for couture.


Studying a fashion degree is only the beginning and unless you’re lucky enough to secure a job pre-graduation, the hard work only continues.  In the UK it’s fair to say that a high percentage of fashion careers are situated in London, with a few scattered around other big cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. Although careers in fashion do exist in other cities around the UK, places at those companies are limited compared to opportunities in the capital.   This means that many fashion graduates are taking the risk and moving to London in the hope of falling on their feet in their dream fashion career.

However, due to the competitive nature of the industry, many may find themselves stuck in unpaid internships and having to work part-time jobs on the side to make ends meet.  As many entry-level jobs require up to two years previous work in the industry, it highlights the discussion that internships should be fairly paid to allow graduates from all incomes the opportunity to gain the experience they need to get a job.      It’s clear that a fashion degree is not for the faint-hearted, and something needs to change for the courses to become more cost-efficient and less exclusive.  Whether that be subsidised or free resources and equipment, or paid internships, it’s a subject that should be more openly discussed to allow all students a fair shot at a fashion career.

You can see more of Naomi’s work at

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